Become a Peacemaker
On the second Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of peace. In Luke 2:8-14, at the birth of Jesus, we hear angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill toward all. The prophet, Isaiah said the messiah shall be called, “The Prince of Peace.” In his ministry, Jesus modeled a form of nonviolent resistance to the reigning powers and during the Sermon on the Mount proclaimed, “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be the children of God.”
There should be no mistake that Jesus’s followers should be devoted to the causes of peace. We should aim to be peacemakers in our advocacy–not just leaving it to politicians who may be more interested in their own agendas than doing what provides for long-term peace. We can be peacemakers in our homes, our communities, our places of work, too.
What is Peace?
Sometimes we associate peace with an absence of violence or conflict. In scripture we find that making peace is not just avoiding war–it is about restoring relationships, living with a sense of unity or wholeness. It comes close to the way Nelson Mandela talked about it. “Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, class, caste or any other social markers of difference.” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7931996-peace-is-not-just-the-absence-of-conflict-peace-is
True peace isn’t just a cease-fire or a truce with someone, with whom you are in conflict. It is about making things right, whole, or at least to do your part to make them as whole as they can be.
Let Peace Begin with You
I’ve always loved that song, Let there be Peace on Earth, because it says, “and let it begin with me.” If you are going to be a peacemaker, you need to be at peace within yourself. Every Sunday I close the service with a prayer that you might receive that peace as a gift from God. “And now may the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds this day and forevermore.” It’s a paraphrase from Philippians 4.
This “peace of Christ” develops as we mature spiritually. As we lean into a trusting relationship with God–trusting that no matter what happens–we are still God’s beloved children and God is looking out for us. As we engage in our spiritual practices and live in the way that Jesus taught us, we acquire this peace.
I like the way that it says, “that surpasses all understanding.” It reminds me that Christ’s peace can come to us in the midst of the storm, in the midst of hard times. Other people will look at you and demand to know, “Why aren’t you freaking out right now?”
You can reply, “Because I’ve got that inner peace.” Like it says in the last stanza of the hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
How to Become a Peacemaker
How can you become a peacemaker? Let this be one of the deep questions you ask of yourself this Advent season. How can you bring peace to your spheres of influence?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the guidance we need. It has to do with being willing to turn the other cheek and forgive. Forgiveness stops the cycles of retaliation where each party strikes back whenever there is a fault occurs. Like Gandhi says, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
At some point, someone needs to do the hard thing and let some stuff go. Poke a stick in the cycles of endless retaliation and let it end with your decision not to retaliate.
Jesus taught that peacemaking involves checking ourselves. Instead of taking offense at the misdoings of others to focus on our own faults and failures. He says not to point out the speck in someone else’s eye when there is a plank in our own eye.
Turn Down Your “Meaning Maker”
So much conflict arises because of the assumptions we attribute to someone else’s behavior. Maybe they slammed the cupboard and you think, “They are mad.” Or, they don’t return a text or email and you assume the worst about them. It might be that they just forgot, something else came up. Instead of getting all offended and acting on your assumptions, it’s best to check it out with them. “Hey, what you said kind of stung. I know it was a joke, but are we okay?”
The best thing to do is to check things out with someone else. I’ve found that most of the time my negative assumptions were not at all what the other person intended.
Learn to Listen and De-escalate
So much of peacemaking involves practicing good listening skills. Do the basics, use “I” statements and say how you feel rather than making accusations. Listen for the other’s perspective. Listen more than speak. Don’t think of what you are going to say next when the other is speaking, you’ll miss the important stuff. If this is something you struggle with, do a Google search and find some guidance. Also, learn the basics of de-escalating conflict
There is a meanness in this world and it seems to be getting worse. The divisions in our country and animosity toward on another are heightened by social media. Don’t add to the noise. Try to bring calm in every situation you encounter.
Christmas Reminds Us to Hush and Listen to the Angels
Christmas is supposed to remind us of the peace on earth God wants to bring. That great carol, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear offers this beautiful stanza:
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
Sing Hallelujah to the Lord
Last year, protests broke out in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that, in the opinion of the protestors, threatened the autonomy of Hong Kong. Christians in Hong Kong are concerned about the preservation of their religious freedom. Therefore, Christians in Hong Kong joined in protesting this first step toward the repressive rule of China taking hold in Hong Kong.
A Christian group held a public prayer meeting through the night. They became peacemakers and started singing a simple Christian hymn, written in 1974 by a woman from Costa Mesa. They started singing, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord.” Those are the only words. It’s in our hymnal. Other protestors began singing the song, too. Even non-Christians began singing the song. The hope was that the song would have a calming effect on the police, who, that same evening, used tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors.
For those Christians, to sing Hallelujah is to sing praise to God and to place your trust in God, even in the face of adversity and uncertainty. The song is not only a song of protest but a declaration of faith. They sing hallelujah to the Lord to boldly declare their allegiance to God and their refusal to bow to the state. They sing hallelujah to the Lord to stand in solidarity with God and one another to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free… (Luke 4:18) They sing hallelujah to the Lord to remember who they are and whose they are and why they are.
Let our songs this Christmas season point to the one who brings peace and calls us to be peacemakers. Let us hush the noise and listen to the angels sing. AMEN
Sermon by Rev. Dr. David Clark for Bay Shore Community Congregational Church in Long Beach, California. See also Rev. Susie Bjork’s sermon, Peace in the Midst of Fear.