Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

Full Disclosure: This is an abridged version of a talk I gave a year ago in a Bay Area Sacrament Meeting, before I became a By Common Consent-er.  It showed up in my memories feed today.  This being the “peace” week in Advent, I thought I’d share it more widely.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

This is how the angels heralded Christ’s coming, and I can think of no better synopsis of the Gospel of Christ than that – to praise God, promote peace, and serve your fellow men.

When I was a little girl, I loved the movie Aladdin.  One day while playing computer games with my daddy, I started prattling about genies and wishes.  My dad asked what I would wish for.  Considering myself to be wise and mature, and proud of my selflessness, I parroted a line I had heard elsewhere.  I announced that if I ever found a genie, of course “My first wish would be world peace.”

My dad responded, “If you actually want world peace, you could start by not fighting with your brother.”

I didn’t know what the word “profound” meant at that age, but that sentence was profound.  It struck me then that “peace” isn’t just about formal treaties between world leaders, or the absence of fighters and battleships and tanks.  Peace is about the teeny choices we all make every day. About individuals and communities.  About building bridges instead of walls.  About forgiving and loving those around us.

That’s all God asks: for us to love one another, like he loves us, because God is love.  (1 John 4:7).  It’s the clearest and simplest commandment – and yet the one we most struggle with putting into practice.

God gave us agency, and so God can’t force us to love. He gave us divine nature through which we’re all capable of incredible love and compassion, and yet we all pick petty fights.

When Enoch, after surveying the majesty of God’s creations asked the Lord, “how is it thou canst weep?”, the answer was clear:

“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands…And unto thy brethren I [have] given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” (Moses 7:32-33)

As Christians, we have one job.  It is to reverse that last forlorn “but behold” clause. It’s to show forth affection and to love our fellow men.  Hebrews instructs us to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness — without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

This is why Christ came into the world 2017 years ago (+4, if you listen to historians). To conquer the world through infinite love; to preach the radical gospel of peace.

This Christmas, let’s re-focus ourselves on the simple Gospel questions: am I promoting peace? Who could I be a little better at loving? To whom do I owe an apology?

I challenge all of us to think of someone you have tension with or have bickered with or may have accidentally offended – and just say you’re sorry.  Without justification or excuse.  What greater humility is there than to just frankly admit when you’re wrong?

Let’s confess that we sometimes in our righteous anger or moral outrage or zealousness or whatever else you want to call it, pick fights and hurt others because we think we’re “Doing What’s Right” or “Following God.”  Anger is not peace.  Honestly, we need to apologize for it.

As John wrote (1 John 4:20-21) “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”

My favorite Christian writer William Tyndale (writing in the 1500s) once condemned the crusades.  He explained that we have been taught “as children to fight for the liberties and right of the church. While we were yet young in Christ, we thought that it was lawful to fight for the true word of God.”

But then Tyndale explained that this crusading spirit is in error: “the peaceable doctrine of Christ teaches us to remit vengeance and the defense of the Word to God, who is mighty and able to defend it.”

So before we sing Onward Christian Soldiers and march forward into battle to defend the Word of God, remember Tyndale’s advice: God is a big boy. He can defend himself. God doesn’t need us to fight for him, he needs us to love for him.

God needs us to spread peace.

Comments

  1. Printing, copying, keeping. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for your post! It’s tough sometimes to know when to “spread peace” and when not to. For example, one of my friends is dating a girl who I have tried to be friends with for a long time. I want her to open up, and get to know her so she feels welcome in our group. But after many attempts I remain frustrated and confused. She is closed off, flippant, and seemingly mad at the world. I wish I could just sit her down and say HEY! What’s your problem!?! But I know there’s a point that I should just let it be and move on. What is your advice for a situation like that?

  3. I’m stealing that line from your dad….

  4. Jess T., find out what she’s passionate about.

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