“In Search of Peace” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles. U.C.C. December 4, 2022 Isaiah 9:2-7 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Luke 2:1-14 1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
It seems that humankind has been in search of peace forever. Historians say that of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for just 8 percent of recorded history. At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century. Estimates for the total number killed in wars throughout all human history range from 150 million to 1 billion.
So perhaps the question should be asked, do we really want peace? Is anyone seriously in search of peace? Because if we were it would seem that a species that has the imagination and will to send people to the moon, to create vaccines that end plagues and diseases, and to invent a way to sell a rock as a pet could figure out how to bring peace to human kind.
Perhaps it is a matter of what is more profitable and what seems more fun. Quinn Caldwell, a pastor and father says maybe the problem is that peace is boring. He tells the story of sitting down with his 5-year –old son in a waiting room and tried to interest him in playing chess. His son’s response?
“Let’s play war!” he shouted with a pawn in his hand, then began making airplane, gunfire, and bomb sounds, sounds “that he certainly never heard at home.”
“No, let’s play peace,” Quinn suggested in his enlightened parent voice. “Look, my guys will come visit, and we can build a clinic together.”
They went back and forth, father suggesting peaceful alternatives, son making gun, missile, and exploding bomb sounds.
Father says, “Listen, dude. War really, really hurts people. It kills them. It’s terrible.”
Son responded, “Peace is boooooring!”
Rev. Caldwell says, “Eventually both sides agreed to what history knows as the 2015 Waiting Room Accord: For every 5 minutes of war, we play 10 minutes of peace.” With several other imaginative alternatives to bombs and guns for the war part. Why is it that we find war and violence fascinating and peace boring?
Perhaps it really does begin with our imaginations. Maybe we find that war fires our imaginations more than peace. The prophet Isaiah says, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” To me that sounds like a vision of a new reality came upon them. They suddenly had the imagination to envision a future that was different from their past. And Isaiah promised that God responded to their new vision with a different kind of Ruler and a different kind of rule. This Ruler would be a Prince of Peace. As the King of Kings he would be more than a Caesar, better than a Prime Minister, greater than a President. God offered a leader called a “Messiah.” But the Messiah would be different from Caesars and Presidents who are only interested in their own glory and profit, at the expense of those they rule. The Messiah would bring peace and would “establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness.” This was not Pax Romana, this was not “law and order,” the Messiah would bring God’s vision for peace.
The question we must ask, if we want real peace, is “Which vision is more powerful? Which vision is worth giving my effort towards?” Do we believe that there is hope for the future? That’s great, if we do, but what do we believe is the source of that hope? Is it a hope based in claiming power over others, in denying justice to others, in creating a world where a small, but wealthy and powerful group enjoys privileges while millions are enslaved, or marginalized, excluded from basic human rights? If that is our hope, peace is impossible. But if our vision is based in God’s word, in God’s vision, then peace is not only possible, it is certain. That’s right, I said that God’s peace is a certainty!
Now here is the thing about God’s vision and God’s promises. God does not impose these things in the same way a human Caesar or a President or a King does. God does not declare a law that we must all worship and obey or God will send troops or lawyers to threaten us. No, God sent a Prince of Peace to proclaim the power of love to bring peace to all people. Isaiah announced the good news that God would send a Prince of Peace to the people of Israel long before it happened. The people of Israel had gone from living in exile and slavery under Babylon to living in their own homes under the crushing rule of Rome and Caesar. The promise and the vision announced by Isaiah was echoed, though, those centuries later when God sent the Messiah.
As you know, God didn’t announce this Prince of Peace to the rich and famous and powerful. They had their own messiahs, their own lords, their own saviors. God announced it to the poorest of the poor, the peasants, the shepherds, those who had no power, no privileges, and no claims of greatness. But it was to them that God came and announced the great good news, “of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” The Scripture reminds us that “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God” and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among” people because of God’s favor,” God’s love for us all.
Once again God offered a new vision and a new reality. And still we wait, and God waits, to see if we will truly believe in and join in creating “peace on earth, goodwill to all people.” Rev. John Phillip Newell proclaims that he believes that “The promise of God is more powerful than the destructiveness of humanity! The wolf shall dwell with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid…. each of us has a role to play in this most essential story, peace on earth.”
Rev. Newell tells a story of his father, who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. If you remember that was the most militant of Protestant communities. He was “born in 1922, the same month as the Irish Civil War began. He breathed in the infection of the soul that tore apart the life of a whole nation. He knew within himself the hatred that divided North from South, Protestant from Catholic.” The violence and hatred between those two are a microcosm of the world where we say we are searching for peace.
In his mid-eighties Rev. Newell’s father asked him to take him to the south of Ireland. He had never been before. Rev. Newell “arranged a family holiday in County Kerry and on the first Sunday took him into Dingle Town, naively thinking there might be a variety of churches to choose from.” They could find only one, St Mary’s Church. So there they were, 2 Irish Protestants standing outside an Irish Catholic Church. He apologized to his father saying, “You know, we don’t have to go in there.”
His father said, “I want to go to church, and I want go in there.” Rev. Newell said, “we don’t have to stay for the whole service!” His father replied firmly, “I want to go to church, and I want to stay for the whole service.”
The priest was a delightful Irish type, whose warm style was endearing. When it came to the intercessions, he said, “Now we pray for the weather, Lord. It’s not been too bad but it could be much better. And we have people visiting from all over the world, Lord, and we’d like them to see our beautiful country, so we pray for the weather, Lord.” And on and on he went.
When it came to the distribution of the mass, there was Rev. Newell’s “Belfast-born Protestant father with tears streaming down his face going forward to receive the bread and the wine and here he received it from a Roman Catholic priest from the south of Ireland.” For Rev. Newell this was a sign of God’s vision for peace. Rev. Newell said, “There is hope for the world. Never in my life could I have imagined that this would happen. What are the divisions in our lives and communities that we cannot imagine being healed? What is the hatred between religions and nations that we fatalistically assume to be eternal? The future has not yet been decided. Do we believe this? If so, let us turn our creed into deed, our belief into action. Let us reshape the future together.”
We believe in an open table, where anyone is welcome. We believe this is an image of the future, where everyone is welcome, everyone is fed, everyone is loved and where peace is not just the absence of war. It is a future where suffering and oppression and injustice have been eliminated by the power of love.
Let us not give up on the search for peace. The old song says it well. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me, and with you, and together let us imagine it and then turn our imagination into action. Let us begin here at this table where grace, and peace, and love are real. AMEN.