The recent terrible events in Paris have brought the violence that thousands in Syria and the surrounding area have lived with for years into a shocking proximity, and have made us think “Are we next?” The terrorists behind the atrocities are motivated by a religious zeal that feeds on the ideas of holy war and a messianic final battle in which all infidels will finally submit or be wiped out. This is an extreme form of Islam which, thankfully, most Muslims reject. It’s a world view that will not be countered by political appeasement or peaceful negotiation, so, sadly, armed force is probably the only human way to contain it.
But at the same time we, as Christians, should be praying that good will conquer evil, and that peace will triumph over violence. Again and again the bible paints a picture of peace – shalom – in which all people live together under the just and gracious rule of God. This is very different to the enforced caliphate which ISIS dreams of. Rather it is a kingdom in which Jesus – the Lamb of God, the one who was broken on the cross – is King, and in which those who come to him in faith are united as brothers and sisters. A kingdom of peace and joy.
I recently asked the children in our church school “What can’t you do if you are full of joy?” And they soon got the answer: “You can’t hate and you can’t fight.” Our prayer, as we approach Christmas and go beyond into a rather uncertain new year, is that more and more people will come into God’s kingdom of peace and joy as they encounter Jesus the Prince of Peace.
This year in our Christmas services we will be focussing on the message the angels brought to the shepherds: ‘Peace and good will to all people’. And then in turn, we can be like those shepherds – spreading the word about what we have seen and know.