Dec. 10, 2017
Peace, Fixing Relationships
Once upon a time, long time ago and in a faraway land, there was a people who believed that they were chosen by God to be the blessing to all nations. They believed that God made a covenant with their ancestors that if they faithfully lived by the teachings they had received called the Torah, God would bless them and their descendants. When they lost their land to foreign invasions and went on an exile, when they couldn’t understand why God’s chosen people were suffering so much, and when this national trauma lasted more than several hundred years, they concluded that it was because God’s people had not been faithful to God; that their suffering was a punishment from God. During this period that lasted several hundred years, there have been prophets who were sent to preach to God’s people. They dreamed that their saviour, the ideal king who would liberate them from all the suffering, would come from King David’s blood line, because David was considered the ideal king. Everyone waited with anticipation and impatience. Whenever someone extraordinary came along preaching the words of God and performing miracles of healing, they must have asked, “Is he the One?” Jesus was not the only one who preached and performed miracles of healing. They were all called sons of God. A lot of sons of God appeared, and apocalyptic sects appeared within Judaism. These were the desert people who believed in the end of the world as a cosmic event, and that God would judge the enemies of God’s people and bring them into heavenly glory. It is believed that both John the Baptizer and Jesus belonged to one of these apocalyptic groups. Apocalypticism was born in this turbulent period in Israel’s history as a coping mechanism for their national trauma of invasions and oppression that lasted several hundred years. The word apocalypse in Greek means ‘revelation’. This school of thoughts that believed in the dualistic view of good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell, and eternal glory vs. eternal punishment are called called apocalypticism because these sects believed that God chose only THEM to impart the esoteric knowledge on everyone’s destiny. When the suffering seems never ending and God doesn’t seem to punish our enemies in this world, the only way to survive this situation is to believe that God would punish them eternally in the “the other world”; that is how this idea was born. In this world of never ending suffering and turbulence, one thing they did not have was peace.
It is significant to notice that the message of John the Baptizer, who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, was to repent. What does repenting have to do with peace? Why are we talking about repentance on the peace Sunday while waiting for Baby Jesus and his kingdom teachings? Why was John’s message about repentance? Israelites believed that the reason why they were suffering was because they sinned against God; they failed to live faithfully as God’s people. Therefore, in order to achieve peace, the first thing they should do was to repent and fix their relationship with God. But since being faithful to God also involves being nice to each other, the repentance has to include their failure to treat each other well. Think of when you are having problems with someone close to you and you love. You won’t experience peace in your heart until you fix that relationship. I also learned that we have to forgive those who hurt us, not necessarily because they deserve our forgiveness, but because we deserve peace. From this, we can learn that peace needs reconciliation, repentance for our shortcomings and wrongdoings, and forgiveness. In short, peace is about good relationships; whether it is a personal relationship or a social power dynamic relationship.
Today on this peace Sunday, our biblical characters are angels. The word ‘angel’ in Greek (since the New Testament was written in Greek) is ‘anggelos’, which means ‘messenger’ or ‘errand boy (or girl)’. Originally, this word had nothing to do with the heavenly creatures we call angels. In fact, the concept of heavenly angels was born during this turbulent period along with the birth of apocalypticism. These are the creatures that work for God and deliver God’s messages to mortals. But I think if we hear great news even from a mere mortal, we are likely to call them an angel. Now, let’s take a look at the angels in the two different nativity stories. They were sent to deliver the news to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. One thing they all have in common; they are lower class people. If gospel of Jesus is called Good News, that’s because it was delivered to the people who are at the bottom of the social food chain. For whom is the gospel of equality and liberation? Who will benefit if the reign of God comes true? Those who have no power and voice in the society, of course. It is frightening to meet a heavenly creature, but their initial fear always turned into peace when they heard the message the angels brought; it is the message of liberation for the poor and the marginalized.
The political aspect of God kingdom, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the relationship between those who hold power and those who are dominated; it is about relationship. Being prepared for the coming of this kingdom is mending our broken relationships, both with God and with each other. As Isaiah proclaimed, punishment for the Israelites is over. God proclaims liberation for the chosen people and instructs them to prepare the way for the one who will lead them gently like a shepherd. John came to prepare his people to accept God’s kingdom when Jesus would proclaim it. How does one enter the kingdom of love and justice? One starts by mending relationships. We mend our relationship with God by repenting our shortcomings. We mend our personal relationship with each other by loving and forgiving. We mend our social relationship by helping those in need and working to bring justice to the marginalized. This is how we prepare for God’s reign and the baby who will grow up to proclaim this reign, and will live and die for it.
Christian peace is first and foremost about mending broken relationships. By mending relationships, what we gain is the inner peace that doesn’t get agitated by the outer world. Inner peace comes from trusting God completely. We only trust someone if our relationship is good, so inner peace is about relationship. Think of Mary and Joseph after meeting the angel. Peace? What peace? They were risking being excommunicated or executed for getting pregnant before marriage! They would have been terrified. But the angel of God brought them inner peace, because the child that was coming would bring peace and justice to the poor and the marginalized.
Today and this week, while we meditate on the Advent peace, let us examine ourselves and our relationships. How is our relationship with God? Can we trust God completely? Are there any broken areas in our relationship with God, even small ones? Then let us repent and ask God to guide us to be better and more faithful to the gospel teachings. How are our human relationships? Are we content and peaceful about all our relationships? If not, let us work on mending them. How are we socially? Do we enjoy privilege; male privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege, or economic privilege? Then let us humbly give thanks and participate in social justice works so those who don’t have the privileges we enjoy can have a better life, safety and other basic human rights, and dignity. Let us pray to achieve peace both in our hearts and in our society by first mending our relationship with God and with each other.
Rev. Sunny Kim