This week I am thinking about PEACE. There seems to be a variety of schedules for the topics of the four weeks of Advent, but I will save the topic of LOVE for the fourth week, and the last Advent post will be about the glory of God, which was visibly seen in the manger in Bethlehem.
Peace, like hope and joy and love, is illusive. The word is over-used and under-appreciated. The longer I live, the more fictional it becomes in our society. Where is real peace? We know where it is not, but where do we find real peace?
In recent weeks, I have encountered, more than usual, friends and family who are dealing with sudden, unexpected diagnoses of cancer. Coping with this evil danger is a huge interruption in a person’s peaceful existence. In the shadow of surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and transplants, where does one find peace?
The search for true peace in one’s life and in the world is as old as humanity itself. In the OT, we find the word “peace” that is usually translated as “shalom.” This is a familiar Hebrew word, which is commonly used as a salutation. It implies much more than just the absence of struggle or war. It is “completeness, wholeness, unity, accord,” or what we might consider today as “well-being.” In the ancient days, like people everywhere in all times, 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).
Similarly, so many years later, our culture is filled with anxiety, fear, depression, and angst about global situations, politics, health, economics, education, inflation, and an inability to do very little about anything. Our human leaders are deceptive and self-centered; they make promises of peace and prosperity which they cannot (or will not) keep. Power and position have edged out peace in the 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.
In the NT, peace finally arrived on earth as a tiny baby. How can this be? The reality is that the only real peace that exists is the peace of Christ. In an upper room filled with frightened, confused and hopeless disciples, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…” (John 20:21). He commissioned them to follow in his footsteps. Again, he stood among his followers and spoke, “Peace be with you…stop doubting and believe” (John 20:26-27). Indeed, peace is forgiveness given to people who believe in him.
Many years later, the Apostle Paul wrote to a congregation of Jews and Gentiles that, “he himself [Christ] is our peace.” That is, Christ broke down all the obstacles, all the barriers, all the hostility between peoples and nations. Christ created a new humanity, reconciling all people “to God through the cross” (Eph 2:14-16). Paul assured his people that Jesus “preached peace” to the Jews and to the Gentiles, so that everyone, regardless of background, culture, ethnicity or origins, has “access to the Father [through Christ and] by one Spirit” (the Holy Spirit, Eph. 2:17-18). Thus, Paul instructed his people to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).
Peace, then, is manifested in forgiveness. 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. Without forgiveness, there is no peace (John 20:22-23).
Peace is not dependent upon our circumstances or in our abilities, but is anchored in God himself. We can struggle under our own devices, but that does not negate the sovereignty of God. Our human striving for peace is like the heavy-weight boxer who is in the ring by himself, dancing around and punching at an invisible opponent.
Indeed, we cannot wait for peace. The Israelite nation waited for centuries for the coming Messiah who would finally bring about peace in all the nations. Now, we live in an instantaneous, “microwave” world where everything needs to happen immediately. We want peace in a fast-paced world; we want it now, and at a very small cost. It has been said that, “peace is resisting the illusion that we are in control.” How true; power, control and manipulation in this world are an illusion. We end up frustrated, angered and upset when things don’t work out the way we planned.
Advent is a time to stop….and wait.
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, for which we wait. The Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, is the gift of peace. This peace is not like the 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” (John 14:27).
As the seasonal music begins once 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.
Praise be to God, as we can “Sleep in heavenly peace” (from “Silent Night,” written in 1818).
One thought on “The Promise of Peace”
Thank you, Judy. So good and such a great reminder of where our peace comes from.