The quest for peace
“For unto us a child is born” is a line from the oratorio Messiah by George Frideric Handel. The full lyrics are: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the Government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
As humans, we all face circumstances that are unsettling that take us out of our comfort zones. Throughout our world, communities, and interpersonal relationships there exist conflicts with a yearning and deep hunger for peace.
There are currently 32 ongoing conflicts worldwide. These conflicts vary widely and can have significant impacts on the affected populations. Most of these conflicts are in the Middle East, North West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Mexican war on drugs.
Jamaica’s Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding referred to these when he said: “We pray for peace and an end to the wars and conflicts that are impacting vulnerable and defenceless civilians across the world.” (Jamaica Observer, December 25, 2023)
Here in Jamaica, a daily diet of murder, crime, increases in domestic violence, abuses of our children are signs of an imploded nation. The country is also beset with weekly increases in the cost of goods and services, and a sense of insecurity that affects our lives.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his recent Christmas message to the nation, acknowledged these truths when he said: “…at the community level, with poor infrastructure and amenities like roads and health care, and a breakdown in public order; at the household level, with high cost of living, poor housing, and a feeling of insecurity due to crime and violence; and at the personal level, broken relationships consume us with anger and rage, and unfulfilled desires and expectations weighing us down with depression and negative thoughts”. (The Gleaner, December 25, 2023)
Most of us want peace, and many drown out our unnerving reality through noises of entertainment.
When we hear the word peace we usually associate this to mean an absence of war or strife. The Latin word pax, where-from we have the English word peace, derives from a verb, pacisci, meaning to conclude a pact. It means a “condition free of conflicts, being the fruit of an encounter of separate wills”. When we talk about peace we are talking about calm, quiet, and tranquillity. This is the secular explanation of pax Romana (peace) within the framework of Lex Romana. But pax implied the unconditional surrender of the defeated state.
But, please, bear in mind that if peace, as understood within Roman law, implies the submission of the will of the other, it is not the peace that was understood by Christ and early Christians.
During the season of Christmas it is natural that we seek peace, and we also ask: “Where is this Prince of Peace?” The words of Saint Peter in his epistle is timely: “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” (2 Peter 3:14)
What is this peace, and why should we — you and me — strive to be found by the Lord without spot or blemish in this peace?
The Hebrew word shalom has a very different meaning. The root of this word is shalam, usually used in the context of making restitution. When a person has caused another to become deficient in some way, such as a loss of livestock, it is the responsibility of the person who created the deficiency to restore what has been taken, lost or stolen. The verb shalam literally means to make whole or complete. The noun shalom has the more literal meaning of being in a state of wholeness, or being without deficiency.
This peace is further rooted in the essence of who God is. In the Aaronic Blessing found in Numbers 6 we hear these words: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6: 22-28)
Here I wish to focus on the verse, “the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace”.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us that peace/shalom is a creation requirement of humans guaranteed in participatory worship in a context within which the generosity of creation can be received and enhanced.
Peace, as a blessing, is an enactment, first done in worship and then taken to the world, in order to resist the negation of the world of exile; that is, an enduring force to counter chaos (circumstances that are unsettling) in this life.
The peace of God is not external and is associated with God’s very being. So we appropriate the promise in the blessing…
God will lift up the Lord’s wholeness of being and look upon you and God will set in place all you need to be whole and complete (Numbers 6: 26). It’s interesting to note that verse 27 of Numbers 6 says, “So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
This is the very blessing announced by the angels at the birth of the Christ child: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on Earth peace among those whom he favours.” (Luke 2.14)
This peace is found in the call to serve, and not to be served. Serving has been the forgotten verb by our politicians, ministers of religion, judiciary, members of the arm forces and agents of the State, civil service, and customer support services in both public and private sectors.
Embracing the Prince of Peace includes responsibility to ensure life and liberty for all. To stand up for justice and to challenge oppressive structures and discrimination. Human beings have the capacity to become bearers of “Shlomo u Shaino” that is, in the Aramaic Orthodox tradition, peace and tranquillity — in one’s relationship with others, in one’s family and outside the family, and tranquillity is the disposition of serenity within oneself. It’s a peace that not only comes from God, but is the very presence of God’s self in us. Hence, St Peter encourages us to always strive in cultivating it in purity – without spot or blemish.
True peace is incarnating God’s being without deficiency in us and through us to others. Simply, a call to change.