Peace on Earth?

This week, we continue our journey to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, by reflecting on two other sets of characters in our nativities—the Shepherds and Angels.

This week, the plan was to focus on that declaration from the angels to the shepherds, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace to all people.” (or “to those whom God favors.”) I have to be honest with you though, I am having a hard time contemplating peace at the moment…

Yesterday, the high school that I grew up attending was attacked. Three were killed, many others injured. I have been a bit rattled since then, to say the least. Aztec is a small town, and everyone knows everyone. It should come as no surprise that I was acquainted with one of the families that lost a child yesterday.

The story made the national news last night. I was watching as they did about a 15 second segment showing photos of the classrooms that I went to school in, and they informed us of yet another school shooting.

I noticed what was going on through friends online within about an hour of the beginning of events. Within about three hours, people’s Facebook avatars had changed to display orange AHS ribbons and “Aztec Strong,” emblazoned across their pictures. Call me cynical, but that show of unity and strength happening in such a short amount of time only made me feel worse. How have we gotten to such a point as a society where we are ready to go with the “prayers” and unity logos on such short notice? How have we gotten to the point where a school shooting only warrants a brief mention on national news?

Aztec was Mayberry growing up. My memories of that town are of every citizen lining the streets as I marched in the band and we did yet another summer parade. I would not be exaggerating to say that life in that small town was not unlike sitcoms of the 1950’s with their overly idyllic portrayals of small town life. I was a sophomore in that high school 18 years ago when the events of Columbine unfolded. I remember receiving the news of the Columbine shooting and thinking that surely nothing like that could happen in our school, while I sat in a classroom that would be shredded by bullets 18 years later. And now…

And now, we reflect on that proclamation from the angels:

“Peace on Earth.”

Like I said, I am having a hard time with peace today. I love the sentiment of peace. I hope deeply for peace. However, I am having a hard time recognizing it in the world we live in today.

I suppose that is part of why this season is so incredibly important to our faith. We wish and hope for peace again, as we contemplate the coming of Christ again. We place our faith in our God to save us from ourselves once more. We hope and pray for a new beginning in which things like what happened yesterday in Aztec will happen no more. We hope and pray for a new beginning in which the very cities and streets that Jesus walked upon will no longer be filled with clashes between soldiers and people whose homes have been taken from them. We hope and pray for a new beginning in which there is a kind of equity between all people so that no mouths go hungry and no one feels that violence is their only option.

So let us offer up yet another round of prayers for our broken world. But please…for the Love of God…let those prayers be accompanied by action on our part. Let us not simply put on a display of unity in the face of tragedy that simply serves as window dressing to cover up our deep divisions. Instead, let us seek to talk to each other and live the love of God with those with whom we disagree so that action can be taken to prevent these continued murders. Let us not offer hollow prayers while we wring our hands and exclaim that nothing can be done. Let us actually seek healing, let us rebuild systems to care for those with mental illness and identify the kind of brokenness that leads someone to think that violence in a school is an option. Let us not just continue the far-too-often-rehearsed cycle, until it is time to start it once again when a different set of lives are lost at another Aztec somewhere in our country. Let’s actually do something to change the cycle this time.

While I would love to think that there is some piece of legislation that could be passed by our elected officials that would solve this problem once and for all, our elected officials have shown themselves to be completely incapable of addressing these issues. Besides, I think that real action on these kinds of situations has to start closer to home. We have to all do a better job of watching out for those who live on the margins.

For whatever reason, the shooters in these situations tend to be young white men who are feeling alienated and powerless. Perhaps it is time for all of us to pay closer attention to the people in our lives who are alienated and living on the margins. It requires of us compassion, and attention, and time. We need to be more ready to give of ourselves to those who find themselves cut off.  We need to make sure all those around us know that they are indeed beloved children of God, and if they don’t have a place in their lives where they receive that message, we need to be the ones to bring it to them.

I think there is a reason that the angels are pronouncing Peace on Earth to the people (likely young men) who were quite literally living on the margins in ancient times. I think this is a model for us. We need to take on the task of proclaiming God’s peace to the powerless, the marginalized, the broken and the outcast. Evangelism is not about putting butts in pews. Evangelism, as the angels demonstrate, is about proclaiming hope, peace, joy and love to those who find themselves out in the cold. After all, at the heart of the word evangelism is angel (ev-angel-ism). This week, our nativity teaches us that we too, need to bear the good news of great joy to those who live in darkness.

Perhaps this sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky, but I refuse to believe that we are powerless. I tend to believe we haven’t yet lived up to our calling to bring God’s message of peace to those who need to hear it the most. Perhaps this sounds like a desperate pastor trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but I refuse to believe that empty prayers are the only response that we have in our arsenal at a time like this.

So my prayer for you this day is that you proclaim peace in a world that lacks it. My prayer for you this day is to let the events of the last days not pass away without changing the way you live. Let this be a reminder that we need to be paying closer attention to one another. We need to be prepared to put aside our busy-ness and listen to those who are hurting. We need to be ready to seek out those who are living in the margins and bring them back into the fold. After all, that is at the heart of the ministry that this child coming into the world would lead. So let our proclamations of, “Peace on Earth,” have some substance. Let our prayers be accompanied by action. Let us work to ensure that the angel’s proclamations are not empty either. PEACE ON EARTH.