Peace comes in many forms. We long for the day when peace between nations will end all wars. Our hearts ache for reconciliation with those we have become estranged. Nature earnestly awaits the day when her relationship with humanity becomes symbiotic rather than parasitic. Our hearts and minds seek a state of tranquility. Our bodies ache for freedom from deterioration and decay. Can such a peace that fulfills all these types of peace be found?
The gospel writer Luke contrasts two diametrically opposed means of obtaining peace, when narrating the birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-7). The first of these is peace through governance and political power.
Augustus Caesar held more power than almost any other. He consolidated power in the Roman Empire, ending many years of civil war. He reigned as the absolute monarch of the Empire for over forty years and ushered in the Pax Romana or Roman Peace. One of many inscription adorating him reads, “land and sea have peace, the cities flourish under a good legal system, in harmony and with an abundance of food, there is an abundance of all good things, people are filled with happy hopes for the future and with delight at the present.”
However, all that was called peace in Rome was not peace. The Jews, for example, incrementally went from a tolerated religious sect in the Empire to a people whose way of life was oppressed. The harder the Emperor’s hand came down on the Jews, the greater the unrest. All that was called peace was not truly peace.
Into this harsh reality, Luke presents a different type of peace. The Prince of Peace came into this world not as a powerful Emperor but as a helpless baby, depended on his mother for care, nourishment, and safety. He sat not on a throne but was laid down in a feeding trough. He was not dressed in an emperor’s robe but wrapped in strips of swaddling cloth.
The way he came into the world foreshadowed how he would leave it. The journey that birthed him in Bethlehem eventually led to his death in Jerusalem. The feeding trough became a cruel cross. The strips of swaddling cloth became burial linen.
The world back then, like the world today, was not ready for a peace that comes through such humble means. We rather have a powerful ruler or ruling party than a humble servant. Yet, all those who accept this humble Prince of Peace find all the simplicity and wisdom this world needs.