Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes, Virginia, there is a Prince of Peace

For me, the transition from Sunday into Monday morning is always a fascinating idea; especially when the weekend has been as inspirational as this one. How, in effect, does the experience of faith and worship translate into what is "normal" and "mundane"?

  • We enjoyed an excellent full-orchestra Christmas "Pops" concert at church Saturday evening.
  • Then meaningful worship, along with Rebekah's - as always - challenging sermon at First Pres Sunday morning (you can find recent messages by clicking the "Podcasts" tab at
  • I spent the hour between services speaking to around 75 people from the adult Christian-Ed classes at Hyde Park Presbyterian in Tampa.
  • Rebekah and I were guests at a Christmas luncheon with our Stephen Ministry group; the occasion was full with love and care.
  • Then Sunday evening, after the huge traditional First Presbyterian Christmas Feast, Tim Black and his "emergent worship" team presented "A Midnight Clear", and a couple of hundred people left the church full with good food - both physical and spiritual.So what to do with Monday? This is, after all, the second week of Advent and the emphasis is supposed to be "PEACE."
Years ago I wrote a Christmas Day column for the Tampa Tribune. Later the commentary morphed into a chapter in my Advent book. It's about the best way I can say what is on my heart today.


Is there a Prince of Peace? It’s a valid inquiry. Faith in Christ remains a fundamental question-mark that haunts the consciousness of many of God’s children; it’s something a whole lot more people are concerned about than the classic 1897 newspaper query, “Is there a Santa Claus?”

My best speculation supposes there are very few people in this world who go to sleep at night wondering about the authenticity of Mr. Jolly. But millions harbor either private doubts or hesitant faith regarding the newborn baby who started all this, well over 2,000 years ago, long before Francis Pharcellus Church of the New York Sun answered Virginia O’Hanlon’s timeless question.

Is Jesus for real? Was God reborn into this world in Bethlehem that night as a helpless infant? And does the fact of his coming make any measurable difference today? The witnesses on hand were few and - in contrast to the foreigners who arrived much later with expensive gifts - they amounted to a most unimpressive assortment. Not the kind of evidence calculated to impress a skeptical world! Let’s take inventory:
  • Mary, a young girl; probably in her early teens, not even married.
  • Joseph, in all likelihood more than twice her age; a simple woodworker.
  • The harried innkeeper, his wife, and possibly a servant dispatched to check on the hapless couple out back.
  • Then there’s that rag-tag bunch of dirty sheep-chasers, not only uneducated but also unvalued. These people had the credibility of the modern-day homeless.
  • And then – eventually, possibly a year of so late – we have some traveling wise guys, “philosophers” who were convinced they would find something to celebrate in Jerusalem. They had to be redirected to Bethlehem by a power-jealous king.
The power equation might turn out be the key to the whole unlikely scene. This child - this wet, squawking infant - does more to threaten the prevailing status quo than any arsenal of nuclear warheads, or armies, or political extremists, or bomb-toting terrorists. Then, as now, the specter of a Prince of Peace so unnerved the resident power structure that his message was distorted and his followers persecuted.

If you’re still wondering, Virginia, and if you were posing the question today, then I believe the most compelling verification of the reality of the Prince of Peace is not going to be found in Crystal Cathedrals, the crowds at St. Peter's Square, or up in the massive illuminated trees at Rockefeller Center, downtown London, and on the White House lawn. Those expressions merely affirm the social frameworks that support them.

Go instead to a bombed-out church in the Middle East, where Christians still gather bravely but quietly with hand-held candles because there is no power or it has become too dangerous to be noticed.

Follow the Catholic child in Northern Ireland who takes her own treasure and shares it with her Protestant friend against the mores of her community.

Break bread with the destitute in Tampa, or Beijing, or San Francisco; in Paris or Johannesburg; in Moscow or Bombay – with the homeless who are helped by open-hearted people who believe that Jesus came for everyone.

Light candles at an Advent service with your neighbor, your co-worker, or maybe a stranger you invited to church, and understand that the spirit of this season is as alive and well as the peace that will greet you there.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Prince of Peace. I think that the late Fred Rogers of Public Television’s “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” put it well. The occasion was an interview on one of the final episodes of Arsenio Hall’s syndicated late-night talk show (1989-1994).

“It would be easier to believe,” Arsenio said, “if God still did big impressive things. You know, like the Old Testament miracles.”

Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, quickly replied, “God's revealing evidence is everywhere; we just have to receive it.”

And that, Virginia, is where you will find the Prince of Peace. His revealing evidence is everywhere. We just have to open our eyes.

PRAYER: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Help each one of us to be compelling witnesses to the truth that the Prince of Peace is active in this world. Use us to be your revealing evidence, everywhere that we go and through all that we are. Amen.

From "In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent"

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

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