Reaching for the Unfathomable: A Reflection on Peace

Tina-Marie Axenty, Dec 10, 2023, 3:43 AM
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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests."

(Luke 2:8–14)

I want to begin this reflection with a moment of honesty: I'm not a theologian. I'm a writer. I'm trained to hear the musicality in language, to understand the meaning of words and the depths of the feelings they invoke. And in this season, I'm finding the word "peace" hard to grasp. Every time I reach for it, my brain cries "justice!" instead. Or sometimes simply "help!" I have a rough idea of my need for stillness and renewal, but the concept of peace feels far away.

Maybe it feels that way for you, too.

Looking into the dictionary definitions of peace doesn't necessarily help, either. Merriam-Webster calls peace "a state of tranquility or quiet." Peace can mean freedom from civil disturbance and harmony in personal relations. It can denote a release from disquieting thoughts or emotions. It can be a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war. When I look at my life and I look at the world, I see us absolutely starved for peace. If it's such an unachievable thing, why even talk about it?

So I do what I know to do when I feel lost. I return to story.

When I look at these verses from Luke—the first that came to mind when I thought about the story of peace in the Bible—I notice a few things about our friend peace. And I take heart.

Peace is a heavenly priority. It's not often in the Biblical story that a literal host of angels shows up. Some translations call this great company a "multitude" or "choir"—in short, that's a lot of angels. And while they could have shouted almost anything, this absolute shwackload of celestial beings says two things: they praise God and they proclaim peace to people. Not judgement, not condemnation, not correction, not disappointment. Tranquility. Harmony. Right relating. Security. Freedom.

I like the idea of a heaven that knows what we need most, and wants to assure us it's on its way. I can trust that heaven.

Peace might not look how we thought. But we'll know it when we see it. The angels tell the shepherds to look for their saviour in a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger because that's... weird. Babies usually have homes and cradles. Saviours usually ride in on horses. While we're at it, it's odd that the heavenly hosts, suddenly unleashed from the sky in the moment of triumphant announcement that all of creation has been leaning towards for millennia... chose shepherds. Field workers. These are not people with connections or influence, and they just saw angels. This whole scene is completely bonkers. And yet what it proclaims is peace. This is how peace arrived: as the least, to the least, for the least.

I'm grateful for a heaven that takes the unexpected route to peace. I can join in the work of that heaven.

Peace is a person. The angels in Luke have one job: to announce that the king of heaven has come. Then they praise God and proclaim peace. Why peace? Well, because the saviour has come. Jesus's arrival on the scene is the arrival of peace. In Isaiah, when his birth is prophesied, Jesus is called "Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). To those of us walking in darkness, a light has dawned.

When I can't envision a world with peace in it, it helps to remember that Jesus is peace. Peace is Jesus. After his death, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in a room with locked doors, the first thing he said was "Peace be with you!" (John 20:19–20). To the disciples in their moment of greatest disappointment and fear, Jesus was saying "Don't panic!" and also "I'm here." And he had to say it a few more times before it stuck.

I'm thankful for a heaven that says "Don't panic, I'm here." I can ask that heaven to intervene.

As I sit with the idea of peace this Advent season, I'm realizing the word—like the angels—contains multitudes. I also have to acknowledge that I can't get to peace on my own. I can barely imagine it.

But I can welcome it. Even as I cry out for the other many things our world needs—justice! help!—I can welcome the Peace-Bringer. I can wrestle, I can listen. I can act. I can wait.

P.S. A couple of Advents ago, the wonderful Erika Kobewka looked at these verses from Luke to unpack the theme of joy. Please enjoy her words, too.

Emily Davidson is a writer living in Vancouver, on the unceded ancestral lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples. Her creative work has appeared in literary magazines across the country, and her debut collection of poetry, Lift, was released in 2019. Emily is part of The Table Vineyard community.