Recently in the media, we have been served up an interesting discussion about peace: President Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military's plan for victory and withdrawal, speculation about the next steps in the war on terrorism, strife and tribal warfare in Africa, and of course early talk of Christmas peace, or mostly the lack thereof due to busy schedules, joblessness, and poor consumer spending.
All this talk of peace seems to be hardwired into the human condition because of the constant presence of war and strife. I just finished an informative biography of Sir Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins where he chronicled Churchill's decisive role in WWII as the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain. One his most telling observations was the birth of the next war (i.e. the cold war) which came even before the Allied Powers were declaring victory and bringing peace in their current struggle with Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers. Churchill rightly saw this next bipolar struggle coming which would dominate the latter half of the 20th century.
Peace was a big theme at the first Christmas, and also before Jesus' death. Luke indicates it was part of the angel's chorus to the lowly shepherds - "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" (Luke 2:14) . Some thirty-three years later, peace was the topic of discussion between Jesus and his inner-circle of followers - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)
This desire for peace clearly has more than one aspect to it. On a grand human scale it is the elusive pursuit of the absence of war. On an interpersonal level it is the absence of strife and conflict in our relationships. On a spiritual level, the angels indicated it had something to do with God being pleased with us. Jesus also seemed to indicate that peace was other-worldly and a gift from Him, bringing calm, not fear, to our souls.
To me, these various aspects of peace seem to be deeply connected. Just as the scientific and philosophic rule called Occam's Razor, when applied to medicine, calls for the simplest diagnosis and assumes that various symptoms of disease may somehow be connected, so too we should assume our lack of peace, our dis-ease if you will, has a common root cause.
While it may be tempting to focus our treatment on political solutions between nations - and we should - or psychological strategies for interpersonal harmony - and we should - those solutions and strategies would likely only be temporary "pain killers" or "band-aids" treating the symptoms, not the cause.
No, our dis-ease and lack of peace requires more basic and targeted medicine, because the root cause is imbedded in our human genetic make-up. We have faulty hearts. They are faulty not in the physical sense of muscle contractions, electrical impulses or valve operation, but in the sense of our deepest life-directing impulses, motivations and affections.
We need more than a list of rules, more than a contrived state of detachment from our physical existence, more than an evolutionary prescription for overcoming our self-focused survival -of-the-fittest instincts, more than psycho-analysis to reconcile our id and superego, more than a new Porsche at 1.9% interest rate or a new iPod Nano or the latest in designer clothes. We need more than weekly counseling sessions or self-help recommendations from Oprah or Dr. Phil. We need more than a Nobel Peace Prize, a new majority in congress, or a peace accord with the Taliban and a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or even Osama Bin Laden brought to justice.
(I must admit all those things would be nice - especially the Porsche and Bin Laden - but they would still fall woefully short.)
We need new hearts. We need a heart surgeon of the other-worldly kind. Maybe He's the One the angels were singing about all those years ago. Maybe that's what Jesus meant when he said:
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many rooms. . . And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth. . . He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:1,2,16,17,26.
Maybe that's what all the Christmas celebration is supposed to be about.
The prophet Isaiah had it right several hundred years before the angels sang it out:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of PEACE. Of the increase of his government and of PEACE there will be no end. . ." Isaiah 9:6,7
May that "increase" start in our hearts this season and re-make and re-direct our impulses, motivations and affections, bringing us peace with God and our fellow man.
In Christ (the other-worldly heart surgeon) alone,