Over the last few weeks, these words have become my daily prayer: “Let there be peace on earth.” With the war in Ukraine entering its twenty-first month and the war in Israel and Gaza expected to continue into the new year, the loss of lives and the displacement of people have been overwhelming. In places like Myanmar and Sudan there is constant civil unrest that affects the innocent. Conflict has become the norm rather than the exception even in our own country. And yet it is in our current context that Christians enter the Advent season (December 3 through December 24) to prepare ourselves not only for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ but for his Second Coming.
Advent comes with four major themes to meditate upon – peace, hope, joy, and love. This is a reflection on peace.
For those of us who are older (smile), the title of this article should sound familiar. It comes from a well-known Christmas song that was written in 1955 by Jill Jackson-Miller. She wrote the lyrics and her husband, Sy Miller, wrote the melody.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God, our creator, family are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
The song was introduced at a retreat center in California for a group of young people who were from a wide variety of religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They were there for a week-long experience to develop friendships with people who held different views from their own. They attended educational seminars that enabled them to learn the skills they needed to have open and healthy discussions on difficult topics. By the end of the week, it was the hope that they would be able to work together. It is in this setting that this song was introduced. It turned out to be a perfect ending to an amazing week. Once the young people learned the lyrics, they got up, locked arms, formed a circle, and faced each other as they sang this song of peace. It is a simple song with a powerful message that has been recorded and translated and sung all over the world.
In the Old Testament, the word for peace is shalom which is derived from a root word that means wholeness or completeness. In the Bible, it has less to do with the absence of war and conflict and has more to do with our overall well-being. When someone says they are at peace, they are letting us know that they are content even when in the middle of a hardship or struggle. They know (truly know) that God is with them. It has the same connotation in the New Testament. Jesus expresses the idea that peace comes from peacemakers and true peacemakers are characterized by their poverty of spirit, their ability to mourn for their broken world, and for their hunger for healing and reconciliation.
Too often we restrict our thoughts about peace as simply the end of conflicts. Certainly, an end to violence is something that we should pray for in Ukraine, the Middle East, in our community, and even in our homes. But it seems like the peace that is talked about in Scripture is more than the absence of something negative. It has its own presence and energy. It is a gift from God that occurs when we turn over to God a certain amount of control of all the things that we worry about. We do not surrender responsibility, but we recognize limits as to what we can affect or achieve on our own. And once we acknowledge our limits, we place ourselves and others in the hands of God. And God’s response is to give us peace, a peace that allows us to look up and see the gifts around us and not just the troubles that consume us.
People of good will long for peace. But our human experience tells us that peace on earth is elusive. In contrast, the peace of God comes to us as pure gift through God’s grace alone. We release our grip on all the things that we are trying to hold together on our own, and in return God gives us a sense of well-being that can only come from God.
During this Advent season, I will continue to pray, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Peace among the people of the earth and peace in our hearts as we entrust the burdens of this world to our creator.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.