Its Christmas Day 2010 and I am thinking of the angelic announcement, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14). We usually read and say this as simply, Peace on earth and Good Will toward Men. Anyway you translate it the idea is of course that with Jesus' birth the possibility of peace among humans is enhanced, perhaps even truly enabled. But how?
Human history has been anything but a peace parade! The very fact that what Jesus came to bring, namely grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation shows us that the world is full of their opposites. The world is a vivid contrast to each of these divine gifts. This is true with individuals, small groups and nations with nations. The need for peace on earth is demonstrated daily by the discord within each of ourselves on the micro and macro scales. The need is real, but again what is the way for finding the meeting of the need? Dietrich Bonhoeffer sheds some light on this for us.
I have been reading a recent bio of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas called Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Bonhoeffer is the Christian theologian who was an activist in the resistence movement in Germany against Adolf Hitler. He was also involved in one of the many plots to assassinate the dictator and was later executed for it. At age 28 Bonhoeffer addressed a gathering of German church leaders and gave his now often quoted and memorable Peace Speech. This was a call for Christians to hear God's Word and obey it. In the speech Bonhoeffer points to the path to peace and that path is a radical one. I believe this way answers the question for us about how peace can be achieved among humans. Here's a quote from the speech:
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God's commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.
On this Christmas Day I am reminded that the babe born in Bethlehem was, as the hymn writer says, Born to die, that man might live. The way of peace and of the reconciliation which brings that peace, is the way of the cross. It is by death to selfishness that the way is cleared for peace to reign. Only when we choose not to take offense, but love and forgive the offender, will we be following in the way of the Prince of Peace. This way of the cross can be taken by us in our daily interactions with others and our world. It is a hard way, because it is not a natural course for us. But when we take it we are demonstrating our trust in the One who lived, died and rose again to take that path ahead of us and bid us follow after him upon it.