There’s an overused quote by Chesterton that goes something like, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Let that sink in a moment.
We are in the midst of the Christmas season right now; our annual frenzy of indulgent consumption. According to both popular Christmas carols and the testimony of the Gospels, Jesus’ birth was heralded as the coming Messiah. He was to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy …
6 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.I)”>
7 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.
This messiah was going to bring peace on earth and good will toward men.
What does that mean? What would peace on earth look like? Our imaginations are dull and we assume that the presence of peace is simply the absence of war or violence. So we think that “his government” is going to be a political enforcement of an absence of war. The rule of this Messiah would take away all weapons.
But that’s not what Jesus did. He came and nothing changed outwardly. The Roman Empire went on about it’s business and at what would be the end of Jesus’ 3 year ministry, crucified him. Giving rise to a secondary frenzy of indulgent consumption (but that’s another story). Jesus did manage to speak a few words that have been handed down to us in the millennia since his birth. He said things like this, “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Read it carefully. Jesus was talking about more than the absence of murder, but the presence of love. We have laws which punish murderers and keep the crime rate low, but law cannot overcome the presence of hate. When we hate someone, we dismiss their humanity, we find reasons to ignore their thoughts and needs by calling them a “fool.” I am chief among sinners in this regard. But there it is. I cannot turn my face away from the idea that when I dismiss someone as a fool, I have morally killed them in my mind.
This brings me back to the Chesterton quote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
There are many other bits that Jesus threw out in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). I find in my life that I fail those far more often than I succeed. But if I put them all together in a holistic picture of how to live, I find that these bits create a vision of what peace could look like. It would be so much more than the absence of war or violence, but the presence of love. The kind of love which can cast out fear, making violence unnecessary.
Perhaps that prophecy in Isaiah meant not that God would enforce an everlasting peace through government, but that all the humans here would learn to love their enemies without fear, that we would not dismiss another’s humanity, that we would be able to live in peace and harmony with each other, not because of laws, but because our hearts have grown three sizes too large (to quote a more secular source) and we have begun to operate out of abundance, love and harmony. Maybe that is the hope we express every year … that someday soon we will all know peace.
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