Peace is made, not found
The Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short
Moderator, The United Church of Canada
In the season ahead, people of many religious traditions and of no religious tradition will feel the ubiquitous presence of Christendom and its Christmas — tarted up, distorted, and faded though it may be.
Good souls among them will see points of convergence with their own traditions of the sacred in the world. The less charitable will not.
In spite of all it has failed to become, Christmas is still hard to kill. The strange story of the sacred in the stable has lived on. It has outlived wars and the loss of loved ones and our growing up and our growing old. It has outlived our tattered dreams and our manifold strategies and our creeping hopelessness. Mysteries have a way of surviving even in the midst of established religion.
The ancient Christmas story tells of a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.”
But where is the peace? If the mystery has lived on all these years, where is the peace?
I look for peace in the streets — it isn’t there. I look for it in the faces in the crowd. I look in the newspapers, in the schools, in the global village. I look for peace in my own mind, but I can’t even find it there.
The heavenly host may have been right about there being peace on earth, but they couldn’t have given us the whole of the story. I think what they left out was this: peace is here among us but it can never be found.
Oh, peace is very real alright, as real as angels. My friend Steve had a heart transplant a few years back. He says that at death’s door you are in the company of angels (as it turned out in his case) and that the angels are forever in your midst and you carry with you this sense of travelling to the paradise they occupy. But that’s not the same thing as saying he enjoys the benefits of peaceful angelic sentiments while travelling through the affairs of the day.
Peace is as real as angels and children’s dreams, but you can’t find peace. You can only make it, like a recipe. Sometimes when you are busy at the recipe, peace will find you.
You make peace when you get the ingredients of life in proportion. You make peace when you receive the sun and the rain on your field with thanksgiving for things you did not create. You make peace when by labour of hands and heart you nourish others and yourself. Peace is made in the household. Peace is made in the community and it is made in the world. Made, not found.
And one day while you are busy with the recipe, peace is standing just behind you looking over your shoulder. One day while Canadian soldiers on United Nations assignment are talking with children who have been taught to hate, peace takes a tentative step to draw nearer. One day while ordinary Canadians are deciding that the good life is not the same as the life of goods, peace can be seen walking toward them over distant hills.
Christians know that Jesus did not say “blessed are the ones who find peace,” he said “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
Meanwhile, the Christmas rush is in full swing. It is really no more than a turbo-charged version of the state of anxiety in which most of these days exhaust themselves. You will see many searching frantically for peace. They will take off on cruises in search of it, and buy instructional CDs and invest in portfolios and surround themselves with security measures, and search many sites and attach themselves to the next guru and Lord knows what all.
But they won’t find it. Like God, peace is a shy presence, a sort of recluse.
Peace is not escape. It’s really just humble work; the giving and receiving; the finding of the proportions that sustain life in the household and in the planet; the knowing that gratitude is the test of all happiness. But humble though it is, “peace hath its victories,” as Milton said. The sacred in the stable is known and cherished in many religions. It is told in many versions. It is found in the hearts of many peoples. They are, religion or no religion, the peacemakers. My religion says they are the children of God.