Advent Week 4: Peace
December 20, 2020 Service
      • Matthew 2:10–11HCSB

  • Experiencing the World Changer

    Isaiah 9:6 ESV
    6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Over the past few weeks, we have explored several biblical descriptions of Jesus our Messiah: he is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father. Today, we will explore the notion of Jesus as our Prince of Peace.

    What Does Peace Mean?

    When you think about the word Peace, what does it mean to you?

    Perhaps peace is the opposite of war.

    In this understanding, peace looks like soldiers coming home and being reunited with their families. It looks like nations laying down their weapons and sitting down at the negotiation table. It looks like fewer and fewer funerals for people killed in combat – soldiers and civilians alike. Unfortunately, the world rarely has a shortage of armed conflicts between nations and ethnic groups. Oh, how far away we are from this kind of peace!

    Perhaps peace is the absence of conflict.

    This kind of peace looks like feuds and quarrels giving way to cooperation and mutual respect. It involves forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and reparations. It looks like empty courthouses and empty jails because wrongdoing has been minimized, and people have learned how to get along with each other – how to love their neighbors as themselves. Oh, how far away we are from this kind of peace!

    Perhaps peace is the absence of hardship.

    What a year we have had, as a human species, in terms of dealing with hardship! Remember when the COVID-19 outbreak began back in the early spring? Our lives have been disrupted from top to bottom. And we are once again under a “Stay at Home” order to try to mitigate the exponential propagation of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and ICU overload.
    I know, there are many millions of people unemployed because of this. But remember that even grocery shopping needs careful attention. In some areas, the grocery has become the center of new infections.
    More than 76.5 Million people around the world became infected, as of 9 hours ago. Many millions hospitalized, and 1.7 million have died from this disease.
    Not much peace in those numbers.

    Perhaps peace is an internal, personal quietness.

    When you experience this kind of peace, your worries and fears subside. Your spirit becomes still within you. At this time of year, you might sing “Silent Night” and feel deep within your soul that “all is calm, all is bright.” But oh, how far away many of us truly are from this kind of peace!
    This fourth kind of peace – the internal, personal quietness – is one that we often emphasize more than the others. It’s often how we think of Jesus, too: He is a Savior who brings us peace, forgiveness, salvation, and new life as individuals. Jesus bridges the gap between God and me; Jesus makes it possible for me to be in right relationship with God.

    The peace that Jesus offers

    is not simply an internal, personal quietness, but a personal release from the bondage of sin and death. You and I can have eternal spiritual peace because of the work of Jesus, starting here with His birth and continuing all the way through His life, ministry, death, and resurrection.
    Of course, there is truth in this understanding of peace. But it’s not the entire truth. The Peace That Jesus Brings is infinitely larger than the peace you and I experience within ourselves.

    The Peace That Jesus Brings is Universal

    For Jesus, peace is an enormous concept. His peace is not simply individual in nature. His peace is universal in scope. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and the reign of his peace extends over all of creation, the entire universe, from the smallest microorganism to the largest galaxy cluster.
    Isaiah knew this to be true several hundred years before Jesus’s birth, when he foretold the arrival of the Messiah:
    Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV
    6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
    For Isaiah, whatever the peace of the Messiah would look like, it would never stop growing. There wouldbe no limit to the peaceful rule of this Savior. All things would fall under the rule and reign of this Prince of Peace.
    You see, the Messiah’s peace is so much larger than quietness within the heart of an individual believer. The peace which Jesus brings is rooted in the Hebrew term shalom. Shalom is the word that is translated “peace” in Isaiah 9:6 and over 200 other times in the Old Testament.
    Shalom is a rich word, full of meaning and depth. Sometimes shalom is translated “well-being,” “health,” “prosperity,” or “wholeness.” Shalom has to do with a completeness of life, which only God can bring. In fact, our human condition can be summarized by a lack of shalom. On the deepest level, shalom is what we all yearn to experience.

    Shalom Peace Is Relational

    But shalom is not an individual concept. It’s rooted in community. What’s more, shalom transcends what we consider to be good, and it includes what we think of as bad or difficult. You may be familiar with
    Jeremiah 29:11 JPS 1917
    11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
    Thoughts of peace [Shalom] (to prosper you).
    Just a few lines before that verse, Jeremiah calls the Israelites – who were in exile in Babylon – to “seek the peace [the shalom!] of the city to which I have carried you away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; >>>for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace [its shalom will be your shalom!].” (Jeremiah 29:7)
    Jeremiah 29:7 JPS 1917
    7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
    Jeremiah lived in an incredibly uncertain and disrupted time. He was among the people of Jerusalem who were conquered, but captured by his adversaries in Jerusalem and carried off into a separate exile in Egypt. Everything he knew, all of his routines and rhythms of life, were upended by the Babylonian conquest. His homeland was gone. His friends and relatives were either dead or in exile. The temple of God was destroyed. Yet Jeremiah understood peace and shalom to be broad concepts, universal goals of the God of the universe. He recognized that his peace and his peoples’ peace were deeply connected to the peace of their captors. If Babylon experienced shalom, then the Israelites could experience shalom as well.

    Living in Uncertain Times

    If this past year has taught us anything, it is that we also live in uncertain days. The spread of COVID-19 this year has reshaped our lives at a fundamental level. We have not been carried off into exile like the ancient Israelites were – far from it! Instead, we have lived with a different kind of isolation for several months. Yet we can be confident of at least these two truths:
    1. We are connected. Our peace, our well-being, our shalom is very much connected to the well-being of others – including our neighbors and, indeed, all people around the world.
    2. We need God’s presence. No matter how much we work toward peace and well-being in our world, we still need God’s presence to provide us with shalom that will never fail and has no expiration date.
    Jesus the Prince of Peace calls us to pray for the peace and well-being of our neighbors, the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society, and even our enemies because our shalom is intertwined with their shalom.
    Jesus brings peace which is intended to be experienced by all people. The peace of Christ is universal in scope!
    Psalm 72 is an important psalm that looks forward to the arrival of the Messiah. It describes the universal and eternal reign of the King of Israel. Probably, it was originally written about King Solomon. But it is understood to apply to Jesus as well. “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity [shalom] to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. . . . In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity [shalom] will abound till the moon is no more. . . . All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.” (Psalm 72:2-3, 7, 11)
    The shalom Jesus brings is intended to transform the lives of all people. His peace will result in righteousness and justice for all people of all nations.
    There’s a detail in the story of Jesus’s birth that we often overlook. We know all about the shepherds and the wise men, Mary and Joseph, and the baby in the manger. But one important piece of the puzzle appears in what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on the night that Jesus was born.
    The angels are divine messengers, the official spokes beings for God. Angels communicate God’s messages to God’s people at just the right time. An angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Messiah. An angel appeared to Joseph and told him to remain with Mary throughout this unplanned pregnancy. Angels appeared at the other end of Jesus’s earthly life, too – after his death and resurrection; angels appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women who visited Jesus’s tomb, and they told the women that Jesus was alive again. When angels communicate something to the people of God, we can count on that message being true, authentic, and divine.
    >>>So listen again to what the angel said to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’s birth:
    Luke 2:10 ESV
    10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
    There is no limit on who will experience joy because of the birth of Jesus. This news will bring great joy to everyone! But today’s message isn’t about joy – that was last week. Our focus is about peace.
    >>>So listen again to how the great company of angels praised God on that same night:
    Luke 2:14 ASV 1901
    14 Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.
    Peace! We’re talking about shalom once again. The New Testament doesn’t use the exact term shalom, because shalom is a Hebrew word, and the New Testament was written in Greek. But it’s the same idea. The peace that the angels announce belongs to God and is sent by God to the earth. This peace comes to earth through the birth of Jesus, our Prince of Peace. And this peace is intended to be experienced by people on whom God’s favor rests.
    Now, there is the big question. On whom does God’s favor rest? With whom is God pleased? In whom does God delight? Whom has God chosen to bless in this way?
    We get into trouble when we start drawing lines of division to answer these questions. But we’ve always been really good at drawing lines of division. God’s favor rests on people who are in our camp. God’s favor rests on Christians (not non believers!), or on Protestants maybe not Catholics!), or on the Church of God (not Baptists or Presbyterians!), or on the winner of the presidential election (not the loser!), or on the privileged (not the unfortunate!).
    We love to draw lines in the sand and to say that people on our side are right in God’s eyes. Whomever God has favor on, it certainly must include us, right? But we’re not always so sure about the “others.” Can God really be pleased with people we consider to be wrong or misguided?
    The angels don’t answer the question about who is favored by God. They simply proclaim peace to people on whom God’s favor rests.
    God’s blessing and pleasure are extended to everyone who hears and believes; everyone who is included in Christ. There are no lines in the sand to separate people from each other here!
    The only thing God requires is that we believe the message of the angels. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” God’s desire is to spread the gift of heavenly shalom, peace, well-being, wholeness to all of God’s creatures. God’s desire, as he inspires John to write, is for our faith to be in the God who loves us:
    John 20:31 ESV
    31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
    God’s desire is to extend divine favor to everyone!
    Jesus, the Prince of Peace, brings shalom to all people. That peace, the blessing of well-being, is given to us in and through our encounter with Jesus.
    The shepherds experienced that shalom in the remainder of the Christmas story found in Luke 2. They went to Bethlehem and found the baby Jesus lying in a manger. They saw Him and were inspired to share this good news with others. They returned home, glorifying and praising God. The well-being of their lives was shaped dramatically by this encounter with Jesus. By believing the angels’ message and meeting the newborn Savior, these shepherds stepped into the favor of God. They became willing recipients of the peace of Christ.
    Of course, we aren’t told anything about what happened next for the shepherds. We can assume they had to go back to their everyday work. They had to pay taxes to Rome as everyone else did. They had to deal with natural disasters, diseases, tragedies, and uncertainty, just like everyone else.
    What was different for the shepherds was their spiritual orientation. Their lives were directed toward Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
    >>>As story after story reveals in the rest of the gospels, this spiritual orientation makes all the difference for people who encounter Jesus. When our spiritual lives are turned toward Jesus, then we can experience transformation in all other areas of our lives. We can experience the wholeness and well-being that God desires for us, the divine shalom which has been God’s goal for us all along.

    God is Inviting Us to Live In the Shalom of Jesus

    That is the invitation for us today – an invitation for us as individuals and for us as a community: to believe the message of the angels, to turn ourselves toward Jesus, and to step into the favor of God by pursuing the presence of Jesus. This invitation applies to all of us – no matter if you have been a follower of Jesus for decades, or if you have never heard of Jesus before. God is always inviting us to live in the shalom of Jesus. God is always inviting us to encounter Jesus and to rejoice in his presence.
    When we dwell in the presence of Jesus, we can learn the deep gift of divine peace that sustains us regardless of the circumstances we face.
    Dwelling in the presence of Jesus has been a goal of Christian spiritual practice since the beginning.
    Throughout our history, many men and women have invested their lifetimes in pursuit of the spiritual presence of Jesus. Their experiences with Jesus have resulted in a greater sense of shalom for the entire Christian community.
    One such woman from the 14th century is called Julian of Norwich. She committed herself to praying, worshiping God, and providing spiritual counsel for people. She lived in a cell, a small room attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England. We don’t know her actual given name, so we call her Julian of Norwich after the church where she lived. When Julian was 30 years old, she became very ill and had a near-death experience. While she was receiving her last rites, she had multiple visions of Jesus. In one of these visions, Julian was troubled by the presence of sin in the world and in her life, and Jesus responded by saying to her: “it was necessary that there should be sin, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich experienced shalom, a peace that passes all understanding, in that moment. That peace sustained her for the rest of her life, which lasted at least forty more years.
    >>>Thankfully, we don’t have to have near-death experiences to be in the presence of Jesus. We can learn the discipline of quieting ourselves in the presence of God on a regular basis.

    Rest in the Presence and Peace of Jesus

    Your challenge for this week is to rest in the presence of Jesus. Try it for ten minutes each day. This means no cell phones, no music, no distractions. Set a timer or alarm so you don’t keep looking at the clock, wondering if the 10 minutes is over.
    During these ten minutes, it’s not necessary for you to formulate spoken prayers, to write in a journal, or even to read certain amounts of scripture.
    See yourself as one of the shepherds. Listen to the angels’ message of peace for all people. Then imagine walking with your fellow shepherds until you find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
    Sit there for ten minutes with no agenda, other than just to be in the presence of the Savior. Contemplate the peace Jesus brings – peace that is intended to transform you, your family, your community, your nation, and your world.
    Then, after ten minutes, give thanks for this encounter, and peacefully enter into the remainder of your day. Remember, no matter what happens in this life, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” because the Prince of Peace comes to bring shalom to all people.

    Candlelight Communion Done Safely

    On Christmas Eve, I am once again offering you to have a chance to do that in the Sanctuary of Inter-Community Church between 5:30 and 7:30 PM. We will have the sanctuary set up with candlelight and some soft Christmas hymns on piano.
    To protect you during this COVID surge, you will enter where everything has been disinfected, only one family household at a time will be admitted, and we will wipe down surfaces that are touched after each family leaves; we should easily accommodate all who wish to come.
    Get out of the house, spend a bit of time in the church sanctuary, experience the Prince of Peace and thank God for all he has given you in Jesus Christ, who is our help, our hope, and our SHALOM Peace no matter what the world throws at us.
      • Isaiah 9:6CSB

      • Isaiah 9:6–7CSB

      • Jeremiah 29:11CSB

      • Luke 2:10CSB

      • Luke 2:14CSB

      • John 20:31CSB

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