“I’ll just be glad when Christmas is over,” she said. I nodded.
We were sitting next to each other before a Christmas choir concert, making conversation before the concert began.
“I understand,” I said. “It’s kind of crazy with all of the shopping and special events. It’s hard to catch your breath.”
“No, that’s not what I mean," she answered. “I’ll be glad when Christmas is over because... I can’t stand Christmas Eve. I never get it right.”
I listened as she explained. She had a daughter, married, living in New York, who no longer went to church. In fact, she saw her mom’s church and what it represented as part of the problem in our country. She would come home for Christmas and that put her mom in an awkward position. If she planned the meal around going to church, there would be an argument with her daughter. It was uncomfortable and she hated the fighting. If she did not go to church on Christmas Eve, she felt horrible. It was not a celebration of Christmas. So, Christmas Eve was hard for her. No matter what she did, there would be a problem.
I thought of this conversation when I read the words of Jesus for today. Jesus addresses this woman’s situation.
Jesus is speaking to His disciples in the middle of His ministry. He says to them, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
These words of Jesus are strange and difficult. They are not what we would expect. Yet, these words prepare us for life in Christ’s Kingdom because they teach us an important truth: Jesus brings a divisive peace.
When Jesus asks, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” Our answer is “Yes. Yes, Jesus, we do.” Of course, we think He has come to bring peace on earth. And why would we not?
When the angels greeted the shepherds at Christ’s birth, what did they sing? “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth” (2:14). When Simeon held Jesus in his arms, what did he confidently proclaim? “Lord, now you are letting your servant go in peace” (2:29). To the sinful woman who anointed Him (7:50) and to the hemorrhaging woman who touched Him Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace” (8:48). When Jesus sends His disciples out in mission, He instructs them, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house’” (10:5).
Yet, these words prepare us for life in Christ’s Kingdom because they teach us an important truth: Jesus brings a divisive peace.
If you have been listening throughout Luke’s gospel, you would know Jesus brings peace. It has been on the lips of angels and the tongues of His disciples. It is Jesus’ promise to the sinful and the suffering. Of course, we would think Jesus has come to bring peace!
But Jesus wants us to know something. The peace He brings is different than the peace we imagine. Jesus brings a divisive peace. Belief in Him will divide households. “Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother” (12:53). His words call us to live in a paradoxical tension. There will be peace in Jesus, but it will be divisive.
Living in this tension is difficult. It is a constant balancing act.
On the one hand, we can emphasize peace to the point where we erase any division. “All religions lead to the same place. Why can’t we just love one another and get along?" This peace is not the peace of Jesus, because Jesus is the only Savior for all people and that truth divides people.
On the other hand, we can emphasize division to the point where we lose sight of the peace. Whether it be the music we use in worship or the positions we take in public life, Christians can set themselves against others. We argue and fight over non-essentials and start to believe that anything which divides is divine. In overemphasizing division, we lose sight of Jesus, our Savior who brings the world peace.
Jesus brings a divisive peace. There is peace in Jesus for all people. It is the peace of sins forgiven, of rescue from Satan, and of life from the dead. But this peace will not always be received. Some will resist and turn away. For this reason, moments of peace can be moments of painful division; division between those who believe in Jesus and those who do not.
Luke reveals this divisive peace in the crucifixion. Jesus is crucified between two criminals. Both men are guilty of crimes leading to their crucifixion. One wants deliverance and he demands it now. He wants Jesus to be the God of glory who brings him down from the cross. When Jesus does not do it, he does not believe. The other criminal trusts in Jesus. He trusts that the ways of God are beyond our understanding. He humbly asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His Kingdom. This man, who believes, has peace when dying. Though joined in a common death, these two criminals are divided by peace: Peace in Jesus.
This is the baptism Jesus said He had to undergo (12:50); His death and resurrection that would save and divide the world. To those who believe, this is peace. To those who resist, this is division and condemnation.
So, my companion at the Christmas choir concert was right. Christmas is difficult, so is every day in the life of a Christian in the Kingdom of Jesus. We trust in and share a peace which divides. This will not change until the return of Jesus.
The words Jesus offers in our reading will not make my companion’s Christmas any easier, but they will assure her this is what life in the Kingdom is like. This is true discipleship. We live with Jesus, we hold on to Jesus, we suffer with Jesus, because Jesus brings a divisive peace that saves.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Luke Luke 12:49–53 (54–56).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 12:49–53 (54–56).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 12:49–53 (54–56).
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 12:49–53 (54–56).