Peace in a Peace-less World

We are in week 2 of Advent. A week devoted to peace. The song at the end of this post is actually a prayer for peace. The writer of the song is Noel Regney. Born in France, Regney was drafted into the occupying German army during World War II. Since he hated the Nazi regime he joined the French underground.

As if living out a movie script, one of Regney’s missions involved him leading German soldiers into a trap. He brought the soldiers he was secretly fighting against into an ambush where they were shot and most of them died. The French also shot Regney to sell the deception.

Shortly after that, Regney deserted the German army. After the war, he pursued a career in music and eventually migrated to Manhattan, New York, in the 50s. About 10 years later, the United States found itself in a nuclear stare-down with the Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

In the midst of that atmosphere, Regney was commissioned by a record producer to write a holiday song. How could he possibly write a song about Christmastime when no one around him smiled? A man who had known the terrors of war could not see how a new song could be written under the impending threat of a war that could literally wipe the world out.

In fact, Regney once said, “I had thought I’d never write a Christmas song. Christmas had become so commercial. But this was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated. En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling. All of a sudden, my mood was extraordinary.”

That mood led to him writing these words. Words of hope that peace actually could be realized:

Do You Hear What I Hear

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

His wife Gloria Shayne wrote the music for the song. They were both so moved that they were unable to sing it without breaking down. Regney would go on to say he was so surprised that so many people could love the song without realizing it was a cry for peace.

And that is why it is such an appropriate song for second week of Advent. A week devoted to the theme of peace.

Isaiah 9:6, 7 reads, “Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great. The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present, never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—sustainable peace for all time. This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us, to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken. He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always. The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, will carry this to completion.”

A child is born. A true leader. A deliverer. The Prince of Peace.

Yet Jesus is the Prince of Peace revealed to a people who did not know peace; a people oppressed; a people deprived of justice. And where there is no justice, there is no peace.

So we have a problem. That problem is there really does not seem to be any peace, so what exactly is Jesus supposed to be the Prince of?

When Jesus was presented at the temple, an old man, Simeon, was there to bless Him and His parents. But pay close attention to what he said in his blessing to Mary and Joseph: “Listen, this child will make many in Israel rise and fall. He will be a significant person whom many will oppose. In the end, He will lay bare the secret thoughts of many hearts. And a sword will pierce even you own soul, Mary” (Luke 2:34, 35).

Make many rise and fall?

Significant person many will oppose?

A sword will pierce your soul?

Those don’t sound like the results of peace coming into the world.

And let’s back up a little bit. Remember that passage from Isaiah 9? The one proclaiming the promise of the Prince of Peace? Do you know what comes in the verses immediately following that?

9:12: “They come, these enemies, from both sides (Syrians on the east and Philistines on the west) and consume Israel, swallowing it whole. Still, God’s anger smolders. His hand is raised; there is more to come.”

9:14: “Therefore, He will take them to task. In a single day He’ll cut off from Israel the head and the tail; He’ll cut down the noble palm and lowly reed.”

9:16: “These misguided leaders have misled this people; and those who follow have become swallowed up in their deceit.”

9:17: “Mercy has run out for even those without power—the widows and orphans.”

10:1, 2: “How awful it will be for those who mandate wickedness and legalize oppression, denying justice to the needy, taking away the right of the poor among My people. Such leaders intend to make helpless widows and orphans their prey.”

Peace? This is the peace that will come when that child, that son, that gift comes into this world?

I think about the three questions our song asks: Do you see? Do you hear? Do you know?

This is what I see:

I see a world where people are killed in the streets and there is no accountability for those who do it.

I see a world where if another person does it, it is terrorism; but if I do it, it is patriotism.

I see a world that makes it almost impossible for people to get a fresh start, a second chance; because every time they take one step forward there is a system in place that will gladly knock them back down.

I see a world where consumerism drowns out the calls for justice.

I see a world that is convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong.

What do you see?

This is what I hear:

I hear people crying out for justice and peace.

I hear people yelling with, at best, comments of dismissal, such as, “Just get over it. It’s not that big a deal.” At worst, they are yelling statements of hate, such as, “They got what they deserved. There’s one less of them now.”

I hear people who in theory exist to tell the truth spin their stories to bolster their ratings.

I hear people who are supposed to be in charge offer platitudes and promises with no practical solutions.

What do you hear?

This is what I know:

I know that Elisea is going to celebrate Christmas with the pain of losing her 6 month old son fresh on her mind.

I know that instead of opening presents underneath a tree, many of my friends will be spending the night sleeping by a tree.

I know that people are still picking up the literal and figurative debris of their communities and do not feel like celebrating anything.

I know that people will be separated from their families on Christmas Day because they are away fighting someone else’s wars.

What do you know?

Why could Regney say he was filled with hope?

Why could Simeon say, “You may now dismiss your servant”?

How can we sing songs praising the Prince of Peace when all around us there is anything but peace?

And then I remember:

Advent is not for people who know how the story ends. Advent is for people who are waiting—uncertain, unknowing.

Advent is about being in the dark; and then all of a sudden being surprised by a bright light.

Jesus actually speaks to this near the end of His life. In John 16, just before Jesus begins His final prayer with His apostles, He looks at them and says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.”

That is why a man well-versed in the ravages of war could be filled with hope by two children smiling at each other.

That is why a man who had waited his entire life for the Messiah could happily prepare to depart this life.

That is why the Israelites in Isaiah’s day could be comforted by the gift a child.

That is why Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could look at Nebuchadnezzar and say, “Our God will rescue us from this fiery furnace, but even if God does not we will still not bow down to your idol.” (Daniel 3)

That is why Esther could stand in the presence of the King on behalf of her people. (Esthcter 5)

That is why Stephen could look at the crowd of people stoning him to death and say, “Father, forgive them.”(Acts 7)

That is why John could write about the elders and all the living creatures bowing down to the Lamb and crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” (Revelation 5)

Because Jesus has brought peace into a world that is in desperate need.

Where there is no justice, there is no peace.

Jesus came to bring both.

So we wait.

We hold on.

We anticipate.


One thought on “Peace in a Peace-less World

  1. Advent 2014 | a second time

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