Sometimes the prospect of peace seems hopeless and dim, but God has a way of turning around even the darkest situation. Missionary-anthropologist Don Richardson tells how God opened the hearts of tribal peoples in New Guinea to the gospel. The Sawi people were a violent society of headhunters who practiced cannibalism and extolled craftiness. Yet their corrupt culture contained a mysterious custom that ultimately served as a key to their redemption. When two Sawi groups were locked in conflict, there was a way to break the pattern of treachery. A Sawi father could offer his son to the other group as a Peace Child.” The other group would receive and raise the child. As long as the peace child lived, past, present and even future grievances were considered resolved. This remarkable custom of the Peace Child ultimately opened the way for the Sawi people to understand and embrace the gospel.
It seems that God has placed within all cultures a doorway to people’s minds and hearts—a doorway that the Spirit can open for the gospel message. God often arrests our thoughts and unveils His plans by turning our human understanding on its head.
His “divine irony” captures the attention of those looking for answers to life’s perplexing questions. Such is the story of our Savior’s advent.
To a world locked in mortal conflict and through a people tyrannized by a brutal foreign government, God sent His Peace Child. The people of Israel had felt the heavy boot of Roman domination for too long. Some tried to ease their burden by choosing to cooperate with the enemy, hoping for a better lot in life and fearing what might happen should they resist the demands of Rome. Others worked secretly for a revolution, hoping to overthrow the heathen oppressors through military might. The Maccabees had done it less than 200 years before. It could be done again, they reasoned.
The appeasers as well as the revolutionaries failed miserably to improve Israel’s plight. The first led to a betrayal of land and people so profound that the memory of those who followed that path stands in infamy to this day. Eventually the majority followed the path of the revolutionaries—zealots who led the Jewish people into massacre and forced diaspora.
Yet some, a small minority, followed a different path—the path of the peace child. It began with a group of shepherds on the hillsides outside of Bethlehem. They were startled with a message from on high:
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Who could fail to see the irony of that announcement? The evidence of Israel’s deliverance is a baby laying in the feeding trough of oxen. What kind of hope could this inspire in those who so desperately needed it? Yet this babe was the only hope for peace, and those shepherds did believe.
The shepherds were the first of many to put their hope in the peace child. Their lives were truly revolutionized by that Child because God’s ways are not our ways and His path to peace is altogether different from all other paths.
Many people think the path to peace is the road to material well-being, or at least favorable temporal circumstances. Who wouldn’t want to be blessed with a path of comfort, confidence and ease? It is easy to understand how someone on that path can have peace.
Yet there is another path leading to a deeper peace that is not so easily understood. It is the road to spiritual well-being, laid down on eternal realities. It leads to peace that is not visible in our outer circumstances, but rather in how we endure those circumstances. This shalom, this peace causes calm in the midst of conflict, security in the face of calamity, rest upon a raging sea. This kind of shalom surely passes all understanding. It was made available through the peace child—and it is still available today.
Today’s news is filled with talk of peace, particularly with regard to the volatile, conflict-riddled region of the Middle East. Politicians engage in “peace talks,” they reach “peace agreements” and they draw up documents outlining “peace accords.” In 1994, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed such a document. The world press trumpeted the news: Peace had come to the Middle East. All that remained was to work out the details.
Three years later, conflict still rages in the Middle East, with both sides suffering and inflicting tragic losses. Newspaper reports of continuing peace negotiations run alongside reports of bloodshed throughout the region. Even as leaders meet in desperate attempts to “forge a lasting peace,” the furnace of conflict, hate, strife and violence continues to burn, seemingly consuming all hope for peace.
The world pauses to rest from its warfare, and calls such pauses peace. But Yeshua, Jesus, spoke to his disciples of a very different peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.” Jesus promises that while the battles may rage around us, His peace will reign within us. The world calls sworn enemies to the same table to shake hands, and calls that handshake peace. Jesus promises that though every hand be against us, His hand will be upon us to guide us in the paths of peace. The world restrains wicked men from doing harm, and calls that restraint peace. But Jesus promises that though the fury of our foes be unrestrained, we will rest in His peace. “Let not your heart be troubled,” He said, “nor let it be fearful.” When the Lord gives us His peace, we can say with David, “…I will fear no evil.”
Jesus blesses us with peace that the world cannot give, and it is therefore a peace the world cannot take away. No matter how powerful our enemies may seem, whether they are people, events, circumstances or systems, Jesus is more powerful still. We have His promise: “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Jesus, the Righteous One, conquered sin by His life and death, and conquered death by His resurrection. Though we face trouble and distress “in the world,” we can have the courage to face our troubles and endure them if we are “in” Messiah Jesus.
The only hope for peace was born in the Middle East. And peace can be born in the hearts of those who place their trust in the peace child. This is the message of Advent. Righteous Simeon declared it when he gazed upon the babe and said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).