Before there was 9/11, before Kennedy was assassinated, there was Pearl Harbor. Seventy-four years ago today, the United States was ushered into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The territory of Hawaii was placed under martial law, elsewhere in the country, Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps. Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the day of the attack, ‘a date which will live on in infamy.’
If you worship in a church which celebrates Advent, yesterday morning the second candle was lit– which many of our liturgies called the candle of peace. The themes for each week of Advent (Hope, Peace, Joy, Love) are all fulfilled in the advent of Christ–his Incarnation and Second coming. As we enter into the second week of Advent, we hope and long for the peace of Christ to break into our world.
When Jesus came on the earth, the Jewish people were under the thumb of Rome and longed for the Shalom of God. They groaned toward the day when Israel would be restored, when everyone would be whole and healthy and God would remember His covenant with them and bless them. To experience shalom meant right relationship with God, with the nations, with neighbors, with our enemies, with the earth and with ourselves. It meant everything as it should be and nothing which should be is left out. It meant wholeness in every area of life. Jesus was born in obscurity and died the death of a failed revolutionary, but some how inaugurated the new age of the Kingdom of God–the return to a state of blessing and peace. He was the one whom Isaiah foretold:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7).
In our war-torn and terror stricken world, we too long for shalom, the peace of Christ–the day when Christ returns and sets the world to rights. But sometimes the coming of Jesus doesn’t feel like the Prince of Peace being born. Some people think of the end and are terrified. Judgment is coming and many of us fear the great and terrible day of the Lord (cf. Malachi 4:5).
So which is it peace or a day of a day of infamy? We call Jesus our prince of peace but this Jesus also said:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
We proclaim peace and long for the day when swords are beaten into pruning hooks and lions lay down with lambs (and elephants with donkeys). Jesus brings a sword. Peace is coming, but Christ’s return also is a time of reckoning.
Liberal theology sometimes emphasizes the peaceful nature of Christ’s coming kingdom to the exclusion of any hint of wrath or judgment. Some theologies put the emphasis on the coming judgement. But I think both are true. The peace of Christ, is peace because of Jesus, peace through Jesus, peace in Jesus. Those who are antagonistic to the way of Christ, will experience a day of infamy like the world has never seen. Those who are trusting Jesus with their life and with their eternity will experience the fullness of God’s shalom.
In the Christian culture I grew up in, saying a sinner’s prayer determined which side of the judgement you would experience in the last days. Heaven awaited but you were ‘in’ or you were ‘out.’ I trust God that many I thought were out will be in and worry that some I thought were in are out. Jesus is the righteous judge and there is no other name in heaven or on earth by which people are saved (Acts 4:12). Jesus alone saves, and our hope is to trust him with our whole selves. What does this mean? It means more than just saying a prayer and going to church on Sunday. It doesn’t mean voting Republican or having a Jesus fish on your car. What it means is this Prince of Peace is your life-leader and you have chosen to follow Him in all things.
There are uncomfortable implications for this. Can you hold a grudge when someone hurts you and say you are following the Prince of Peace? Can you dehumanize and demonize political opponents, ethnic groups and non-Christian nations and claim to be an agent of God’s Shalom? Can you fail to care for others and call yourself a follower of Chris? Can you hold on to personal prejudice and be an ambassador of reconciliation? The way to follow the Prince of Peace is to work for peace: peace with God, with the nations, with neighbors, with our enemies, with the earth and with ourselves.
None of us does this perfectly. I don’t want to feign serenity here. I fight with my wife, I mutter bad words while driving, I get impatient and yell at the kids and stare down strangers I disapprove of. I fail to love and care for friends and family and have an even worse track record with enemies. But I am learning to let the peace of Christ reign in me and be an agent of Shalom to the anxious, hurting people God puts in my path.
Make way for the Coming of the Prince of Peace!