21 December, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (C) - Peace

Micah 5:1-4a
‘He himself will be peace.’ (Micah 5:4a)
We shouldn’t take this short statement from the prophet Micah for granted; it should lead us to meditate on the meaning of peace within our faith; what does peace mean for us as Christians?
The word “peace” comes up 344 times in the canonical texts of the Bible – at least in the NRSV; a remarkable number of times. Here at church we often pray for peace; probably every day. We call to mind those countries and situations in need of peace and we hold them before God. Outside these walls, other people too long for peace, and wish for it in many ways. If we look at the recent debates about military intervention in the Middle East we can see that, deep down, there seems to be a very common longing for peace implanted within human hearts – yes, we may disagree on how to pursue peace, whether by enforcing is through arms or building it through diplomacy, but this strong yearning still remains. But what exactly is peace?
I guess peace might be interpreted simply as the absence of war. But as Christians we should rediscover the profound meaning of this word, because in our faith peace represents much more than just the cessation of conflicts; so much so that the Apostle Paul describes the entire good news of faith in Jesus as the ‘gospel of peace’ (Ephesians 6:15). In the Old Testament, peace is identified by the Hebrew word “shalom”; a word that contains within itself several overlapping meanings, among which “peace” is just a single facet. In a literal sense shalom also means harmony, wholeness, well-being, prosperity, welfare, and tranquillity, also salvation. But in a theological sense we could say two more things about peace. First, shalom is a gift – perhaps the greatest gift – of God that comes down from him as a blessing (Cf. Psalm 29:11). Peace is the blessing God spoke to our ancestors in the faith, and it is the blessing he also speaks to us. Secondly and more importantly of all, we could say that God himself is shalom, that the Lord himself is well-being, prosperity, and peace. The book of judges bears witness to this when it describes how, early in Israel’s history, the Hebrews dedicated an altar to God and called it “Adonai Shalom”, the Lord is peace.

‘He himself will be peace.’
The words we hear today from the prophet Micah are rooted in this belief that God himself is the harmony and well-being of his people. The prophet sees the yearning of the world for peace embodied in the pregnancy and labour of one single woman that represents the turning point between sorrow and well-being, between feeling abandoned by God, as we read in verse three, and being saved by his coming to be with us in the Messiah. Therefore, Micah is able to affirm that when God is revealed to us in the birth of the Saviour we are able to experience true and lasting shalom, because in him peace in made flesh for us. At the birth of Jesus peace ceases to be an abstract concept, a pleasant thought or a political idea, and it becomes the reality of the encounter with an actual person who alone is peace.
So, if we want to rediscover the meaning of peace for us as Christians, we must rediscover our relationship with Jesus. In our encounter with Christ we are confronted with something more religious platitudes; we are confronted by one who comes to us in order to live with us through everything as our well-being and our peace.

May the prayers of Mary, Mother of Shalom and our mother, help us to reencounter afresh her Son whom she bore for our salvation. Let us pray,
O Jesus, living in Mary,
Come and live in your servants,
In the spirit of your holiness,
In the fullness of your might,
In the truth of your virtues,
In the perfection of your ways,
In the communion of your mysteries.
Subdue every hostile power In your spirit,
for the glory of the Father. Amen.

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