Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent Peace

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angels praising God and saying:  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Luke 2:13 & 14

I have a young friend who is a singer, working the music scene in Chicago.  His name is Zach, and he’s doing much the same thing that my daughter Becky did a few years back in New York…taking every singing job he can get including providing entertainment for company parties.  As you know, the last few weeks have seen our country afire with racial unrest the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.  The streets of major cities, including Chicago, have erupted into violence.   My friend posted the following on Facebook:

I left a holiday party this evening where I was singing carols about peace, joy, a new social order, of righteousness reigning on earth and walked directly into the broken and hurting society we live in. Police cars overtaking the sidewalk, hundreds of people running through the streets, and ANGER. That kingdom we were singing of has yet to come. 

No Zach, it hasn’t.  Peace.  It’s a word we hear at this time of year more than any other.  Is it just a candle on an advent wreath?  Even though it’s the season of peace, life goes on uninterrupted.  Not only on a global level, but personally…individually…things come at us that keep us off kilter.  Yes, we focus our eyes on a manger and a baby in a place called Bethlehem that is far removed from us in both time and distance.  We practice the joy of the season.  We come to church, we sing carols, we share the story with our children.  If only the world could truly know that peace and joy that Zach was singing about. 

The thing is…it won’t.  Jesus even told us that there would never be global peace.  And the reason is that everyone in the world does not know the One who is Peace.  We have to understand what peace is and where peace is.  Jesus is the only one who is peace.  Peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ.  Only when we practice His presence in our own lives will we understand what peace really is.  When we understand that, we can be at peace in the middle of mass chaos.  When our family is in a mess…when the test results come back bad…when we face the illness or death of a loved one…when the money runs out and the month is only half over…when a so-called friend turns out to be an enemy of the first magnitude.  The truth is…this life is hard.  I say it again – peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ.  I’m so glad God let me live long enough to begin to understand this.  For far too long, I let life jerk me around.  It seemed that one trial would barely be settled down and another would come to the fore.  Sometimes, they overlapped or stacked up.  They still do.  And I’m not about to tell you I don’t still get gripped in the gut when another challenge raises its nasty head.  But I am learning…little by little…to practice that presence of Christ…to worship instead of worry…to praise rather than pout.  And I’ve learned that we do these things by an act of our will.  It’s a choice. 

When we read the Word, we come to know Jesus…who He is and what He did for us.  If we are practicing the peace of His presence, we can imagine that He is standing nearby, beckoning for us to come closer, to feel the beat of His heart and hear him say “It’s ok…I’ve got it.  Trust me.”

Billy Graham’s daughter, Ruth, offers insights into the peace of Christ in her book, Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There.  First of all, she says, His peace is present.   Jesus says in the Book of John:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”  His peace guards us.  Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians: “The Lord is at hand…and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  His peace is certain.  Psalm 46 tells us to “Cease striving and know that I am God.”  His peace is comforting.  Psalm 32 says, “Thou art my hiding place.” 

Until every soul in the world comes to know Jesus and His peace, we have to be content with practicing that peace in our own souls.  And to rest in God’s glory when we have those moments in life when we see him more clearly than others. And when we need him more desperately than ever.

Hear these words from Ann Voskamp:

Okay, so nothing’s going real easy here, Lord…and maybe we just need our own quiet visitation this Christmas, just to hear it like a whisper in the midst of all the noise: 

What was intended to tear you apart – God intends it to set you apart.  What has torn you –

God makes a thin place to see glory.  The places where you’re torn to pieces can be thin places where you touch the peace of God.

Thin places are those times when heaven and earth seem to come so close together that we get a sharper glimpse of the Divine.  She speaks of thin places where you touch the peace of God…whatever is going on in your life, I wish you that peace of God.  Focus on it this Christmas and understand what it is.  It’s not just a candle on an advent wreath.

Let us sing with the angels: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace for those on whom his favor rests.