The Prince of Peace and the Culture Wars: A Lamenting Meditation

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“Christ is the first peacemaker since he opened the house of God to all people and thus made the old creation new. We are sent to this world to be peacemakers in his name.” – Henri Nouwen

This is the week that we Christians celebrate the coming of the child prophesied in Isaiah as the ‘Prince of Peace.’ He was announced by angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

But let us not be fooled by Victorian notions of a quaint Christmas. The prince of peace came into a violent world. From the beginning he was victimized by those in power; Herod was after him and slaughtered the innocents. Jesus was born as a poor minority, unvalued and cast off by the empire.  He died violently next to criminals.

As we approach Christmas day, there is still violence–real and horrible violence. Today I received word from my Anglican communion that the former Archbishop of Nigeria was kidnapped with his driver and is being held by his captors. Pray for him.

Christians are undergoing real persecution worldwide.

My heart is heavy for the church, including for my own American church.

As we approached the celebration of the Prince of Peace, as we sit in a world where brothers and sisters undergo actual persecution, we in the USA bluster about secular media and millionaire reality tv stars.  

Somehow we’ve made ‘Merry Christmas’ a weapon in the culture wars.

We’ve heard the cry of the humble peacemaker as a call to arms.

Something has gone wrong.

How does Jesus make any difference in these petty disputes? In these endless culture wars? How can the peacemaker, the one who lays down all power, be heard in our angry shouting?

He did not come to make a Christian America. He did not come for ‘God and country.’ He did not come for our prosperity.

He came in self-emptying and in humiliation, to make a new world and to bring a new kind of peace–not the peace the world grasps at, not a peace through violently asserting our own rights, a subversive peace, a peace that comes through death and resurrection.

I want us to be a different kind of people. Yes, a people marked by sexual purity and holiness, which the world will condemn as foolishness or worse. But also a people who go out of our way to be honest, kind, and generous.

A people who aren’t interested in maintaining our own power, even a people who aren’t surprised when we’re misunderstood, misrepresented, or when persecusion comes. Our King promised it would.

A people who respond with more than tolerance–with lavish, incomprehensible love for our enemies. Not a people who are smug in our judgements, self-satisfied in our own rightness, but a people marked by a hunger, a longing to be filled, like a baby longs for his mother’s milk.

We must live by a different narrative—the story of the infant King, the Risen One. But as we marched into our high season of worship celebrating the incarnation, it was the same old culture warring.

Here’s my guess: Both sides are wrong. Few on either side would recognize the God who self-emptied, who laid down rights, who laid down privilege to love his enemies.

But isn’t that why we need him? We need that kind of God.

We’re all wrong. We’re all angry. We’re all in the war—even those of us who like to think ourselves pacifists.

I’m disappointed that the celebration of the peacemaker became another hand-wringing exercise in the self-styled  ‘enlightened’ liberal, broad-minded believers against the self-styled conservative, biblical, bold, zealous believers.  My heart aches.

In the trumpeting of our own rightness, the jostling to be on the correct side of history, did we miss the distant call to prepare ye the way of the Lord?  Is there ever enough silence to hear it in this loud world?

In the shouting back and forth, we missed a time to prepare our hearts, to accept misunderstanding with good humor and warmth, to be a different kind of people, an unpredictable people, a surprising community.

We missed a moment to prepare for the Prince of Peace to be celebrated, even in our warring world. 

We are all so predictable. But what happened in Bethlehem was profoundly unexpected. I hope we can find the shock of it, the wonder of it, again.  May it still leave us reeling.