Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Separate Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14.27)

A Troubling Thought—A Terrifying Prospect

Is there a time when Jesus, the Nazarene yeshiva prodigy, looks up from His Messianic lessons and inwardly whispers, “I think this is about Me”? The Gospels are maddeningly sketchy about His personal development. After His birth and presentation—a Temple rite observed 40 days after a first-born son’s delivery—we get a glimpse of Him at 12, dazzling Jerusalem’s teachers. Next comes the notorious 18-year gap devoid of any information about His youth. We turn the page and He’s leaving home at 30 to start His ministry. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph ever sit Him down and say, “Son, we need to talk.” It’s not suggested Jesus innately realizes Who He is all along. Whether any of this is true, at some point the Earthly Child has to catch up the Incarnate God. It may be a gradual dawning similar to how we come to grips with our identities. Maybe it’s a startling revelation. Either way, this reality surely gives rise to waves of anxiety, because Jesus’s scriptural mastery burdens Him with comprehension of what it means.

Jesus grasps what many will expect of Him. Imagine yourself at 14 or 18 or 22 opening Isaiah 9’s promise of a Prince of Peace, of Whose “government and peace there will be no end.” (v6-7) Or Nahum 1.15: “Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!” Or Zechariah 9.10: “He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Now step outside your father’s carpenter shop and gaze across the square. See the Romans, corrupt politicians, collaborators, and warring religious factions, the ultra-conservatives and restless revolutionaries. Look at your neighbors clinging to promises of a savior—namely, you. Even though the peace prophecies aren’t what they’re taken to mean, that popular myths define what’s expected of you has to present a troubling thought—a terrifying prospect. It’s impossible to conceive the crushing concerns young Jesus battles with, since the peace He’s come to give is not what we hope He’ll bring. The God in Him knows we need God’s peace—a separate peace—to empower and sustain us in the crossfire of human conflict. Yet His mortal side also senses how hard it will be for us to embrace God’s peace when turmoil, hatred, and violence overwhelm us.

Lasting Peace

It hasn’t got any easier, has it? Our world is still a huge mess. Oppression and corruption persist. Religious animosity and pride go by different names, but the sin remains the same. We, who are most disturbed by relentless conflicts, cling to Christ’s promise of peace. Yet we’re so undone by hatred and violence on every front, it’s nigh unto impossible to release the concept of our peace to welcome Christ’s peace. Particularly during Advent, when we reclaim prophecies that fueled hopes of peace in Jesus’s time, it’s a challenge to accept peace Christ comes to give is not what we hope Christ will bring. Yet without this enormous leap of faith, our angst about the human condition will find no relief.

Jesus often speaks of peace, constantly teaching us to align our preconceptions with His meaning. In John 14.27, He’s very frank: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” My peace is separate, He says. It’s not the kind of peace the world gives. It’s the peace of assurance, a calming confidence that we can survive and rise above strife causing us to feel troubled and terrified. It’s not a dreamy peace that pretends our world isn’t seething with conflict, hatred, and violence. Rather, it’s one born of realistically viewing our turmoil as a result of not accepting Christ’s peace. What are war and prejudice and cruelty if not the progeny of doubt and fear? Had Jesus lived up to His contemporaries’ expectations—had He somehow brought world peace to His day—it’s ludicrous to suppose it could have lasted. Our intrinsic insecurities wouldn’t allow us to maintain the peace Christ created on Earth. Since Cain killed Abel because he feared God preferred his brother’s sacrifices, humanity has lived and died by the sword. Christ’s peace is a lasting peace. It quells inner, spiritual chaos that feeds overt, material destructiveness. I leave My peace with you. That’s the peace our Advent quest seeks. Because Christ’s peace alone can overcome our doubts and fears, it becomes vital to embrace it wholeheartedly without reservation as our first and only means of ever achieving the world peace we long for.

Take Heart

The reminder that Christ’s peace is separate from world peace comes during the four-chapter account of Jesus’s Last Supper discussion with His disciples. He concludes by saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 14.33) Again, He emphasizes Christ’s peace, our hearts, and the world’s troubles. Embracing Christ’s peace in the midst of our troubled world is how we take heart. This peace that sustains us is the only sustainable peace we know. It’s impervious to doubt and fear by remaining untainted by human greed and ambition. It is the only peace we should trust—the only peace we can transmit to others, one by one, and therefore the only peace that will transform our homes, communities, and planet. We have every reason in the world to take heart in Christ’s peace.

While we do the work of Advent, contemplating our chaos and awaiting Christ’s peace, our hearts are untroubled. We are not afraid. To paraphrase Psalm 27, the Lord is our Light and Salvation; though wars surge around and against us, we take heart in Christ’s peace. The Incarnate God enters our world to bring us peace. The Everlasting God leaves peace with us—a separate peace impervious to our doubts and fears, a lasting peace uncorrupted by our greed and ambition. Embracing Christ’s peace is how we change the world.

The peace Christ brings is not the peace many of us expect. Yet it’s the peace we need to sustain us through trouble and transform the world.

Postscript: "Wonderful Peace"

For some reason, this year's Advent has drawn me back to many forgotten melodies from childhood. This song is particularly moving for me, as it brings back numerous times my father would sing it with tears painting his cheeks. It's a lovely, Appalachian-flavored hymn that, for me, conveys the essence of Christ's peace. "Far Away in the Depths," performed by Azure Fields.



Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight

Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm

In celestial-like strains it unceasingly falls

O'er my soul like an infinite calm

What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace

Buried deep in my innermost soul

So secure that no power can mine it away

While the years of eternity roll!

Peace, peace, wonderful peace

Coming down from the Father above!

Sweep over my spirit forever I pray

In fathomless billows of love!

Every soul without gladness or comfort or rest

Passing down the rough pathway of time

Make the Savior your Friend ere the shadows grow dark

Oh, accept of this peace so sublime

Peace, peace wonderful peace...


Philomena Ewing said...

Beautiful post Tim - makes me feel warm inside. peace- so fleeting and as Richard Rohr says here and not yet here...
It is lovely that you are reconnecting to music of your youth too. I can see why you love this one.
Blessings and may wonderful peace sweep over your spirit forever !!

Tim said...

Bless you, Phil! At present, work is doing its best to afflict me with non-stop freneticism--which is robbing me of precious time to rest my mind in Advent's wonder. I'm grateful for the bounty, yet envious (in a non-envious way) of those who have more freedom to reflect.

Your comment stirs me to not get hung up on the quantity of time, but relish the spare moments when peace can sweep over my spirit. Thank you!

Peace forever to you, also.