An obituary was posted on April 12, 1888 in a Paris newspaper. This was not a typical obituary, it was a scathing rebuke of the decedent’s work. In the text of the obituary the writer called him “The Merchant of Death” and went so far as to write, “[He] became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before…”
There was, however, one big problem with the obituary. The person being castigated was not dead at all. In fact he read his own obituary in the newspaper in horror. His horror was not the declaration of his death, but the realization that he would be remembered in such a horrible way. He began making plans immediately to do something to remedy this state of affairs.
He succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. Before you ever learned that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and was a manufacturer of military explosives you learned that in his will he endowed the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize (among other prizes). It was his brother who died in 1888.
Alfred would live another 7 years and die 124 years ago today on December 10, 1896. Each year on the 10th of December the latest recipients gather and are awarded their prize. How fitting that today December 10th, 2020 during the week of Advent dedicated to peace we can reflect on the people honored for their work to achieve peace.
Read – Luke 2:8-14
The shepherds were not high in the hierarchy of society at the time of Jesus’ birth. They lived an itinerant life, bathed irregularly if at all, and we surrounded all day and night with barn yard animals. To say they were an unlikely group of people to receive the good news of Jesus birth is an understatement.
Yet, as we have seen throughout our exploration this Advent, God does things differently than we would. In hindsight it makes perfect sense that the grandest of announcements would be made to the shepherds. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he referenced this first night in a myriad of ways.
He talked about the last being first and the first being last. He preached that the peacemakers were blessed in a time when the Israelites were still demanding war. He told stories where disobedient sons were thrown lavish parties. He invited himself to dinner with tax collectors. He spent time with lepers. He even allowed women to wash his feet with their hair and perfume.
Jesus talked about the Good Samaritan and how the rich may have more trouble entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Women were the first to discover that he had risen from the grave. And while hanging from the cross he absolved the sins of a murderer who repented while only moments from death.
The ministry of Jesus was not focused on a Who’s Who of well heeled religious leaders and kings. And the peace that was promised was of course for those that unrest was most prevalent.
It is not surprising then that on December 10, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed those gathered in Oslo, Norway with these words as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize:
Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.
Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible – the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.
So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live – men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization – because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
The beginning of Dr. King’s speech that December day acknowledged that he was accepting the award for peace “at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial justice.”
All week I have wanted to write a nice story about peace, where things are good and there is is no turmoil. But the Jesus did not come to bring that type of peace. Deep inside you know that, too. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he exhorts them: “…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
The next day Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a lecture at the University of Oslo. The very last sentence of his lecture echoes Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here is what Dr. King said, an entire sermon in a single sentence:, “In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.”
Jesus came to elevate the least of these and to declare once and for all it doesn’t matter Who’s Who, it matters WHOSE Who. May you know whose you are this Christmas season. You belong to God. The Peace of Christ lives in you.
Sing – Silent Night
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.