Welcome to Advent. Adventus is Latin for ‘coming’ The basic Christian claim is that God has become flesh and lived among us. That God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. What proof do we have? Perhaps the birth of a baby. Christmas celebrates and proclaims the coming of Christ. Every Merry Christmas you hear or say is a reminder that God is in the business of changing the world. This is good news for a world filled with anxieties, pains, and problems.
On a typical day, the headlines of the paper are disconcerting. Lately we have seen unrest in Ferguson MO following the police shooting there and the response. The seemingly continual threat of terrorism around the world, including suicide bombers, kidnapping a whole school of girls, and the recent attack in the Synagogue in Israel. Hunger and disease, climate change and financial inequity, immigration and cancer, the list goes on and on. We live in a broken and dying world. Is it any wonder that even those who do not believe are captivated by the spirit of Christmas?
Global unrest is nothing new. Jesus was born into a troubled world. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie does not describe the reality of that town in Jesus’ day. The Jewish people were suffering under Roman rule. The census had interrupted normal routines, poverty, disease, and food to eat were daily concerns, and it was certainly not silent when Herod’s soldiers followed after the Wise Men’s visit. The Wise Men first came to Jerusalem as they were following the star. They asked King Herod where is he who has been born King of the Jews? Herod was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2). He called together the Chief Priests and teachers of the law and they quoted Micah 5 for the answer: Bethlehem was the answer and there is an interesting description in Micah 5:5, “And he will be our peace.” All of Jerusalem is disturbed, but this child will be our peace. Herod didn’t believe it, and so he attempted to kill the child before the baby could grow up and challenge his kingdom. Christ was not peace for Herod.
Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, in Micah’s day, there was not peace in Bethlehem, either. Bethlehem was on the outskirts of Jerusalem and a fire tower if you will, a place watching for the advance of the Assyrians. They had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and continued south. There was not peace in Bethlehem as they watched and signaled and experienced the advance and siege of Jerusalem. In the midst of this difficult time, Micah both pronounced God’s judgment for breaking the covenant and pointed to a future redemption that would come through a child born in Bethlehem.
In the face of an advancing army, Micah 4 speaks of the peace that would come someday. The word of the Lord shall go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will judge between the peoples and there will be peace. Micah 4:3 speaks of the nations beating their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks and Israel being restored to Mt. Zion. These words were words of comfort and hope while Israel was in exile. And they have come true not once, but twice in history. Twice the nation has been restored but Israel is still not a nation at peace. In many respects they are still surrounded by enemies. Many Jewish people are still waiting for the Messiah who brings God’s peace. But the disciples of Jesus knew they had found in Jesus the one who brings peace with God and the peace of God. Jesus said, my peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. (John 14:27) Jesus said of himself in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That Jesus was born in Bethlehem is just one of the many prophecies Jesus fulfilled demonstrating that he was indeed the Messiah. One of his titles is the Prince of Peace.
Think about what brings you peace. Peace is a broad term. It runs the gamut from the end of war to a little time to ourselves. Did you know Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley shut herself in the closet for one hour each day to create a place she could be with God without distraction from her many children? Peace can mean the end of physical violence or the threat of war. It can mean freedom from disturbance, disagreement or quarrels, the absence of conflict, all the way to harmony, calm, quiet, and tranquility. For some, peace is a sense of security and safety. For others it is forgiveness and acceptance. God sent Jesus to answer our deepest needs for peace.
You see, all of us are at war with God because of sin. We all live under the threat and experience of sin and death. But Jesus came to make peace for us, to give us his righteousness so that we could be right with God. As we believe in Jesus, as we accept him as our savior we have peace with God. He is the sacrificial lamb, born to take the judgment for the sins of the world. All who believe are saved.
Jesus also came so that we might know the peace of God in our lives. Jesus came to show us the love of God active in the world. Even in the midst of difficulty and trouble, we can know the peace of God because God is with us. We are not alone. We do not need to worry as we trust in God. Jesus came to bring us the awareness of God’s love and acceptance. The peace of God can reign in our lives and it surpasses all understanding. As we accept Jesus as our Lord, as we follow his way, we have the peace of God present in our lives. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit; something real for believers. As Psalm 29:11 says, “the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
This message of contentment can be heard in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. These early believers were suffering persecution and difficulty as a minority faith in a Roman city. Rejoice in the Lord, Paul wrote, again I will say, rejoice. Paul knew of their troubles but he encouraged them to focus on Christ. He reminded them that the Lord is near just as Christmas reminds us that God has come near to us. Don’t worry about anything, instead take it to God in prayer. As we do that, Paul said, the peace of God guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. As we focus on Christ our heart and our mind are protected. If we focus on the world, things look grim, but in Christ we have peace.
Peace is a heart full of love and compassion, knowing that we have a hotline to God. Peace is a mind that sees our common interests outweighing our conflicting perspectives. Peace is knowing God’s promises and love for us. Peace is knowing the one who has conquered death and promised us eternal life.
We can train ourselves in the way of peace by focusing on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable. We have a choice in what we concentrate on. Peace is found in focusing on what God has done. We train ourselves, Paul wrote, by “doing the things that [we] have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” The world will pull us down, but as we focus on what God has done for us, we have hope and peace. What will you focus on this Advent season? What will you do to experience peace?
We long for peace, for wonder, for comfort and for contentment. We have these longings within us for this is the way God has created us. There are many ways to focus on Jesus as we look for his coming. One is by taking time each day to be quiet with the Lord. We have handed out a daily devotional for Advent by Michelle Van Loon which offers prayers that help us focus each day of the Advent season on what Christmas can mean for us. In the first week, the readings are Scriptures and prayers that point us to the one who brings peace.
This advent season we have reminders all around us of what God has done. In the lights, the greens, the decorations, the food, the friends, the stories, the messages of hope and life and love. God has given us all this and best of all God sent his Son, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Christ we experience Emmanuel, God with us.
As we give ourselves to following Jesus, as Paul wrote, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:7
There is another image of peace I want to leave you with. As the heavenly host appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2:14 they praised God and said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all [men] on whom his favor rests.” This is the message of of Christmas for all people. Christ has come so that our longing for peace might be filled; so that by believing in him we might have peace with God and know the peace of God. In Jesus, our longing for peace is fulfilled.