This Advent season, I have shared on the topics of Hope and Joy, and this week I will address Peace. I guess this is my order, because I would like to make the fourth week about Love. Finally, my last Advent post will be about the glory of God, which was visibly seen in the tiny babe in the manger.
Peace, like hope and joy and love, is illusive. The word is over-used and under-appreciated. The longer I live, the more imaginary it becomes in our society. How does one achieve real peace? We know where it is not, but where do we find real peace?
First, the Old Testament has plenty to say about peace, especially in view of the wars, battles, struggles and oppression which were experienced by the nation of Israel off and on over the centuries. Usually, peace was an existence that was as fragile as glass; it was a physical, economic, military dream of security and safety. However, in Hebrew, the word “peace” is usually translated as “shalom,” which is not an unfamiliar Hebrew word. It is a big, “fat” word, which implies many more things than just the absence of war. It can imply “rest, ease and security,” but, in addition, it means “completeness, wholeness, unity, accord,” which adds to its richness. Like people everywhere in all times, the people highly valued the elusive peace they so desired. Although the people “hoped for peace, but no good has come” (Jer 8:15). The false, corrupt and self-centered prophets and leaders in Israel promised “‘peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jer 4:14).
So many years later, doesn’t this prophecy about peace fit our culture today? In fact, our culture is filled with anxiety, with worry about situations, politics, health, economics, education, inflation, and an inability to do very little about anything. Our leaders are self-centered and they give promises they cannot (or will not) keep. Certainly, there is a lack of “shalom” in our world. Henry W. Longfellow’s poem rings true today: “And in despair I bowed my head; ‘there is no peace on earth,’ I said. For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good-will to men!” (written in 1863, just after the Civil War). Despair instead of peace.
Second, peace is not dependent upon our circumstances or in our ability to know how or when future event will work out. Instead, it is anchored in God himself. We can struggle under our own devices, but that does not negate the sovereignty of God. We can fear and worry, but that does not invalidate God’s faithfulness, goodness and love for his children. Our striving for peace is like the heavy-weight boxer who is in the ring by himself, dancing around and punching at an invisible opponent.
Furthermore, we cannot wait – and therein lies much of our anxiety. We live in an instantaneous, “microwave” world where everything needs to happen right now. We want peace in a fast-paced world, and we want it immediately. We depend on technology which promptly moves our lives from this moment to the next — from cell phones to streaming television to the internet. Whatever happened last week (or last month or last year) is quickly overshadowed by the present, and forgotten. It has been said that “Peace is resisting the illusion that we are in control.” I love that; power and manipulation in this world are an illusion. Perhaps we think that we are in control, but then we are frustrated when things don’t work out the way we planned.
Advent is a time to stop….and wait.
Third, God’s promise of peace for his people came to earth “wrapped in cloths, and placed in a manger” (Lk 2:7). Jesus did not bring peace, like a conquering hero, he is the expected peace, which is why we prepare for his coming at the Advent season. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his closest followers about the advent (coming) of the Holy Spirit (14:26), who came after Jesus’ death and resurrection, to fill and empower his followers. The Spirit does “teach and remind” Jesus’ people, and, he is the gift of peace. Jesus’ peace is not like the illusive peace expected by the world; his peace is internal, not external. There is a peace inside of a Christian that the world does not understand: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (14:27). This is a picture of the Trinity: God sent his Son to bring peace to the earth (Lk 2:14; Isa 9:6); and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to be peace, within those who believe.
Finally, “Peace be with you” was a familiar, common Hebrew greeting, well-known to Jesus’ disciples (Jn 20:19, 21, 26). It is a familiar greeting with some Christians today. However, Jesus did a very uncommon thing: he died, and was resurrected, so sinful people can be reconciled to a holy God! The realization of this truth must have left his earliest followers breathless. They did not expect that the peace of Jesus was forgiveness – forgiveness of all their sins and weaknesses, all their doubts and disloyalty (20:23). Who knew that the tiny babe born in Bethlehem would be the “cradle” of forgiveness. Even as he was dying, on the cross, Jesus prayed that the Father would forgive those people who had executed him, and those authorities behind the evil deed (Lk 23:34). In the end, Jesus “left” his peace with his followers in the form of the empowering Holy Spirit, knowing that forgiveness is the road to true peace (Jn 20:22). Forgiven, we can forgive others, working toward the “completeness, wholeness, unity, accord,” the “shalom” of humanity.
Again, I am reminded of my favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night.” These words ring in my ears: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace.” Only Jesus is true peace. He is the “good news,” the source of all forgiveness and real peace. If we “remain” in him (Jn 15:5, 7), the peace of God lives within us, and his Spirit will never leave us. We are forgiven and are given the gift of his Spirit, which guides us into all peace.
…..And now, we can “Sleep in heavenly peace; sleep in heavenly peace” (“Silent Night,” written in 1818).