On this second of four Sundays in Advent, I wanted to start with a title to this post that will hopefully make you think a little bit–a mashup of three different sentiments about peace. We are probably so familiar with each of these as to possibly have become desensitized to their implications in our lives and our world, so I invite you to journey with me as we explore these thoughts with fresh eyes eagerly seeking new insight into the greatness of our God.
As I mentioned last time, the prophet Isaiah foretold many specific aspects of the coming Messiah approximately 700 years prior to Christ’s arrival in a feeding trough in Bethlehem. One of the things he wrote about were the names or titles that would be given to the Messiah:
Obviously, part of what we’ll be covering today is that last one: Prince of Peace.
This past week I read a great little book called Searching for Christmas by pastor JD Greear. In it, Greear mentioned that he had asked an atheist once what it would take for him to believe in Jesus. He said the man had answered that he would believe in Jesus when there is peace on earth.
So what’s this all about, this thing we call peace? And is it part of the human condition–do we experience “peace on earth”? Will we ever?
Well, let’s just get this out there: if God’s goal in sending his Son to dwell among us was to bring peace on earth, he’s not doing a very good job of it. But was that really his goal?
Well, maybe, but not in the way you might think.
The way God usually works in the world is not by broad-brush miracles–one wave of his magic wand and voila, now we have peace on earth. I know that some people have this expectation of God–to magically end wars and famine and human trafficking and all the other evils in the world. But those people don’t know God. They are looking for a genie in a bottle, not God.
God means to bring about peace on earth one follower of Christ at a time. But before we can be instruments of God’s shalom in the world, I believe he wants us to enter into his peace individually.
To explain what I mean by that, let me use this illustration. When God made me, he made me good at some things, but one of them was not running. Oh, I did it for quite a few years to try to stay fit and healthy. But it barely ranked higher on my enjoyment scale than riding a merry-go-round or visiting the dentist. And the older I got, the more it seemed like various random body parts were going to become detached from the rest of me. I did not feel at peace with running because this wasn’t the way God made me. Then I worked with a giant Ukrainian man named Slav (although, with his thick accent, it always sounded like he was saying “slob” when he said his name). One day when I was going out for my run, he said the only reason to run is if someone is chasing you. There was a certain logic to this. But it took me breaking my leg before I finally traded in my running shoes for hiking boots. Now I hike or walk every day at least as far as I used to run, but now I thoroughly enjoy it. I used to have to run but now I get to hike. I think God made me for hiking, so when I do that, I am living into his design for me. When I run, I struggle because I’m doing something that he didn’t really design me for.
That’s also how it works with experiencing God’s peace individually. But there’s more to it than just doing things that come easily to you, although that’s part of it.
Another part of it is recognizing one of Jesus’s other titles: King of kings. This means accepting him as king over everything, including your life. This may sound easy, but it’s really very challenging, especially in our western culture, where individualism is prized above almost everything else. As devoted followers of Christ, we may think we surrendered control over our lives to Jesus when we accepted him as Lord, but many times we are actually trying to manipulate God more than we are submitting to him.
If you’ve ever said (like I have) something like “God, if you’ll do this thing for me, I’ll do <insert great feat> for you,” you are trying to control God, not submitting to him. Submitting to God looks more like ending a prayer with “nevertheless, let you’re will be done.”
If you’ve ever said (like I have) something along the lines of, “I’m a good person (or s/he is a good person), so why do these bad things keep happening to me (or to her/him)?” you are trying to manipulate God, not submitting to him. Submitting to God looks more like asking him to comfort you through difficulty and to help you learn what he wants you to learn from it so you can bless others from your experience.
I’m not saying this is easy or that I’m good at it, just that it’s part of my faith journey. It should be part of all of ours. Because to the extent we can do this, the more we can experience God’s peace because we are living into the design our Creator has for us and not fighting against it. We are hiking or walking instead of running. Or going to the dentist.
I know people overflowing with anxiety and worry who would benefit greatly from knowing God’s peace. I know people who are nervous to the point of being twitchy. They are looking for peace in all sorts of false gods of our culture, but for various reasons, are unwilling to explore the only true source of peace.
And here’s the thing: we don’t have to be good at surrendering control of our lives to Jesus in order to experience God’s peace. Since none of us is perfect, our faith journeys are all similar in that we should not be discouraged by failures to allow him to be King of our lives. Instead, when we catch ourselves doing that, we should repent and then receive the forgiveness he promised would always be forthcoming. And honestly, this is the ongoing cycle that characterizes my journey: I have an idea what I should do, but I don’t usually do it all that well, so I repent and ask for forgiveness and help to do it better next time, then I receive the forgiveness and help with gratitude. But then I screw up again, and the cycle starts over.
OK, I’m running long, so I’ll move on briefly to the bigger picture of “peace on earth”. It is true that God wants to achieve some form of peace on earth by working through each of us, but one challenge is, nobody on earth really knows exactly what that looks like or how we should get there. Only God knows. That’s why we each need to live at peace with God by surrendering ourselves to him, allowing him to work not only in us but through us (there’s that theme again, which I touched on last week).
This includes treating people the way Jesus treated did. This means seeing others as people who Jesus saw fit to come to earth to meet and try to enter into a relationship with and die sacrificially for. This is easier with some people more than others, but we don’t get to choose who we treat in this way.
Having said this, I also recognize that there is evil in this world–there always has been. And because of this, we probably won’t see peace on earth until Jesus returns, bringing the new heaven and the new earth that Jesus showed the Apostle John in Revelation 21:1. Then there will be peace for followers of Christ, those who have said to God, “Your will be done,” and have done their best to live into that. For everyone else, to borrow C.S. Lewis’s summary, God will say to them, “Your will be done,” and grant them the eternal separation from him that they struggled to maintain their whole lives.
As believers, we are called to resist evil, both within ourselves as well as in the world. But how are we to discern between treating people the way Jesus did, as I mentioned a couple paragraphs earlier, and evil that we need to fight against? Well, that’s when we go back to the part of the discussion about submitting to God. If we live in that way, he will help each of us sort it out.
God never promised that this would be easy, or that it would always make sense! But he did promise to be with us through it all. And he also promised to give us peace–he left heaven to come to earth to give it to us and show us how to live into it. So, may the Prince of Peace on earth be with you this week, and every week after that!