Our current time needs a word of peace. Protesters calling for justice fill the streets of cities across the united states. A disturbing report on the methods of torture used by the CIA and the united states was presented to congress. Evils long kept quiet have been brought to light. There are wars and rumors of wars across the globe. Things seem to be spinning into madness. In these times of blended fear and joy, confusion and clarity, calls for justice and cries of pain, a word of peace is much needed.
To be clear, the peace of God is not a lack of tension. The peace of God challenges the way the world works in its fallen state. The peace of God is described by Jesus in his inaugural sermon in Luke's Gospel:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
An Army of Peace
One of the messages of the Christmas story is peace. We find this word of peace in Luke’s Gospel. For Luke, peace is in the fields with the shepherds, as their lives were interrupted and their world turned upside down.
The shepherds were folk who did not experience much peace. They were outcasts of society…oppressed by empire…economically poor… religiously unclean. They were the last folk on earth who would ever think about receiving peace or good news - that night, or any night. And yet it’s to them that the angles appeared.
Here’s the cool part. As we tell the story today, the shepherds are visited by a “host” of angels…a heavenly host. Luke paints a very pastoral scene. Shepherds and sheep and a heavenly host of singing angels. But I don't think this is what Luke had in mind. The word for “host” can also be translated as “army.” The shepherds are literally visited by an “army of angels.”
Now the shepherds knew about armies. So did Luke. They were familiar with Rome’s legions who spread the “pax romana” - the so called roman peace - with violence and brute force. They knew all to well the violence of an army - be it a physical force…an army of words that let them know just how outcast they were…an army of labels like “unclean”…an army of reminders that they did not belong.
But here Luke offers a different army - one that truly brings peace and good news for all the world and for all people. A peace not devoid of tension. A peace that challenges the status quo. A peace that lifts up the lowly and sets the captives free. A peace that restores wholeness and actively provides healing. A peace grounded in our relationship with God and each other. A peace for all people, the whole world.
No categories and labels here…. no paperwork or hoops to jump through. Luke means hope for all the world. Here Luke presents an army of peace, sent by God to a world worn out by armies of hate - be they Roman or religious or otherwise.
The shepherds are greeted by an army of peace. This is good news. The army of peace brings hope into the world. For them. And for us. But the story is not over.
The shepherds are drafted into action. They are no longer bystanders in the story. They are drawn in by the word of peace and hope. They join the army of peace. Excitement builds and they invade Bethlehem in peace to look upon the new born Jesus in wonder and hope.
When the evening is over, they go back out into the world to be witnesses of the peace they have just experienced. As they share the good news, the army of peace grows. Tidings of hope spread throughout the world.
In the days and months ahead, let us join the army of peace. That army of the angels and shepherds and the generations that have come before us who have boldly spoken words of peace and love, keeping the flame of hope alive in our world. Let us join the chorus. Let us live as a people of God’s peace.