Peace is highly sought after these days. More than ever one can find advertisements for meditation courses, yoga weekends, alternative spiritualities, all seeking to provide a means for people to find peace. (And there are indeed many who have found great value in them). I have also read that even Christian retreat centers that 10-15 years ago were hardly used are filling up with people seeking to re-connect with a sense of God’s peace in their hearts. Peace is so sought after these days that you even find bubble bath products promising peace and tranquility.
One of the promises of Christmas is the promise of peace. When the angels tell the news of Christ's birth to the shepherds, we hear them sing: “Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace to God’s people on earth!”
In the season of advent, we seek to prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace in our lives.
The Christian tradition (together with most other major religious traditions) remind us however that there can be no peace in our lives without morality. Unless we walk in paths that are true and honorable peace will always remain an elusive hope and fantasy.
As John the Baptist seeks to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, the crowds respond with a question: What must we do?
John points them to the path of morality, the path of virtue, the way of goodness. In effect John is saying to us, the way of virtue is the doorway into the peace of God.
Christopher Jamison writes that the basic starting point for entering the peace of God is the quality of your day to day dealings with other people. He says you cannot mistreat people one moment and then find peace the next. You cannot say 'I'm interested in peace and tranquility, but not morality'.
The way of virtue, treating others, as we would want to be treated, is the way of the deepest peace.
“What must we do?” ask the crowds as they come to John to be baptized. John answers them in three ways. If we wish to prepare ourselves for Christ's coming we need to:
Firstly, Share with those in greater need:
In verse 11 John replies: "Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it."
If we wish to prepare a place for Christ in our hearts it will be firstly through the pathway of sharing, sharing with those who are in greater need than ourselves.
It has really impressed me here in Dromore, how readily people have been willing to respond with generosity when there have been appeals for charitable causes, like the earthquake in India earlier this year.
But need is not only something that exists overseas somewhere else. I have recently become aware that poverty is on the rise again here in the UK and that there are more and more families that are relying on food banks and food parcels.
John the Baptist reminds us and invites us to find peace within our hearts through sharing our resources with those in need.
Secondly, John the Baptist invites us to find peace through lives of honesty and integrity.
In verse 12 when the tax collectors ask what they should do John replies to them: "Don't collect more than is legal.”
In verse 13 in response to questions by the Roman soldiers about what they should do, John says: "Don't take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely.”
If we wish to prepare for the coming of Christ, the Prince of peace in our hearts and in our world, we need to walk in the path of honesty and integrity. Honesty in dealings with others and in our business dealings.
A few years ago I came across an article in which studies have shown that honesty in business pays in the long run. A business is more likely to grow and become profitable if it is run on honest dealings with its customers. And that should in fact make absolute sense when you think about it.
Thirdly John the Baptist invites us to find peace through the way of contentment:
To the soldiers, John the Baptist also says: Be content with your pay! How content are we? One of the most content people I have encountered in my life was one of the old Granny’s in a poor African Township I served in for 3 years from 2002-2004. In African languages, an old woman or an old granny is called “Gogo”.
This old lady was called Gogo Mogali. She was a government pensioner. In South Africa government pensions would be very very small. She lived in a very humble house built by the apartheid government – often referred to has matchbox houses because of their size. She had a little fox terrier dog named Billy who would get a cup of tea with her every morning and share some of her maize porridge for breakfast.
Gogo Mogali was not very wealthy. She had knees that were failing her, but she had a joy and a peace and a contentment about her that shone from her face and sang like gentle music from her voice. She had learned that joy and happiness and peace does not come from having all the riches in the world. She had found the Prince of Peace in her heart!
This is not a new insight. The Christian tradition has told us for centuries that true joy, happiness and peace come through simple living and gratitude for what we have.
Vs 15 ends this section with the words: “People's hopes began to rise.” May your hopes begin to rise this Christmas as you prepare for the coming of the Peace of Christ by seeking in God's Grace to walk the way of goodness by sharing with the needy, practicing honesty in your interactions with others and by finding contentment in the simple things of life!