Deep within every single one of us is a feeling of peace that we have not yet felt in its fullness. That peace is there even if we throw our lives away into the pit we call hell. We cannot harm it. We cannot destroy it. We cannot remove it. And yet we may not ever feel it. We may not even know that it is there, or how powerful and amazing that feeling of peace can be. But, it is there no matter what we do.
Just prior to the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, in the darkest moment of human history, that same peace still existed within every human being, and yet no one at that time could experience it. Why? Because true peace is not an external state found in the world, it is an inward experience of the Lord's love and wisdom. People, however, had become so disconnected from their Creator that they did not know where else to look for peace than to the world. Even if that search involved religious tradition and ceremony, they would not find peace in those actions alone. No religious ceremony connects us with the Lord if it is done without understanding, without freedom, or without a heartfelt desire to do internally what the external ceremony represents. But that was all that was known to the people before the Lord's coming. And whether we want to believe it or not, our individual character is not so different from theirs.
But the Lord came into the world to bring peace right? He is called the “Prince of Peace," and the angels who visited the shepherds praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Several times in the gospels the Lord himself even says that He “gives peace,” so wouldn't that mean that we should be experiencing the peace that came with His advent?
What then should we make of the following, seemingly contradictory, statements that Jesus made? “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matt. 10:34) “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled...! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division." (Luke 12:49 & 51).
How should we hold this paradox? How can we make sense of the Lord being the “Prince of Peace” and the angels proclaiming “peace on earth” at His birth when He personally exclaimed that He “did not come to bring peace on earth”? And for each one of us personally, how do we find the peace that the Lord claims to offer, and what does that peace consist of?
If we think about peace in a natural way we could say that peace is a state of not being in conflict. For instance, when a country is not at war we say that they are in a time of peace. And so this could lead us to believe that spiritual peace is the same, that if we are not at war with hell than we too are in a state of peace. But this is simply not true. Alternatively, it could mean that we are just avoiding conflict. To say it rather bluntly, real spiritual peace is NOT the result of spiritual pacifism.
This is actually one of the most important temptations we face in life, and perhaps the first real temptation many of us face. The temptation is to believe that we don't need to fight, that all conflict is to be avoided. The fact of the matter, however, is that if we do not take up the “sword” that the Lord brought with Him into the world and fight with it to bring about a “division” then we will never experience even an ounce of the true peace He has to offer.
You see, the Lord didn't need to bring peace into the world. The potential for peace was already stored up in the souls of every individual He created (cf Arcana Caelestia 1738, 1999; Heaven and Hell 435). What the Lord needed to bring was the means to access that peace. He needed to bring “a sword”. He needed to bring the Divine truths which are capable of fighting against the evils and falsities of hell, and that is what a sword in the Word represents. More specifically the Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church that a sword signifies 'truth combating against falsity'.
As we just mentioned, it is a temptation to think that we don't need to fight against hell in our lives. There is another temptation that we go through when we are victorious over the first one. After we do take up the fight against hell this new temptation seeps in and recurs many times throughout our lives. It is the temptation to give up. Have you ever gotten to the point in a struggle where you began to think that the fight is just too much? That you might as well give up?
To combat this temptation the Lord has brought another tool. Think again about the Lord's words in the gospel of Luke saying, "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" What the Lord is speaking of here is the passion and love with which we must fight. He is speaking about a sense of urgency that we all must kindle! It is very easy to give up and let hell win. It is even easier to just never take up the fight. After all, temptation would not be hard to deal with if we didn't like what hell was offering! Do we feel that urgency? Do we have that passion for heavenly life? Imagine the Lord speaking directly to you saying, "O how I wish the fire were already kindled!"
This kind of passion was almost completely absent before the Lord was born. It is a passion that we are reminded of again in the book of Revelation in the letter to the church of Laodicea when the Lord states, "I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold" (Rev. 3:15). They were said to be “lukewarm” which is a spiritual state of indifference. It is a state of knowing what is true and good but not living it. It is a state of being satisfied with where we are spiritually after giving up on the fight. It is a state of saying, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). It is a state that feels like peace, because we are not at war, but is nothing like the true peace buried deep inside our souls waiting to be discovered. Jesus came to kindle a fire in us, to forge a sword for us, and to bring about a division between heaven and hell in our minds.
Think again about the proclamation of the angels to the shepherds. Traditionally we read the statement, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward people." In this way of reading it, there are two things that we will receive from the Lord, peace, and goodwill. And though this is a true way of interpreting the statement, there is another way we can translate from Greek. We could instead say, "...And on earth, peace to those of goodwill." Do you hear that distinction? While it is true that we are receivers of peace and goodwill from the Lord, and that we cannot have either if separated from the Lord, the second way of translating shows us that there is a prerequisite to receiving God's peace... we must develop goodwill. And real goodwill is only born through the struggle against, and victory in, temptation.
So did the Lord come to bring peace into the world? Not really, the potential for peace was already here, just as it is already present within you. Instead, He came to provide the tools for us to uncover and discover the peace that was implanted in us from creation. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill" (Luke 2:14). Have a very Merry Christmas!
(For more to read on “Peace” see Apocolypse Revealed 306; True Christian Religion 304.)