This being the last Sunday before Christmas, I will be covering the last of the four main focuses of Advent: Peace.
John 14:23-27 (KJV) “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (24) He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. (25) These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. (26) But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (27) Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
There are three aspects of peace that Christ brings to talk about today.
Jesus brings us peace in three ways:
Peace with God,
Peace with each other,
Peace with ourselves.
Peace with God
John 3:16-21 (KJV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (17) For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (18) He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (19) And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (20) For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (21) But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
These verses were revolutionary in their time and they still are today. God had done just about everything to get His people to come to Him. Four thousand years since He created mankind and in all that time, in so many ways, yet this is what it had come to. When Jesus said this to Nicodemas, Nicodemas had no idea the impact on the world that statement would have. In that statement, Jesus explained exactly how we could obtain a personal relationship with God. In having a personal relationship with God, we can achieve peace with God one on one. We are no longer dependent on an intermediary such as a prophet or high priest to intercede for us. This is not new to us, but at that time, it set the world on it end.
Peace with Each Other
Jesus proclaimed peace frequently and taught peace.
Luke 6:27-38 (KJV) “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, (28) Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. (29) And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. (30) Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. (31) And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (32) For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. (33) And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. (34) And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. (35) But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (36) Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (37) Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: (38) Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”
Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? You have got to be kidding! Vengeance is the Lord’s isn’t it? Not mine. Not yours. Not the heathen next door. We are commanded to forgive and forget. We are commanded to pray for them because what is the best possible outcome for our enemies.
The point here is that Jesus is God’s gift of peace not to vanquish our enemies but to reconcile with them – to make peace with them. A baby given to us as a child of peace.
Peace with Ourselves
One of the best parts of the peace that we have in Christ is that we can totally rely on Christ for everything.
We can take our burdens and drop them at the foot of the cross and rest in peace that He will take care of them for us. Can there be any better peace of mind than that?
Matthew 6:25-34 (KJV) “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (26) Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (27) Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? (28) And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: (29) And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (30) Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (32) (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. (33) But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (34) Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
The Hebrew word “shalom” is generally translated “peace,” and it’s a word we hear often enough that we often think we’ve got it down. We know that “shalom” is about wholeness, about healing, about redemption…and together, all these things make up “peace.” But when we use the word “peace” we don’t generally mean all those things…instead we settle for shallow “peace” which is really a façade behind which we suppress our feelings, and so suppress true community. The peace we generally think of is more of the calm surface, even if underneath the waters churn. But shalom is the kind of peace God has in mind for the world, the kind of peace the psalmist prays for, the kind of peace we are to make. This is peace that demands that we be real with ourselves and each other, peace that requires true listening and compassionate speaking, peace that will not settle for any to be left out or left behind. This is not only the absence of conflict, but also the presence of healing and growth. The words of the prophet Isaiah still ring in our ears even as they stick in our throats—the vision of swords turned to plowshares and all the nations walking together in God’s light. We yearn for this vision to be a reality, and yet so often we do nothing to make it a reality. Instead we do what is easy, we practice instant gratification, we turn a blind eye to peace-breaking even as we proclaim “peace be with you.”
Advent is a time of waiting—a time when we acknowledge the darkness and the “not-yet” nature of the kingdom of God. We wait with hope and expectation, looking for light that shines in unexpected places and for the coming of God who will bring peace on earth and goodwill to all people. We say no to a culture of instant gratification, no to the com-modification of God’s kingdom of love, and no to the desire to skip the hard part in favor of the fun part of the season. We recognize the grief and darkness of the world even as we proclaim that God’s peace, justice, joy, and light are both coming and already here. These are good things, important reasons to observe Advent as a season even as the malls and radio stations skip right ahead to reindeer and jingling bells.
But on the other hand, Advent is a season of waiting—but that doesn’t mean a season of passivity or even patience. We fall victim to the idea that waiting means doing nothing. That is not what Advent is for—because the kingdom of God is also “already” even if it is “not yet.” We are waiting for God to come and bring peace, and sometimes we forget that God has already come, has already broken in to our world, has already shined a great light, and has already sent us the Holy Spirit in order that WE may BE the Body of Christ in the world—that we may not just wait for peace, not even just make peace or work for it, but that we may BE the peace of Christ in our homes, churches, communities, nations.
We ARE living temples of the Holy Spirit, we ARE the body of Christ, we ARE the hands and feet, the hearts and voices, through which God works. Just as the psalmist was transformed from one among a crowd to a proclaimer of peace, when we pray and praise, worship and work, we are transformed from those who simply wait to those who embody the truth of God’s grace for all people, the promise of peace for a world prone to turn plows into swords rather than the other way around. Have we lived up to our full potential, fully given ourselves to God’s will, completely followed God’s call to us? Not yet. But that doesn’t mean we ought to wait for God to do something about that. Instead it means that we strive to be who God calls us to be.
How can we BE peace in a world of ubiquitous violence? A good start would be to not engage in violence—and while it seems easy to refrain from physical violence, it’s much harder to discipline our words, our language, into peace. Perhaps that can be our Advent challenge—to speak only peace. Another way to be peace is to recognize where there is brokenness and work toward healing—to conspire with God to reconcile and lift up, to see truly and help wherever there is need—to feed people who are hungry, to give warmth to people who are cold, to offer hospitality to people who are lonely, and to recognize and encourage the humanity, the child of God, in each person we meet, whether we meet them at the food pantry, the grocery store, work, on the train, on a plain or on a sidewalk. When we truly see one another, then we can truly have compassion for one another, and then we are on the road to shalom.
In many ways the world lives in Advent, though we don’t often recognize it. We are waiting for something…for someone to do something, for the world to get better, for God to break in and bring the kingdom, for a light to shine in the darkness. And waiting is important and good, it’s true, particularly if we can do it without filling the void with more gadgets and toys and things.
We are the body of Christ, called, equipped, and empowered to BE peace in and for the world!