Christmas Eve Homily
“The Prince of Peace”
Text: John 14: 27
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”
Peace is a word we hear a lot around Christmas. There are cards and decorations and all kinds of things that bear the name of peace. But this raises a few questions for me. What kind of peace are we talking about and how do we recognize it if we find it? Obviously, world peace is not the promise given, or at least not a promise that has been kept. Personal, inner peace is what some would say, and yet I know of many examples where the Christmas season just takes the inner turmoil some experience and makes it worse. There are many who struggle to just get through the Holiday season without experiencing some sort of mental, emotional or physical breakdown.
What kind of peace are we to receive from Jesus? If not world peace and not inner peace, what other kinds of peace are there? Certainly the Christian church does not have a history of peace. One might think that when someone becomes a Christian, then they immediately become a peaceful person. History, both in ages past and recent events have proven that to not be the case.
What peace is Jesus referring to in the text I read a few minutes ago? What is this promise of Jesus? Is it an empty promise? Are they just nice words, but without any true substance? Is it something we can hope for, but not always receive? What is this elusive, mysterious peace to which Jesus refers?
How often do we hear the term the Prince of Peace around Christmas time? But what does it mean? What is this peace to which everyone so anxiously talks about but no one seems to experience? I wonder…..
I wonder how we define this mysterious peace for ourselves, and how we can take the promise of Jesus and make it universal. For me, when I’m considering a promise or a teaching of Jesus, one of the questions I ask myself, is does it apply to everyone? In other words, for a saying or a teaching of Jesus to be truly valid, for me, it must be of a universal nature. It must equally apply or be able to be experienced by all. I don’t believe Jesus played favorites. This mysterious peace that we are so ready to point to all the time, or sing about or light candles about seems very elusive indeed. At the personal level, I believe, most of us struggle to experience true peace and certainly the world at large struggles as well.
Now that I have asked a lot of questions, let me try to answer a few of them from my perspective. I believe it is likely the peace to which Jesus is referring to in this scripture and most of our other references as well, is an eternal peace; in other words, the status of our eternal relationship with the Divine. It is what some would define as salvation, or being saved. In more general terms, the idea that when we leave our physical bodies at the point of our death, there is a relationship waiting for us with the Divine in a spiritual sense.
From that perspective, this saying of Jesus passes the egalitarian test. At least it does until we begin to mess with it.
Jesus claims to leave us with peace and to give us peace in this scripture. Then he goes on to qualify the gift. Did you notice that the scripture says he gives not as the world gives? Have you ever wondered what that meant?
In my mind the world is a place of trade and commerce. I give you something; you give me something in return. We trade. We broker. We exchange commodities. In our culture, that commodity has become money. We trade money for our food, clothing, shelter and things we want and need. This is the basic foundational tenet of all cultures, trade. We learn to trade one thing for another. The path to becoming a fully developed culture always includes the ability to trade. This is a universal truth.
So I believe it is safe to say that is how the world gives. We give with the understanding that we really trade. I give you something; you give me something in return. It is a trade.
So how does this eternal peace come to us from Jesus? It is a gift because he states that he is giving it to us, and yet there is a qualifier attached. Jesus says he gives, not as the world gives. In other words, the gift of eternal peace is ours for the taking and we are not required to trade anything in return.
It seems to me the church universal has missed this concept. All the Christian denominations differ slightly, but each of them have their own checklists of what the individual must do to attain eternal peace, or salvation. We still want to make it a trade, in spite of the fact that Jesus clearly says it is not a trade.
Jesus said I give; I don’t trade.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” Receive the gift of Christmas, it has been there – All the time, and for everyone. No exceptions.