What in the world does peace look like? I ask this while my adopted community of North Minneapolis is hurting. We are in pain following the shooting death of a young man, Jamar Clark, by the gun of police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze (one of many articles in the Star Tribune). Also, several days after that, as protesters continued to raise their voices on the streets, there were more shots. It’s believed that white supremacists, on the scene to intimidate, shot five protesters. What does peace look like in the world?
There is a popular idea that peace comes, or is maintained, through violence. Even some Christians hold to that ironic notion, demonstrated in their support of political candidates who hold to a “peace through strength” foreign policy. The ancient Romans thought likewise. Emperor Caesar Augustus figured that peace could come through violence and intimidation, and instituted the Pax Augusta, also known as the Pax Romana. But the so-called Roman Peace came with a heavy price. Accompanying economic prosperity and relative security for some was the tyranny of patriarchy and slavery, along with public executions—especially crucifixions—and an imperial cult that demanded sacrificial worship. The irony of achieving peace through violence is demonstrated in Rome’s erection of the Altar of Peace to Augustus (Ara Pacis Augustae) on a site dedicated to Mars, the god of war. Later, in the year 75, the Emperor Vespasian built the Peace Temple (Templum Pacis) commemorating Rome’s victory over the Jews. Apparently Rome considered violence a pathway to peace.
Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-7). Yet, the angels did not hail Caesar as the architect of peace. Instead, the babe born in Bethlehem was lauded in angelic song as the bringer of peace: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14). Jesus entered a world that thought it understood peace, but really did not. Jesus entered a world that thought it understood peace, but really did not. Click To Tweet
Advent tells us that God’s shalom—real peace on earth—is different than the false peace of the empire. I call such peace, “militant peace,” because it requires strong action, but not violence. Militant peace requires tenacity, and not passivity. Militant peace is rooted in love. The Gospel of Luke, which famously describes the birth of Jesus, also sketches some of what peace can look like in our world, particularly through the songs offered by Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55), and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:67-79). Advent tells us that God’s shalom is different than the false peace of the empire. Click To Tweet
Salvation and peace are linked in both Mary’s song (called the Magnificat), as well as Zechariah’s song (called the Benedictus). Mary sings, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52). Zechariah sings, “He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:69-71). These songs invited God’s people, Israel, to recall a time when King David was on the throne. Yet the words go even deeper and point to a better future—a Messianic future. Mary sings about God taking down the powerful. Both she and Zechariah sing of a time when peace would mean the absence of oppressors, as life would flourish under the reign of God. Today, we who believe in Jesus live and share a Gospel message that proclaims a God-ordered society where none suffer at the hands of power-hungry rulers. We preach, like Jesus, Good News of release for captives (see Luke 4:18).
Similar to the promise of political well-being, the songs of Mary and Zechariah connect God’s salvation and peace with material well-being. God lifts up the lowly (Luke 1:52), satisfies the needy, while sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). In other words, the typical way of the world is reversed. The poor are no longer exploited. Oppressive conditions are alleviated while physical needs are met. Advent reminds us that militant peace calls for God’s people to live and demonstrate Good News through deliberate actions that help to reduce suffering in our world. Advent isn’t about getting; it is about giving. Militant peace means spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed (Isaiah 58:10).
Advent also is a message of internal peace through the forgiveness of sins. Zechariah sings that his son, John, in his role as a prophet will “give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). Furthermore, those who experience God’s salvation are given light and guided in the way of peace (Luke 1:79). The message of Advent proclaims that God’s salvation consists of peace—reconciliation with God. Such reconciliation allows those who follow Jesus to know peace even in the ambiguity of present times. The world can know at least some of God’s peace as it awaits another visit from Jesus that will usher in full salvation. The Lord’s peace is tenacious; it is militant. Click To Tweet
Right now we protest injustice, even here in the streets of Minneapolis. We also serve in practical ways to meet the needs of hurting people. And of course we share the message of love and salvation in Jesus. Our actions reflect the message and ministry of Jesus. Advent, the time of waiting for the coming of Jesus, reminds us that Jesus is about peace, but not peace in the way of the world (John 14:27). The Lord’s peace is tenacious; it is militant. It pushes away evil forces in the world, pushes away oppression, and even pushes away all the damage sin has brought to our souls. We get a foretaste of this peace now, through faith in the Baby of Bethlehem whose life, words, death, and resurrection changed the world.
But we will know God’s peace fully when Jesus comes again.
— [Photo: Gemma Amor, cc via Flickr]