Shalom

Here it is…the last epistle reflection of 2018! We close with another Hebrew prophet—Micah—who leaves us with another Hebrew word to contemplate—Shalom…Peace.

Now, many of you may be thinking how appropriate and how sweet, we end on peace. However, I think that peace is a bit of a dangerous word, and most of us don’t even realize it. Peace does not just mean the lack of active violence. You see, peace is not possible without drastic change. Peace cannot exist without justice, and it is abundantly clear that we are not at that place right now.

It would be easy for us to say that we don’t have peace because of those other people. We don’t have peace because of__________. The reality is, that a lack of peace is always the result of a lack of justice and a lack of compassion. That isn’t a one-party problem, that is an all humans problem. If that one party is determined to upset the peace, we shouldn’t be asking how do we deal with them, we should be asking why they are not content with peace. What situation has created this desire for conflict. Usually, it has something to do with needs going unmet. Usually, it has something to do with equity. Usually, it has something to do with things that those of us desiring peace could change, but don’t particularly want to change because we are happy with the status quo. Peace is elusive because we don’t really want to change—we’re comfortable. And the violence is a trade-off that we are willing to make because it isn’t affecting us directly. It is happening somewhere else. It is happening with people we don’t know. Sometimes we don’t even realize it is happening because we are content with our little bubbles of comfort.

That is what is at stake in the call for peace from the biblical prophets. It isn’t the simple peace of a lack of conflict. It isn’t the simple peace of quiet and relative comfort. It is an eschatological vision of the realization of God’s true justice. Eschatology, by the way, is the study of the culmination of all things and the final destiny of humanity. Lot’s of people settle for bad theology and fire and brimstone views of eschatology—all that Left Behind nonsense. I think one of the reasons that people settle for that garbage is because the actual final vision may be much scarier. The actual vision would require us to give up some of what makes us comfortable. The actual vision would require us to sit at Christ’s table next to those whom we would call enemy, those we would call evil, those we would call other. The actual vision is one of sacrificial love that would require much more of us than we are willing to give.

It is to this reality that the prophet Micah speaks. Micah is a strange prophet. On the one hand he speaks of doom and gloom. Micah forecasts the fall of Samaria and Jerusalem. He sees the unfaithfulness of the people and realizes that there will be major consequences for the lack of justice in the land. On the other hand, Micah prophesies a coming reign of peace, and one who will come out of Bethlehem to teach people of what true peace is. That is the passage that we draw on this week, and it has long been used to foreshadow the coming of Christ. It is the passage that is quoted in the gospel of Matthew when the Magi come calling on Herod’s doorstep. It is the passage that we will read on Christmas Eve during the candle light service before we sing O Little Town of Bethlehem. It is a highly influential passage, but it is also one that is easy to miss the significance. We revel in the sweet sentiments of, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. They will dwell secure, because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace.” We think this sounds so comforting and…well…peaceful. We don’t read the surrounding passages though. They are filled with visions of God and God’s shepherd overseeing vast changes, upheaval in the social order, and the complete and total destruction of ALL military power. It also uses incredibly violent imagery about God and God’s people accomplishing this through drastic measures, “Then the few remaining in Jacob will be among the nations, amid many peoples, like a lion among the creatures of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which when it passes by, tramples and tears to pieces with no one to deliver.” Take a second and imagine what that would look like in our culture. Can you imagine the drastic shift in the status quo that would require? Can you imagine what it would look like if God’s Shepherd were to clean up our act today? Do we realize how uncomfortable it would be to accomplish this kind of drastic change? Do we realize what we are really praying for when we pray for peace?

Now at this point you may very well be wondering why on earth I would be saying these things. It sounds very much like I am discouraging peace. On the contrary, I hope for nothing more. However, we have to start working a lot harder for this reality than simply the Christmas Card version of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all.” We take for granted that true work for peace is hard, it is uncomfortable, it would require a vastly different mindset from all of us. We can’t even begin to work for peace unless we realize what it is we are asking for—a complete and total shift in who we are, and how we live, and move, and act in the world. I am all for peace, but it is like the old saying, “You can’t fix a problem until you can admit you have one.” The kind of biblical peace of which the prophets speak is something that requires vast change from all of us. It is not that peace eludes us because of those “other people.” Peace eludes us because most of the time we don’t really understand what it is we are asking for when we pray for peace. We are asking for a totally different way of being.

As we wish each other well this holiday season; as you read those golden filigree Christmas cards; as you hear those beloved carols; as you contemplate the coming of the Prince of Peace; know what it is that we are talking about and know that it requires much from each one of us. Don’t be content with cheap versions of peace. Start taking steps now to realize that thing for which we keep hoping and praying—PEACE.

Here it is…the last epistle reflection of 2018! We close with another Hebrew prophet—Micah—who leaves us with another Hebrew word to contemplate—Shalom…Peace.

Now, many of you may be thinking how appropriate and how sweet, we end on peace. However, I think that peace is a bit of a dangerous word, and most of us don’t even realize it. Peace does not just mean the lack of active violence. You see, peace is not possible without drastic change. Peace cannot exist without justice, and it is abundantly clear that we are not at that place right now.

It would be easy for us to say that we don’t have peace because of those other people. We don’t have peace because of__________. The reality is, that a lack of peace is always the result of a lack of justice and a lack of compassion. That isn’t a one-party problem, that is an all humans problem. If that one party is determined to upset the peace, we shouldn’t be asking how do we deal with them, we should be asking why they are not content with peace. What situation has created this desire for conflict. Usually, it has something to do with needs going unmet. Usually, it has something to do with equity. Usually, it has something to do with things that those of us desiring peace could change, but don’t particularly want to change because we are happy with the status quo. Peace is elusive because we don’t really want to change—we’re comfortable. And the violence is a trade-off that we are willing to make because it isn’t affecting us directly. It is happening somewhere else. It is happening with people we don’t know. Sometimes we don’t even realize it is happening because we are content with our little bubbles of comfort.

That is what is at stake in the call for peace from the biblical prophets. It isn’t the simple peace of a lack of conflict. It isn’t the simple peace of quiet and relative comfort. It is an eschatological vision of the realization of God’s true justice. Eschatology, by the way, is the study of the culmination of all things and the final destiny of humanity. Lot’s of people settle for bad theology and fire and brimstone views of eschatology—all that Left Behind nonsense. I think one of the reasons that people settle for that garbage is because the actual final vision may be much scarier. The actual vision would require us to give up some of what makes us comfortable. The actual vision would require us to sit at Christ’s table next to those whom we would call enemy, those we would call evil, those we would call other. The actual vision is one of sacrificial love that would require much more of us than we are willing to give.

It is to this reality that the prophet Micah speaks. Micah is a strange prophet. On the one hand he speaks of doom and gloom. Micah forecasts the fall of Samaria and Jerusalem. He sees the unfaithfulness of the people and realizes that there will be major consequences for the lack of justice in the land. On the other hand, Micah prophesies a coming reign of peace, and one who will come out of Bethlehem to teach people of what true peace is. That is the passage that we draw on this week, and it has long been used to foreshadow the coming of Christ. It is the passage that is quoted in the gospel of Matthew when the Magi come calling on Herod’s doorstep. It is the passage that we will read on Christmas Eve during the candle light service before we sing O Little Town of Bethlehem. It is a highly influential passage, but it is also one that is easy to miss the significance. We revel in the sweet sentiments of, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. They will dwell secure, because he will surely become great throughout the earth; he will become one of peace.” We think this sounds so comforting and…well…peaceful. We don’t read the surrounding passages though. They are filled with visions of God and God’s shepherd overseeing vast changes, upheaval in the social order, and the complete and total destruction of ALL military power. It also uses incredibly violent imagery about God and God’s people accomplishing this through drastic measures, “Then the few remaining in Jacob will be among the nations, amid many peoples, like a lion among the creatures of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which when it passes by, tramples and tears to pieces with no one to deliver.” Take a second and imagine what that would look like in our culture. Can you imagine the drastic shift in the status quo that would require? Can you imagine what it would look like if God’s Shepherd were to clean up our act today? Do we realize how uncomfortable it would be to accomplish this kind of drastic change? Do we realize what we are really praying for when we pray for peace?

Now at this point you may very well be wondering why on earth I would be saying these things. It sounds very much like I am discouraging peace. On the contrary, I hope for nothing more. However, we have to start working a lot harder for this reality than simply the Christmas Card version of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all.” We take for granted that true work for peace is hard, it is uncomfortable, it would require a vastly different mindset from all of us. We can’t even begin to work for peace unless we realize what it is we are asking for—a complete and total shift in who we are, and how we live, and move, and act in the world. I am all for peace, but it is like the old saying, “You can’t fix a problem until you can admit you have one.” The kind of biblical peace of which the prophets speak is something that requires vast change from all of us. It is not that peace eludes us because of those “other people.” Peace eludes us because most of the time we don’t really understand what it is we are asking for when we pray for peace. We are asking for a totally different way of being.

As we wish each other well this holiday season; as you read those golden filigree Christmas cards; as you hear those beloved carols; as you contemplate the coming of the Prince of Peace; know what it is that we are talking about and know that it requires much from each one of us. Don’t be content with cheap versions of peace. Start taking steps now to realize that thing for which we keep hoping and praying—PEACE.

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