For he himself is our peace
who has made the two groups one
and has destroyed the barrier
the dividing wall of hostility.
In this Advent season, we remember not only that Jesus Christ brings hope, joy and love, but also that he brings peace. Peace can be understood and expressed in a number of ways, but the words of Paul to the Ephesians which I cited above communicate one of the most significant expressions of peace: that Jesus breaks down the barriers that divide us.
Most importantly Jesus has destroyed the barriers that separated us from God. No longer must we approach God with fear and trembling, hoping that God might look upon us with mercy rather than wrath. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus we can now approach God with boldness and confidence, not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done. Paul says this quite clearly in the same letter to the Ephesian church:
In him and through him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Jesus has established peace between us and God, if we choose to embrace it.
But the peace that Jesus brings extends beyond the relationship between humans and God. If we understand his peace only in that single dimension we have failed to grasp the powerful transformation that Jesus brings to us. For as the earlier words of Paul told us, Jesus has broken down the dividing walls that separate us from each other. In the specific context of that verse Paul refers to the divisions that existed between Jewish-background and Gentile-background believers, or perhaps to the general distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Elsewhere Paul makes it quite clear though that Jesus destroys all barriers between humans. In his letter to the Galatian church he states in profound words:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Some mistakenly interpret this to mean that we must all be uniform, clones of one another. But Paul doesn't say that. He says that the differences to which we humans ascribe so much importance matter not one bit to God. Jesus has destroyed the walls we create between ourselves. Jesus is the author of diversity. He celebrates it, so when we speak of all people being one in Jesus, we are most certainly not saying they must all look, think and act alike. By continually creating walls that separate, by defining who is “in” and who is “out,” we destroy the very peace that Christ brought to us.
If we would live in this radical peace that Jesus has established, we would stop trying to force men and women to follow certain prescribed gender roles. We would stop judging and condemning people because their lifestyle looks different than our own (for ultimately it is God who judges each of us). We would see our fellow humans for who they are, as God has created them, and affirm the worth and dignity of each individual. We would set aside our own “rights” and surrender our privileges so that others might live in freedom and dignity. We would stop othering those we view as a threat and embrace them in the bond of peace through Jesus Christ. This would be what the kingdom of God on earth would look like.
I'm sure some will tell me that I'm a hopeless optimist, that my vision of the kingdom of the kingdom is hopelessly utopian. I'm under now delusions that the peace of God through Jesus Christ has not been fully realized on this earth. As much as I hope it will, I cannot say that I expect it to come in my lifetime. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't work towards this and in my relationships and my attitudes. I can choose to practice the peace of Christ towards others, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility that continue to plague us two millennia after the birth of Jesus. Peace doesn't have to be some ideal dream we sing about only at Christmas. The prince of peace is with us now and if we choose to live in and through him, we can be his instruments of peace here and now.