Peace, as the shepherds knew it

Merry Christmas! Yes, my celebrating continues.

My rejoicing in the coming of God to earth is not about candy canes or toys.

Nope, Christmas Every Day is all about peace and peacemaking and it’s not necessarily cozy and sweet.  Christmas peace is challenging and communal.

My life seems pretty peaceful nowadays, and it is a bit awkward for me to enjoy it. I know others are oppressed, hurting and victims of the injustices of war, violence and poverty.  Yet, my life is full of a lot of calm. At work, my students are pretty well-behaved and cooperative, making things almost easy right now. At home, I live in a really grounding community where I feel very safe and loved. Around the region, there is an abundance of phenomenal natural beauty. Last weekend I went camping and enjoyed some quiet and breathtaking scenery of stars, woods, and overlooks. My life is packed with many moments of quiet and gladness.

When I was hiking and stargazing last weekend, I sure did feel happy and calm.  Yet, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about those who were suffering because of wars and violence.  It felt a bit unfair that I could enjoy God’s beautiful and natural designs, while others suffered because people don’t cooperate with God’s good order. Maybe what seems peaceful to me isn’t really peaceful, after all because true peace is something a bit more subtle and inclusive.

Night sky_Sept 6
Photo credit: http://mrg.bz/7YvKW7

Martin Luther King, Jr had some good insights about peacemaking in a Christmas sermon in 1967 that are still incredibly relevant today, especially in light of the international debate concerning Syria.  I am reminded why war is always wrong today:

“This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967 Christmas sermon

Peacemaking can be haunting as our power is haunting.  All of us are capable of being healers or hurters at any minute. The power of our choices can be dangerous.  Although it might be easy to come up with justifications and excuses for using weapons and reacting to violence with violence, but it doesn’t make sense.

The first Christmas–the birth of Jesus Christ who is the Prince of Peace– was an event that happened during a time of some brutal oppression. With Christ’s coming, the brutality didn’t actually halt. Instead, God transformed and empowered the marginalized of society. In the Christmas story, God chose to tell some poor and humble shepherds about Jesus’ coming, and they got to join in on the party. Here’s how it happened:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”   Luke 2:8-14

The shepherds were transformed by the good news and then empowered to experience the tough stuff of true peacemaking. As the shepherds showed us, if it’s peace we’re after, we must act in peace.

Great peacemakers of history acted humbly like shepherds. As stated by Mahatma Gandhi, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”  Gandhi also said “There is no ‘way to peace,’ there is only ‘peace.” 

The Christmas message is a message of peace, a peace for all. Let’s all celebrate and spread that peace in the way that shepherds modeled for us: in obedience to God’s love, with wonder, as communities, and powerlessly.

Loving, powerless, and global peacemaking: this is the type of Christmas celebrating I’m doing and this is the Christmas celebrating to which you’re also invited.

Merry Christmas!!

The Transfiguration

“Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Mark 9:5).

When I went hiking with a group of junior high students, we were going up a pretty steep mountain and we were having a hard time finding a place to camp.  Finally we came upon an old railroad grade.  It was the only flat land we had found.  So we tied up our tarps and settled in to sleep.  In the middle of the night, it started pouring rain.  The rain came right down the side of the mountain, across our flat railroad grade like a river, and straight down the mountain again.  We spent together a long sleepless night, fortunately, with a lot of laughter and good humor.

I get Peter.

Can we just stop for a moment and pitch a tent?

In this crazy 4G-speed world can we rest and stay and be?

I’ve been tired lately,  Bone tired,  Take-a-nap-on-my-lunch-break-cause-I-cannot-keep-my-eyes-open tired.  My friends and parishioners have noticed my tiredness and told me to take it easy.  So right now I am in the middle of a five day retreat.  I am finding restoration.  And I am reflecting on being tired.  

I think a lot of us are tired: from justice work and daily work, school and jobs and family.  The speed is relentless and the expectations are never-ending.  I remember making a list of Holiday stressors and writing down, “existence.”  Sometimes, just this living wears us out.  

Jesus,

Show me the things

That lumber up my heart,

So that it cannot be filled

With your life and power.

–Evelyn Underhill


What lumbers up my heart? 

Lord, show me the logs of attachment and self-criticism, of pettiness and envy, of over-analysis and just pure flight that keep me from filling with your love.  Help me, my Jesus, to rely on you.  To rest in you.  To be wholly in you.  Help me to find a little more interior space to be who I am just as you made me, and to be okay with that.  I cannot do it without you.  I cannot do anything without you.

 


Peter came down from the mountain.  He asked to put up a tent, but he followed Jesus back into the daily healing work of the world.  Eventually, he picked up his own cross. I think maybe it is okay to be tired for a while.  It is okay to rest.  And also I know that the greatest rest will not come to me on my own.  Jesus is my rest.