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Prince of Peace

ib2newseditor —  December 19, 2016
12-5-16-statehouse-nativity

In the crèche at the Illinois Capitol building, a baby Jesus figurine reaches out with the promise of hope to passersby who mostly keep moving to get their business done.

In a world of chaos, we need peace to reign again. How is it possible?

Henry was despondent. His country was divided. His countrymen were at odds. Angry arguments had led to all-out war. And his son had joined the Army.

“In despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, describing the depth of his anguish. “There is no peace on earth,” he said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Perhaps it wasn’t unusual at the time for a man to express himself in verse, but with a son in battle and his wife recently deceased, it seems an odd time to opine on peace. But that’s what Henry did.

“It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent,” he wrote of the breadth of the national suffering. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not in his America. This great angry gash “made forlorn the households born Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

So much for the forefathers’ intended peace.

Loyal to the Union, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ascribed this national violation to Southern aggression in a verse not included in our hymnals today:

“Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow’s poem, written at Christmas in 1863, became an anthem for people who desperately needed an understanding of their wartime devastation. Was it to be to be attributed to human failure? Unbridged aggression? The natural consequence of sin? Or was it the judgment of God? The people took sides, brother against brother, and a nation at war with itself, in the middle of moral downfall, wondered, Where is this peace we were promised—our constitutional commitment and our biblical hope? Where is God in this unrestrained, unprecedented mess?

The poet drew images in sharp contrast: the ringing of cast-iron bells in church belfreys and the roaring of cast-iron cannons on farms-turned-battlefields. If the poem ended there, there would be no hope, for Longfellow or for us.

An uneasy peace
Thanksgiving 2016 may go down as the holiday that almost wasn’t (and similarly we fear for Christmas). Psychologists were advising families to avoid discussion of politics after the tumultuous and divisive election. The foment that was reported from workplaces and universities and city streets was likely to spill over into family gatherings as political debate became festering, destructive argument. Every family has at least one person who voted for the “wrong” candidate. Those who managed to keep their mouths shut at work would have little reason to hold back with their relatives. “Just don’t talk about it,” the Dr. Phil’s warned, for the sake of the peace.

But peace, by definition, demands reconciliation. A truce only promises a cessation of aggression, but that may not necessarily produce long-lasting, attitude-transforming, life-preserving peace.

Can there be peace after Clinton, peace past Trump? And beyond American politics, in this troubled year will there be peace in Latin America after Castro’s half-century grip on his nation (and ours)? For Aleppo divided down the middle by a narrow demilitarized zone that draws fire from both sides? For Syrian refugees still fleeing ISIS and Assad and for war zones in West Africa? And for persecuted believers in China, North Korea, Indonesia, and all corners of the world?

The fabled Christmas truce of 1914 seems so attractive right now.

Pope Benedict XV recommended in early December of that year that fighting be stopped to observe Christmas. Though the Great War was only five months old, French and German soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and at many locations, it is told, entered the no-man’s land between their battle lines calling “Merry Christmas!”

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours,” British rifleman William Graham later wrote, “until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing—two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

Enemy soldiers swapped packets of cigarettes and plum puddings, played soccer together in at least one location, and generally enjoyed a day of peace. In all, up to 100,000 troops, about two-thirds of the battle forces, participated in this “short peace in a terrible war” as summarized in a Time magazine account. Some troops used the day to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades and give them a proper burial.

The next day, the shooting resumed.

If we may borrow Longfellow’s words, “The world revolved from night to day…” in the stanza that precedes the poet’s headlong plunge into desolation, but there was no voice, no chime, no chant sublime, only the tinny rat-a-tat of gunfire—in cities across France a century ago, as in Paris and elsewhere with recent terrorist attacks, as in Mosul, Chicago, Englewood, Urbana, and Springfield.

So much for a cease fire.

Come, Lord Jesus
The world Jesus entered as a baby experienced a false peace. It was enforced by dictatorship and military oppression. It was threatened by zealots, terror cells, and constant fear of revolt by the masses. And yet, the era was called Peace.

The Peace of Rome. The Pax Romana lasted for about 200 years, but it came at a high price. The Caesars were cruel and nervous men, as were their henchmen, the regional governors such as the paranoid Herods. Herod the Great would do anything to keep peace with Rome, and thereby keep his throne, even if it meant slaughtering a town’s entire population of boy babies.

The prophets predicted the coming of young king who would specialize in peace,

“…one who is to be ruler in Israel…..

And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great

to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:2, 4-5a).

But the people who read the prophets understood how this peaceful monarchy would (of necessity) follow turmoil. Micah opened his sweet messianic prophecy with this arch salutation:

“Now, daughter who is under attack,

you slash yourself in grief;

a siege is set against us!” (Micah 5:1).

Even Isaiah, who gave the reassuring pronouncement that a Prince of Peace would be born, said honestly that saving the world is bloody business.

“For the yoke of his burden,

and the staff for his shoulder,

the rod of his oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:4-5).

All this talk of peace comes with this honest admission: The Prince of Peace enters a world in chaos and bring his own chaos with him. The emergence of the Kingdom of God at the natal moment is not peaceful. Birth is not peaceful. It is bloody—and loud and painful. Birth brings its own chaos.

And the One born does not sleep in heavenly peace for long. “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes…” and the carol writer Anonymous assures us “no crying he makes.”

Dream on, Anonymous.

That Baby cried in his first minute of existence outside his mother’s womb. His birth announcement was a plaintive wail, and nothing has been the same since. Kingdom burst into existence and crashed into conflict with this sin-stained world. It should not surprise us that we still long for peace, we still wait for peace, even after the Prince of Peace has come. His transforming work is not done.

Our American culture in its religious naivety loves Jesus as a baby, treating him as an amulet against bad things—like Annelle, the misguided hair stylist in Steel Magnolias, who decorated her front door with a score of tiny mangers.

“I went to the fire sale at the Baptist Book Store in Shreveport last month,” she said in a drawl appropriate to her bayou setting. “They were selling mismatched manger scenes at incredibly low prices, and I cleaned them out of Baby Jesuses…”

If only a score of ‘Baby Jesuses’ could ward off our national ills and personal fears.

A meeting with Jesus this year comes with the realization that the supposedly tow-headed youngster in the cradle is but a hint at the reign of peace to come, and that the coming of the Prince of Peace into this world first creates crisis.

“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus warned his followers in Matthew 21:34. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And in John 14:27, his definition of peace apparently differs from our expectations: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”

His holiness collides with our sin—and by God’s grace overcomes it at Calvary. His peace confronts our warring—and the victory must first be won in our hearts.

The Prince of Peace himself is confirmation of God’s promise that peace will come to the earth. At his second coming, he will usher in peace forevermore. Until then, his peace will reign in believing hearts, even if peace seems remote in a decidedly unpeaceful world.

“Do not be afraid!” the angel told the shepherds on a green patch outside a farming village. One commentator pointed out recently that statement could rightly be translated, “There’s no reason for you to be afraid.” And the angel choir affirms this good news: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, Peace on earth to people he favors” (Luke 2:9, 14 HCSB).

The peace this year may not be political. It is certainly not pervasive. But it is providential. And it is deeply personal. In a world of chaos, the Prince of Peace reigns first and foremost in the heart.

In this time of uncertainty and unrest, we are reminded like Longfellow, who

“thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along Th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Barna’s most recent list of the country’s most unchurched cities is dotted with Illinois metro areas, but only two have populations that rank above the national unchurched percentage: 38%. (Barna defines “unchurched” as those who haven’t attended a church service in the last six months, except for a holiday or special occasion.)

The_BriefingThe metro area composed of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois ranked 27th on Barna’s list of most unchurched cities, with an unchurched population of 42%. Chicago is a few places down the list, at No. 32 with 39% of the population unchurched.

Other familiar cities: St. Louis is 45th, Champaign/Springfield/Decatur is 53rd, and Harrisburg and Mt. Vernon (along with Paducah, Ky., and Cap Girardeau, Mo.) are 80th.


Does young = pacifist? Maybe not necessarily, according to a Harvard poll of young Americans that found nearly 60% approve of sending ground troops to fight ISIS.


Imprisoned pastor urges prayer | Saeed Abedini’s 35th birthday coincides May 7 with the National Day of Prayer in the U.S., which is the focus of a letter he wrote from prison in Iran. “As Ezra cried out to God in repentance and the Israelites joined him in weeping bitterly and turning from their sin, I would like to ask you to join me in repenting and praying for revival,” Abedini wrote. This story from The Christian Post also reports on the political chaos swirling around the pastor’s captivity and the fight for his release.


New nominees for persecuted countries list | The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended the State Department add eight countries to a list of the “world’s worst violators of religious liberty,” Baptist Press reports. The Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam all were nominated for the list of CPC’s (countries of particular concern), along with nine nations already on the list.


10 questions from Court’s marriage arguments | Transcripts of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments on same-sex marriage are available online, as is this guide–provided by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission–to the 10 most important questions asked by the justices. For example, would it be unwise for the Court to redefine an institution as ancient as marriage? And would redefining marriage impose on institutions’ religious liberty, like the loss of tax-exempt status?

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

International Mission Board workers called for prayer in the wake of devastating terrorist attacks in France, Baptist Press reports. “There exists today a delicate tension in France that teeters toward breaking, and [Wednesday’s] tragic events will likely serve to further stir up the tension,” said Mark Stone, a church planter in southern France. The outbreak of violence started Jan. 7 with a shooting that left 12 people dead at the headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

“We are praying that the outcry against these heinous acts committed by religious extremists will not become outcries against anyone who claims to have any sort of religious belief,” IMB worker Tara Chaney told Baptist Press.

“Right now, we are praying that the people of France will turn toward God and not away from Him.”


The_BriefingThe Muslim actor who will play Jesus in an upcoming National Geographic Channel said he didn’t believe Jesus would judge him for playing the part. “I cannot speak for Jesus, but I can quote his teachings and He said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'” Haaz Sleiman told Entertainment Weekly. “…How would He react to me playing Jesus? He wouldn’t judge it. He wouldn’t judge His own enemy…playing this part highlights His teaching in a very nice way.”

Sleiman will portray Christ in “Killing Jesus,” a miniseries based on a book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.


North Korea is atop Open Doors’ annual World Watch List for the 13th consecutive year, followed by Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The list tracks the countries “where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian.”


“Under no circumstances have I been discriminatory or hateful towards any member of the department in the LGBT community or a member of the LGBT community at large,” former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran told Baptist Press Jan. 6. Cochran was fired after an investigation into his self-published book which briefly mentions homosexuality as an immoral behavior, BP reports. Cochran teaches Sunday school and serves as a deacon at Elizabeth Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.


Where do the majority of Congressional representatives fall, faith-wise? Pew Research breaks down the religious makeup of the current U.S. Congress in this full report.


Wondering what else happened in Louis Zamperini’s life that didn’t make it into the recently released feature film Unbroken? Check out this half-hour documentary from the Bill Graham Evangelistic Association about the war hero’s conversion to Christianity.


We’ll give this a few weeks to see how it checks out: LifeWay Research recently found only 15% of churchgoers said they would skip worship to watch their favorite football team.

 

 

President Barack Obama meets with members of Congress to discuss Syria in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Sept. 3. White House photo by Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama meets with members of Congress to discuss Syria in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Sept. 3. White House photo by Pete Souza

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

(From Baptist Press) President Barack Obama is poised to address the nation tonight about why he believes U.S. forces should intervene in Syria, currently entrenched in a civil war that has reportedly killed more than 100,000 people since 2011. The President’s appeal to the public and to U.S. lawmakers (expected to vote on military action as early as Wednesday) is primarily the result of a chemical assault on civilians that U.S. intelligence has linked to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The gas attack August 21 killed more than 1,400 people.

“This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” Obama said late last month.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, agreed in a recent Religion News Service article that Assad’s regime is “lawless and tyrranical” and that there is just cause for war.

“That said, there are other principles missing here, both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially,” Moore added. He used points from just war theory, which dates back to the fourth century, to support his position against U.S. intervention in Syria.

Read more about the just war ethic at BPNews.net.

“I do not see, from President Obama, a reasonable opportunity to prevail, or even a definition of what prevailaing would mean.

“Regime change is not the point of this action, and even if it were, we don’t yet know who the good guys are. Replacing one set of terrorists with another does not bring about justice or peace.”

Daniel Heimbach, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, also disagrees with the President’s plan, but said the U.S. lacks a basis for intervening “in the internal affairs of a distinctly sovereign and separate state.”

He also noted, “The meaning and interpretation of a just cause for war (in a just war ethic) requires the nation being attacked (Syria) to have done, or to be doing, or to be moving toward doing some terrible wrong toward the attacking nation (United States) – not merely doing something bad within their own borders against their own people.”

The U.S. Senate may vote on Obama’s proposal for action against Syria as early as Wednesday of this week, and the House could consider it next week, according to Fox News.

Baptist aid organization helps Syrian refugees

Southern Baptist relief efforts are touching lives in significant ways as an estimated 2 million refugees have fled Syria for neighboring countries. BGR photo

Southern Baptist relief efforts are touching lives in significant ways as an estimated 2 million refugees have fled Syria for neighboring countries. BGR photo

(From Baptist Global Response) The civil war in Syria has displaced more than 5 million people either outside or inside the country, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR).

“The majority of Syrian refugees are women and children and a few older men,” Palmer said. “Husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles stayed behind to protect their precious resources – unfortunately, many times in vain. They were so thankful for the small amount of help we gave them. We promised we would be back the following week with more.”

For more than a year, BGR has assisted the refugees through emergency food packets, hygiene kits, basic shelter materials and some medicines.

While an estimated 2 million refugees have fled Syria for neighboring countries, the prospect of Western powers entering the conflict has dramatically increased the outflow in recent days, Palmer noted.

Americans place terrorism prevention high on list of national priorities
A new survey by Barna released just before the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks found a high majority of Americans believe preventing terrorism is as important or more important than healthcare, the break-up of the family, education, unemployment, and immigration.

The survey also found members of the millennial generation, who were children and teens on 9/11, “are among the most likely to prioritize preventing terrorism above other social concerns.”

For more Barna findings, including a comparison of the emotions people associate with 9/11 and the recent Boston Marathon bombings, go to Barna.org.