“Peace on earth, and goodwill to all people.” These are words with which the shepherds were greeted by the angels announcing Jesus’ birth. This event was to signify that Christ was born to be a Messiah of Peace.
We have made much in traditional Christian interpretations of these stories of the idea that Jesus was a different type of messiah than the one most people thought would be coming to Jewish peoples. Much of the prophecy on which messianic visions were based painted a portrait of a charismatic military leader in the style of the Persians or Greeks who would come and devastate the nations that had overthrown the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and then there would be an era of peace. Jesus was, of course, nothing of the sort in his lifetime. If anything, he was more challenging to his own people than to others, especially their Roman occupiers.
Perhaps he was so challenging to his own people because he believed that within them was still a seed of hope, an opportunity for humanity to birth a different way of being with one another from the heart of communities that knew the harsh realities of war and reciprocal violence well. And this birth was going to take place in the backwaters of a mighty empire, among some of its most disenfranchised people. He offered teachings that continue to challenge us when it comes to justice. What is the most just way of settling wrongs to one another? What is a truly just vision of a peaceable kin-dom that is not sectarian?
In the wake of the recent grand jury decisions not to indict officers in two deaths resulting from questionable force along a historic fault line of white and black America, there are important questions that arise for people of faith as we sing, pray and act on the angels' first message to the shepherd, “Peace on earth." How can Christ be a Messiah of Peace for our times? Can justice be restorative rather than relentlessly punitive? How can ‘goodwill’ become an embodied practice and more than a sentiment?
I invite each of us to let the season of Advent challenge us to prepare ourselves for a better understanding of our times and our differing experiences of power, privilege and justice. Perhaps Christ is trusting us again with a seed of hope as he once trusted his own people. And may all our visions and efforts for peace have the Infinitely Compassionate One as both their source and succor.
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