4.2 Prince of Peace
This title, from a prophecy of Isaiah, is echoed in the voices of the angels at Christmas.
“Peace on earth”
There is an immediate political challenge here, because Augustus claimed to have brought in the Pax Romana, Roman Peace, under which all would live safely, but this is a different offer of peace, with a different Lord and it will be resisted by the powers that be because it is too great a challenge.
We have seen that the message of Jesus, the life and example of Jesus is “political”, in that it challenges political structures and powers. But this does not mean there is a simple single Christian answer, and when Christian rulers have tried to impose a “Christian” rule, it has always become corrupt – whether Constantine or Christendom or the horrors of the conquistadors or the shadowy darknesses within the British Imperial project, which we are not too keen to acknowledge.
But that does not mean that Christians should avoid politics or not seek to work for the common good. Many of the greatest reforms, whether in education, health, in work, or fighting child poverty and neglect, or abolishing slavery have been led and driven by committed Christians, Wilberforce, Hannah More, Shaftesbury, William Booth etc, or more recently Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero or Mother Theresa. These people were not perfect, they had their faults but they sought to make changes in line with the teaching of Jesus and their desire for the Kingdom in its fulness and its peace.
Peace therefore has a political and social component. The Christian vision of Peace is uncompromising, but it is also utterly compromised in that the way of the Cross which began in the ordinary birth in Bethlehem does not impose by force; the Prince of Peace is crucified by the forces of violence and power. The Pax Augusta temporarily conquers in executing this disruptive, non-accommodating problem-person.
And for us to find the strength to live and work in the way of Jesus, we need to find that inner peace which is a blend of quiet certitude and an inner conviction, that God is with us and that his Kingdom will come. We are to be witnesses to the Kingdom, and we are to model these Kingdom values, grace, mercy, peace.
Yesterday we explored the world-views around us. The Christian world-view is distinct and different.
Some describe our current culture as “post-Christian” – a world that has memories of a Christian past, in which broadly Christian values are still honoured, though more in theory than in practice, but where human endeavour has cut itself free from an accountability to God, whether as Creator or as Holy.
We saw this first in the story of the Tower of Babel, which describes a compunction to build an edifice to reach God, to create a world which is not rooted in God but has human beings as the subject and centre. The Prince of Peace comes to a world which is not necessarily wanting his reign. There is a real challenge as we proclaim the Prince of Peace in our Tower of Babel world of human independence, in our modern version of the Pax Romana where power triumphs while claiming to be beneficial to all.
That is the outside world; some people are drowning under guilt or shame, crippled with regrets or burnt up by anger or seeking revenge; and many humans will try and ignore shame, guilt, responsibility – we have become adept at passing off blame, side-stepping accountability, justifying ourselves; but for many there is a desire to find an inner peace, an inner acceptance.
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find their rest in you
This inner peace, this peace of heart, is a gift from God. It includes knowing forgiveness, knowing we are loved by God; it includes a trust and belief that God can mend and restore even that which is utterly broken, and can rescue the bits even when they seem to have been obliterated or scattered. As we discover the Rescuer, Jesus, the good Shepherd who finds the lost and carries home the wounded, as we learn that nothing can separate us from the love of God, as we sense the presence of God’s Spirit within us (and some are blessed with this sense more than others – I don’t know why), as we learn to be still during the day, and find a rhythm for the week, as we are fed in the Sacrament, as we hear God’s Word, we can be filled with peace. Filled with peace – what a wonderful image and reality and truth.