Jesus… Prince of Peace. It’s how we celebrate and remember Christ at Advent and Christmastime. Yet throughout the year we use peace in mushy, meaningless ways. While we may pray for peace, we don’t actually envision peace in such a way that would require us to make a commitment toward justice and equality in our daily lives. Instead, we domesticate peace into lame sound bites like, “Can’t you just leave me with a little peace and quiet?”
But the peace of God is neither mushy nor meaningless—it’s a word of power and transformation. Jesus’ idea of peace doesn’t allow us to live in a bubble nor is it necessarily quiet. The Bible invites us to explore all the dimensions of God’s shalom—its shape, its flavor and its ability to change our lives in radical ways.
Consider Jesus’ radical statement: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Jesus also used the word peace in other seemingly contradictory statements. On one occasion he said to the disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
This might be interpreted as a license for some people like Lucy who remarked to Charlie Brown, “I hate everything.” Charlie says, “But I thought you had inner peace?” Lucy replies, “I do have inner peace, but I still have outer obnoxiousness!”
Unfortunately for people like Lucy, Jesus’ new idea of peace does not include a free pass for obnoxiousness—much less violence.
Jesus certainly causes us rethink what we mean we talk about peace. He presents us with a new kind of peace that cannot be found anywhere else in this world. On the last night Jesus gathered for a meal with his disciples, he said to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”(John 14:27).
So, what is this peace that Jesus offers? Just what is Jesus getting at when he speaks not as the sweet familiar Prince of Peace we thought he was, but sometimes as the Prince of Division? Who is this Jesus? And what are we to do when the Bible appears to contradict itself?
Frederick Buechner puts it this way: “The contradiction is resolved when you realize that for Jesus peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle but the presence of love” (Wishful Thinking, HarperSanFransisco, 1973:69).
The Christian disciple is one who wraps his or her life in the agenda of God’s kingdom (reign), and that very action will certainly cause friction with the pursuit of personal happiness. We will have to rearrange our posture from one of privilege to one of empathy and listening to those who suffer oppression. And we will have to work to reform the structures and systems of our world (and church) that breed injustice and discrimination.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Jesus refers here to peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Peacemaking is a positive and active response rather than an idle, passive resignation.
A peacemaker is not a wimp or doormat to be trampled on, but instead is a calming, presence pro-actively rooting out the causes of exclusion and hate. And Jesus points out that peacemakers bear a striking resemblance to their father in heaven.
So, in these volatile times, rethink the peace of Jesus. Rather than the absence of conflict, his peace is the active presence of love. And when you think of Charlottesville and the cancer of racism in our society, say a prayer for peace and then resolve to become a peacemaker in your own community. No, this peace of Jesus is not as the world gives—it’s much harder.