Prince of Peace (in Paris)December 20, 2015
On the second Sunday of Advent, I found myself viewing a makeshift memorial in Paris. In the aftermath of the November 13th terrorist attacks in that city, mourners transformed the Place de la République, which honors the French Revolution, into a memorial. People covered the monument with flags, pictures of victims, flowers, candles, and even graffiti.
People walked around silently and respectfully, as if on holy ground. The place lacked the bustle found elsewhere in Paris. The emotion of mourners still hung in the air.
A few candles puffed out a slight scent of smoke. The smell reminded me of the holy aroma of Notre Dame Cathedral I experienced just two nights earlier (and the same scent I'd later experience at Sacré-Cœur Basilica). Each candle seemed to proclaim someone's prayer for peace.
The haunting scene stuck with me as I continued to walk through Paris. The place captures an important aspect of Advent. Anger mixed with tears, anxiety with tenacity. In their mournful remembrances, some longed for revenge and others prayed for peace.
The violence of our world can sometimes make it hard to stop to celebrate Christmas. But the full biblical story places a newborn baby right in the midst of a world shook up by violence and terror. That's partly why the angels keep saying "fear not!" Advent is about longingly believing in peace even in the midst of seemingly hopeless violence.
When violence strikes and fear moves in, we face an important question: do we believe? Do we believe that the Prince of Peace will come and redeem this world? But to answer that question, we must be sure to understand the Kingdom of God. Jesus came not as a conquering warrior seeking revenge, but as a helpless baby seeking love.
"For to us a child is born," the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, "to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Prince of Peace. And not merely in the spiritual feel-good on the inside sort of peace. As the prophecy explains in the verse before: "Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." This child will bring real peace.
This passage in The Message version epitomizes how we too often spiritualize the Bible's calls for peace: "His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness." But the passage isn't about feeling compete inside; it's about actual peace from conflict. Jesus didn't come to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, which places him in direct opposition to the princes of our nations who rule through bombs, drones, and violence.
So as we mourn death and destruction in our world, may it push to long for the complete reign of our Prince of Peace. May we ignore the voices of revenge that preach irrational fear and demonizing hate, and may we ignore the voices of spiritualizing that preach personal piety and inner solitude. To worship our Prince - the Prince of Peace - we must also be peacemakers.