Peace: what an elusive concept this time of year! And yet it is the heart of Christmas. Who needs peace? Perhaps images of war in the middle east come to mind. Or maybe it’s closer to home: a family feud which makes you dread the inevitable holiday “celebrations” together. If you’re married, you might think about your spouse and the ceaseless arguments that seem to have taken away the feelings of love and romance. If you have kids, you may be groaning right now at overhearing yet another sibling squabble.
Let’s take it one step further and say that all humanity needs peace with their Creator. Aren’t our arguments, conflicts, wars just an overflow of our inner unrest? An inward sense that all is not right in the world? All creation is groaning for peace. The kind of peace that the Advent meditations from last week give us a picture of — where we are to place our hope. It is ultimately people being reconciled to God. But how? God bridges the gap. He initiates and does what seems impossible: divinity is clothed with humanity and takes the form of a baby. The Advent readings from this week focus on peace from several angles.
There’s the image of God as a shepherd bringing peace, tenderly tending his flock like a shepherd from Isaiah 40:9-11
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
And the description of an inward peace that’s known by those who see that the Lord is near and who lift up their anxiety to him – receiving this peace that “passes all understanding” to guard their hearts and minds. How? In Christ Jesus – God made flesh; God coming near. (Philippians 4:4-7)
This peace does not mean the lack of affliction, but the experiential knowledge of God’s comfort in the midst of affliction. It is finding God’s comfort in the affliction that brings peace. (2 Corinthians 1:2-5)
There’s the surprising image in this list of “peace” passages of a city that was desolate that’s now filled with joyful celebration. A city marked by restoration and rebuilding – a people marked by the cleansing of the guilt of their sin. And how? A “righteous branch” [descendant] of David who “shall execute justice and righteousness” and the people of this new city are known by the name: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:7-16) This is key to true peace: I cannot earn my own righteousness, but I trust that Christ has done so for me and I rest from my striving, my posturing, my attempts to be good on my own. And I rest in the peace from the Prince of Peace. And as a result, I am changed – my family is changed – my community is changed – entire cities are changed – to be havens of peace. Where do I need to begin? Where do you need to begin?
It begins by following the One who faithfully persevered in bringing peace and did not grow faint or easily discouraged. He did not give up on anyone, but is gentle, tender, compassionate. He brought peace not through “crying aloud in the streets” like a revolutionary political hero that we’d expect (Isaiah 42:1-9) but actually came humbly, riding on a donkey and speaking peace (Zechariah 9:9-17). Now peace comes as the people of God continue the work of the Peace-giver. And so let us follow him this Christmas season into paths of peace!