Peace on Earth

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Matt. 2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

This is a week of Peace. That is perhaps surprising news in light of recent events: armed gunmen in a Connecticut elementary school or the recent Israeli Hamas conflict. Yet in the season of Advent this week is one marked by the topic of peace. This is the week we remember that God is quite interested in overhauling the world geopolitical order; restoring justice for those who often find themselves at the mercy of the powerful and violent.There is a line in a new song by the artist JJ Heller that is echoing in my mind as I write this “sometimes life doesn’t make any sense, it’s full of war and pain and accidents. We’re singing I don’t know…I don’t know what you’re doing. But I know who you are.”

Looking around the world today I confess I see no easy fix. For instance there was an article in the New Yorker advocating for more stringent gun control laws in the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut. This struck me as ludicrously naive; the gunman intentionally went to an elementary school with the intent of killing people. There is no rational explanation for his attack, these children could not have slighted him, there is no misunderstood vengeance at work. His actions were in a word, Evil- naked and unprovoked. No amount of legislation could have halted so sinister a plan. Gun control laws are indeed valuable and may prevent some rash violence- this shooting does not fit that characterization. If there were no guns on the face of the earth this person would have found some way to slaughter children. You may be sure that actions like this imply “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.”

There is an old story about the birth of Jesus that seems pertinent to today’s events. It comes from the end of the second chapter of Matthew, commonly referred to as “the slaughter of the innocents.” It is a morbid story about how the local king (Herod) felt threatened by rumors of a new king in Bethlehem and decided to kill all boys under the age of two as a preventative measure. Such violence in the world and in scripture often troubles me. I struggle to understand why God does not show up in such moments, terrible and grand and flashing with fire and lighting to the defense of innocents.

Yet I am reminded of the fact that the story of Jesus birth includes such a story for a reason. God does not stand far off from humans in the midst of their violence. He does not wait at a distance for us to get our act together, for the end of rape, infanticide, our general callousness toward each other etc. True in the gospels we don’t read that God acted supernaturally from distance to end suffering. Instead he walks right into the midst of our suffering. He trusts a poor Jewish couple with his Son at a time that it wasn’t safe to be a child in Palestine. He isn’t squeamish about our tendency toward destruction but instead becomes one of us that he might show us the way out. This is why his birth was announced with news (and a prayer) of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people.” God is drawing the world toward himself in Jesus, drawing the world toward peace. The pull is as imperceptible as the tides but no less real. Thus it is not with an awareness of the apparent irony that I say, with complete sincerity, “this is a week of peace” and at the same time “deliver us O Lord from such evil men, and bring peace to the families of those who grieve!”

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