Lying in bed this morning (and I don't mean telling lies to whoever happened to be near, which was NO one!), I got to thinking about this whole Peace On Earth thing. And I know you know what I mean. You ask every second person what they want for Christmas and they answer, "Peace on Earth." It doesn't matter what religious persuasion they are, whether they're of any persuasion at all, they still answer Peace On Earth. It's the common answer for young, beautiful, skinny, overly coiffed women prancing around on stage in evening gowns and swimsuits. When asked what they want in the world, they answer (or at least this is the answer they all give in "Miss Congeniality," and I'm pretty sure that's a documentary!), "Peace On Earth."
Anyway, it hit me this morning that like so many things we say, so many expressions used or misused in the world, this has its root in the gospel. You know that famous, now stolen, sign above the entrance to Auswitz? "Arbeit machs frei," it says. Works makes free is the literal translation, but it implies that your work will set you free, which wasn't true at all, as we now all know (unless we're deniers of the Halocaust). This is bastardized from the verse, "The truth will set you free."
And what about the clause we use very often, "By the way,"? This comes from the verse (very near the one mentioned above, actually) where Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." Originally when someone said 'by the way', they were saying something serious, by the Jesus, in fact. Like an oath. It wasn't a throw-away remark almost forgotten to be mentioned. "By the way, I picked up the toilet paper. By the way was an oath of the most serious nature.
And so this wish for peace on earth. A phrase first uttered in the sky above sheep pastures outside of Bethlehem. A phrase offered to shepherds--shepherds, who weren't in the first rung of their society, but the bottom. Shepherds who had no actual power in their world, but did what they did because they had no other options. These were not people who could effect peace on earth. They were only concerned with peace in their pastures. Peace from the tyranny of wolves, not of nations. But to them, the angel offered, "Peace on earth." On all of earth.
This peace of which the angel spoke was NOT what the shepherds--or the entire world--expected. Not what they thought they wanted or needed. It was peace with a price. Peace with a whole lot of negative things attached. Peace with misunderstanding, denial, cursing and a CROSS attached. Not as the world gave/gives, but peace with eternal perspective. Peace with repentance, forgiveness and transformation. Peace on earth, it turns out, can only be inacted one person at a time. Peace not by lack of hostility, but by the entrance within each person of the ONE who can overcome such hostility the enemy might level against him/her.
So when we hear--over and over, ad infinitum--those words, "Peace on earth," what is being wished is the Incarnate One, the One who is our peace. The holiday wish, the beauty pageant peace, the peace wished for in every second remark on every momentous occasion on this planet, it turns out, is Jesus. Don't you just love this? Don't you just love that all sorts of people who have no idea of what they're really asking for, are pleading for Jesus' presence in the world. Jesus! Just as He was the One the shepherds ran to see after hearing those words in that dark night outside of Bethlehem. So when I hear it--from wherever direction the words come--instead of rolling my eyes (as I've been known to do)--let me join my voice to it, and breathe a prayer for peace to come, er, for Jesus to come. Again and again and again.