It’s that time of year – decorations, parties, presents, travels, coordinating with coworkers for time off…and each of those in abundance. During this time of the hope of and increased search for peace, many are busier than ever. And the situation isn’t helped by having to be wary of people stealing your gifts while they’re sitting in your car, or thinking of how to deal with THAT relative at the get-together…or a thousand other things that could go wrong.
Our language is infused with idioms dealing with peace – peace and quiet, leave someone in peace, no peace for the wicked, peace offering. Beyond just the words and phrases using the English “peace,” there are other not-so-obvious “peaceful” words. The Pacific Ocean is named because it’s relatively smooth sailing. Irenic efforts seek peaceful reconciliation. The name Irene means peace; similar to the church father Irenaeus. Shalom is the Hebrew word and concept of peace (though it means much more than just that). Jerusalem means City of Peace (or it could mean Possession of Peace, or Foundation of Peace).
Despite this constant desire and search for peace, this world is not peaceful. Peace today seems to be thought of in a couple different ways by the world (meaning, the non-Christian world). One way is a personal tranquil state of being – harmony with other individuals; personal security and safety. The second way is on a group, even a national, level – national safety and security; group rights to prevent bullying; organizations devoted to human rights.
The world has the concept partly right – true biblical peace applies to both the individual and group level, and it is a state of tranquility, harmony, and safety. What the world has wrong, though, is that it seeks peace only on a horizontal level, only on a human-to-human level. The Bible’s concept of peace includes a harmonious and tranquil relationship with the Triune God.
The world sometimes has the strategy for peace half right – they fight for it. The Bible calls for Christians to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. “Keeping the peace” means that one doesn’t rock the boat; one doesn’t mess with the establishment – in many cases, things are OK, so one shouldn’t do anything to make it worse (it’s not a matter of making things better, but of keeping the status quo because upheaval and disruption are painful).
But the Christian is to, in a certain instances, fight for peace. We are to be at peace, but peaceful is not the same as passive. Jesus brought the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), and with that we are to make peace. True biblical peace often entails some kind of confrontation. Confrontation isn’t just simply fighting with someone; it can be as simple as “I’d like to talk about something you said the other day.”
The Bible tells us to live a quiet life, so there’s an aspect of being a pacifist (different than a passivist). But that exhortation is prepended with “as far as it depends on you.” Sometimes, we have to struggle for peace. The Holy Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control to deal with otherwise fearful situations (this explains why the non-Christian typically enacts “peace” by using fear-filled tactics).
You can win the struggle for peace during the holidays by being the one to choose. An oft-neglected word, which is a compete sentence, is “No.” (though there’s no requirement to be a jerk about it – search for ’50 Ways to Say No’ and you’ll find plenty of options for saying No without being rude). It’s OK to say No. It’s OK to stay home. It’s OK to opt-out…not just this year, but every year. If you go to a party, then you be the one who chose to go. If you travel for family, then you be the one who chose to take that invitation. If you don’t go or don’t give, it’s your choice which you made based on your current situation for you and your family.
In the end, the biblical idea of peace is that of wholeness. It’s a wholeness of relationship with Christ and wholeness with other people. And just as the Magi in their search for the Holy Child, the search for peace can entail intense preparation and hard work.
We need to spend more time learning from Jesus, the Prince of Peace. This idea is succinctly and emotionally shown in the story of Martha and Mary. It’s not a story pitting spiritual education against “grunt work.” It’s a story of the heart. It’s a story about anxiety vs. tranquility, about etiquette vs. righteousness, about being perturbed vs. being at peace.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Choose and Make a Merry New Year!