As we light the fourth and final candle of the Advent season, we light the candle of Peace. For me, peace is the most difficult theme of the four, not for reasons of attainability, but in what the word actually means. For me the difficulty goes back to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, a great song, but something about the peace that he describes bothers me, yes, that “no religion, too” line. Of course it has to do with my view of religion, and that has a part, but really it has to do with an understanding that says that peace is an absence of (fill in the blank).
I totally understand where people see religion as one of the great impediments to peace. Most Americans quickly point their fingers to the Middle East. But there is an old adage that most of us learned in elementary school, “when you point your finger at someone else you have three pointing back at you.” The reality is that our politicians, on both sides, often use religion as a tool for rather than a directive for peace.
From a Biblical standpoint, peace is as much as a state of mind as it is time without war. In the Old Testament, “peace is a greeting (1 Sam 25:6) and refers as much to health and wellbeing (Isa. 53.5 AV) as to the absence of hostilities (1 Kgs. 4:24-25; Ps 122).” What is interesting is that the New Testament understanding of peace becomes a bit more complex as it becomes synonymous with “justice and righteousness.” One can see how health and wellbeing as well as the absence of hostilities has become the foundation of a Peace, which is linked with Social Justice and Righteousness.
If I care for another, then I may have to fight in order to attain peace. According to Donald McKim, the theology of Peace “sees all Christian theology from the viewpoint of the peace that God establishes with the world in Jesus Christ (Acts 10:36, Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:15) and that God desires as the primary mode for human relationships (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; 2 Cor. 13:11).” But the motivation has rooted in the desire for the liberation of peoples, not the subjugation of one group by another.
That is where discerning what are peaceful motives and what are not become very difficult, especially if those in power are making those determinations because they often are unable to see the justice through their desires. I can guarantee that nine out of ten people can name at least one obvious unjust law without any thought. When we look at what was behind that law, we often see either fear or a desire for power, never Justice or a true sense of peace.
As you can tell, the problem with peace is very real and seemingly unattainable. If we take the John Lennon “Imagine” song we can see the peace he calls for could very well be a peace that worked for some and not others. When we listen to the politicians promising peace we find ourselves questioning their motives and often confused as to why the peace they purport usually turns into more war or violence.
The Peace we are called to live in is deeply based in our faith and it is a call for equality and care for others. It reminds me of when Deacons are ordained in the Presbyterian Church; one of their tasks of care is to “give voice to the voiceless.” Peace is our relationship with God, and how we strive to create a world that is just, fair, and caring for all people’s wellbeing.
 John Sawyer, A Concise Dictionary of the Bible and it Reception, Westminster John Knox 2009
 Donald McKim, The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (2nd ed),Westminster John Knox: 2014
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen