what is peace?

In advent and Christmas the message of peace gets proclaimed year after year by Christians around the world.

We crown Jesus our “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) and join the angels in proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14).

But really, what does this mean? How do our professions that Christ is our peace become actualized in our lives and in this world?

For some, a focus on the internal peace that Jesus brings through his love and forgiveness is the most meaningful aspect of peace at Christmas. There is comfort in the belief that whatever situation we find ourselves in, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Ph. 4:7). And in a world that seeks inner peace through personal success and shallow happiness, the reminder for an internal peace rooted in Christ is a timely one indeed.

But I’ve wondered if the peace of Christ offers more? What if Christ as the “Prince of Peace” means that participants in the kingdom of God – Christians – are in fact a people of peace?

Now, I’m not so naive as to forget the centuries of Christian violence both in the world and among ourselves that taints our witness as a people of peace. And in a world torn by violence, war, and injustice, we can’t help but lament the absence of peace. Sadly, most times Christians aren’t a people of peace. It’s quite appropriate then to question the peace we profess at Christmas:

Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won't rhyme

So what's it worth?

This peace on Earth
(“Peace on Earth,” U2)

But in our lament at peace’s absence, let’s beware not to become hopeless, and thus relegate peace solely to our personal experience of faith. We must not forget that Christ’s message of peace and reconciliation redefined what it meant to be the people of God – peace experienced in the unity of all people. I like how John Yoder describes the reality of reconciliation that Christ’s peace brought between Jews and Gentiles – a reality of unity the global church and our local churches must continue to realize today:

It is not the case that inner or personal peace comes first, with the hope that once the inward condition is set right then the restored person will do some social good…Two estranged histories are made into one. Two hostile communities are reconciled (He Came Preaching Peace).

So as the peace of Christ is known in our own lives this Christmas, my prayer is that we may live tangibly as a people of peace in a world starved for reconciliation.

For Christ is our peace, who demolished all divisions and made us one new family united by His one Spirit in the bond of peace. We proclaim that our allegiance to the name of Christ is higher and stronger than any other loyalty.
(Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith - Liturgical Version)

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