At the closing of the WCC United Nations Advocacy Week 2010
01 October 2010
(Luke 2: 14)
Sermon by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches general secretary, at the closing day of the United Nations Advocacy Week, 27 September - 1 October 2010, Geneva, Switzerland
Peace is not needed in heaven. Peace is needed on earth.
"Among those whom God favours." Who are they? Where are they?
These beautiful words are a song in celebration of the birth of the Son of God as a human being. God became a human being, so that all human beings could experience God’s favour. God’s favour is unconditional grace, given according to God’s will. God’s grace is given to us so that the circles of evil and sin may be broken, so that the earth can experience peace. Not war. Not fear of losing your home, or fear of military attacks on your home with all kinds of weapons. Not poverty. Not injustice. Not lack of freedom to move, to speak, to think.
The earth and its people need peace, and the people need their daily bread. That means food and drink, but also education, health services, family and living with those you love and to whom you belong, to be in harmony with your neighbour. We all need peace with the earth, to be nurtured and inspired by the earth we are living on, which bears our weight and our footprints.
When these beautiful words concerning the birth of Jesus Christ are read and celebrated at Christmastime, we often hear songs about a tranquil Bethlehem that include the sweet words of the carol: "Sleep in heavenly peace."
However, one of the greatest paradoxes in our time is that Bethlehem still does not have peace. It is not only a paradox, it is a scandal for humanity.
Bethlehem has become a prison, and the fields of the shepherds are fields full of injustice as more and more of them are annexed through the power of occupation. They feed the sheep no more. This situation is among the past century’s worst failures on the part of the democratic (and what has been represented as the so-called "Christian") West. As a consequence of a number of political decisions, lack of political responsibility and political disasters, Bethlehem still does not have peace. The fields of the shepherds, and the city of Bethlehem where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, still have no peace. The whole world, all continents and all people of good will must now take the responsibility of bringing justice and peace to these places in and around Bethlehem. Those who can promote positive movement in this process know what they have to do. They need our encouragement and prayers.
Heaven still does not need peace. But the earth desperately needs peace. Bethlehem does need peace. Jerusalem needs peace. And all peoples living there and around these cities need peace. Whatever people they belong to, whatever faith they have. These cities carry wonderful names, "the house of bread" and "the city of peace", reminding us of the most significant events in the history of the Abrahamic religions.
Glory should be ascribed to God from the earth as praises rise to heaven. God is glorified when the creation of God is given peace in the full meaning of that term. The glory of God can be seen when ordinary people are granted the dignity, the rights and the peace God has meant for them. The glory of God is the effect of God’s grace, heard when the circles of sin are broken, when reconciliation and justice replace the destructive forces that are a part of human life. God is glorified when we care for nature, knowing the earth has been given to us as the precious gift of God. We are absolutely dependent on this gift of the natural world, and we ourselves are part of it.
The ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches have always been and shall always be a movement searching for peace. I am deeply moved by your presence among us during these days of Advocacy. You are not advocating primarily for your own benefit but to promote the peace of all. You are bringing glory to God when you express your concern for peace for others, whether you come from Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nigeria, Burma or wherever your homeland is. You are peacemakers when you do not give up. You are peacekeepers when you continue to work and pray. You are glorifying God, the Creator of all, when you advocate for the dignity and the value of every human being, particularly those who are less privileged and less protected than others.
Therefore, I thank you for coming, for sharing, for praying, for being among us in these days. I thank God for every one of you.
Go in peace, make peace, to the glory of God.