Peace and Sword

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  December 28, 2013

            The Prince of Peace is born. Isaiah prophesied that the young woman was with child and the birth of the miraculous baby would be a sign of peace. On the occasion of his birth, God’s angels proclaimed “Peace on earth!” One look at today’s headlines, the opinions and commentaries that permeate the press, or even sit in conversations with believers talking about current events and the peace of Christ is a difficult reality to really embrace.
            When Mary learned of the miracle child she was carrying she sang as song of blessing and hope. In this beautiful song recorded in the first chapter of Luke, Mary sings of how the child in her womb would be God’s agent to “scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” and “bring the powerful down from their thrones.” Many years later, in Matthew 10, Jesus himself states that all who look to him to bring peace will be disappointed. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” he prophetically proclaims before warning that in his name whole families will be bitterly divided.
            While we joyously celebrate the Prince of Peace, we also remain bitterly divided in belief, doctrine, and practice. Making matters worse is the harsh reality that our shared defense of highly volatile moral, theological, and Biblical convictions, is often expressed in language and absolutisms that cut off any meaningful dialogue, compassion, or love.
            In simple terms, the conversation often begins in absolutists terms such as, “You are not a Christian if you believe …. (Fill in the blank with your own preferred moral, political, or religious issue.) The rhetoric intensifies when the swords of verbal warfare are brandished in defense of what we know is correct and in opposition to that which we know is absolutely poised to destroy all that we believe is good, holy, just, and proper.
            The language is ubiquitous and is frequently shouted by faithful believers of all expressions of Christianity and, quite often, is shouted across the church landscape at other Christians who happen to believe quite differently. The rancorous defensive and reactive bantering is so compelling, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in in the fear-driven war of protecting the proper faith in Jesus Christ against those who would stand in opposition.
            Such battles for spiritual purity and religious fidelity are nothing new. Jesus himself faced the onslaught of reactionary politics and defensive religion. It ultimately helped place him on a cross. It was the evening before religious conflict and ideology culminated in his murder, Jesus reminded his disciples that his peace was different from the peace the world seeks. The 14th chapter of John reminds them that their peace would not come through having all the answers or knowing all the right theology, but through living in the Holy Spirit.
            A few days later the once-dead, now living Prince of Peace, appeared to his closest friends. They were locked behind closed doors for fear that the religious warfare for doctrinal purity would soon claim them as it did their beloved teacher. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said to them upon his miraculous resurrected appearance in John 20.
            On Christmas morning the Prince of Peace was born to bring peace on earth and also a sword. How we choose to live in the tension between the two is, perhaps, the greatest challenge for Christianity. In peace, it is time we all demonstrate the compassion and tolerance for those with whom we disagree while, with the Sword of Truth at our side, prayerfully understand our own faith convictions for what they are without dividing the Body of Christ along ideological or theological lines that serve only to discredit the full integrity of God’s love in Jesus Christ.