Today, we continue in our Advent series called “The Promise”. Advent is the season that prepares us to celebrate the coming of Jesus, not just that He came once, but that He’s coming back again. During Advent, we focus on four different themes, four different promises of God: hope, peace, joy, and love.
Last week, we took a look at the first theme, hope. We discovered a man named Simeon, who is a perfect example of someone who oriented his entire life around a future promise given to him by God. A man who had faithfully waited on the arrival of the promised Savior. And throughout his waiting, he had a hope that was based IN who God is.
We learned that there is a difference in being hopeful FOR something and being hopeful IN something. And because of the certainty of the future promise that Jesus is coming back, we too can hope IN Him, not just for Him, but IN Him.
And the best part is, that hope affects us here and now. And in our time of waiting for that promise to come, we don’t just sit back and do nothing. No, there’s preparing to do. In fact, when we begin to embrace the anticipation and the expectation of that future promise, we should feel so empowered by that hope that we gladly join God in His work in the world.
Today, we are turning our attention to the second theme of Advent, which is peace.
My mom and I have made it a tradition each year to go shopping on Black Friday. We don’t start off real early in the morning. We used to, but since stores have been offering Black Friday deals the whole month of November, we decided early was not necessary. But we make an entire day of it, like from 8am to 8pm, at least. We don’t mind the crowds and long lines, because in all reality, we are not just out there to do some shopping, but to spend the day together. And we both look forward to it each year!
However, there are many places where people get impatient standing in lines, fight over the last item on the shelf, and push their way to the deals. Now I believe this has been less by the online sales all month long, so we don’t hear as much of it, but remember when the top news after Black Friday each year was stories of crowds waiting outside a store in the early morning hours, and when the doors opened, people pushed each other so badly that people fell, got trampled on, hurt and worse. There’s certainly no Christmas peace in those situations.
But in all reality, I believe every family wants to experience peace at Christmas, and every individual wants to experience peace at Christmas, but all too often, conflict is what ends up present.
Much of the Bible is written by people who found themselves in the midst of conflict and struggle as well. In fact, much of the Old Testament is a story of the people of God who are under siege by surrounding nations, exiled to foreign countries, or enslaved to powerful empires. The Old Testament writers often were crying out for God to bring them peace.
And one of the prophetic promises in the book of Isaiah addressed the need for a new leader who would come and be the “prince of peace.” They believed that God was faithful and that He always kept His promises, and so they eagerly waited for God to send rescue.
6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders.
This was written well before Jesus’ birth.
And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
The promise of God that is penned by Isaiah is for a coming ruler who would usher in a new government that will have no end. There will be a child who is born, a son, who will be a wonderful counselor, a mighty God, an everlasting father, and a prince of peace. Although this was not the reality at the time of its writing, it gave hope and peace to the Jewish people and reminded them that God had not forgotten about them.
It is no secret that we live in a time where there is little peace around us. We can watch the news for just a few minutes, sometimes a few seconds, and see that all around the world there is struggle and pain. We see it in the lack of water and food in far-off countries. It is a reminder that we live in a broken world. We see it in the unrest in our country. We see it in global pandemics and wars. Sometimes we see it closer to home in our own families when people are at odds with one another.
Whether far or near, we can relate to God’s people and their desire for there to be one who would rule over all and bring order to the chaos and healing to the brokenness. So, if we are honest, we long to see peace come to the world and we long to see God fulfill His promise of the One who will rule with love and compassion. Hundreds of years after this promise was given, it came to pass. The first people to hear about it are a bit of a surprise.
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (not even a blanket, a robe, certainly not wearing a crown)
In a field outside of Bethlehem, there is a group of shepherds who are minding their business and watching their flocks of sheep during the night. Now typically, when we think about the shepherds in the Christmas story, we think about cute little boys with a staff and a sheet wrapped around them. But the ancient shepherds were anything but cute.
Shepherds were seen as some of the lowest of the low in Jewish society. They were a wandering group of people who would live off-grid and travel to find pasture for their sheep to graze on. They were single young men without children. They were not clean. Therefore, they probably had their own unique smell. They were a blue-collar crowd who worked hard and long to earn a living. However, they were considered second-class and untrustworthy. And yet, these are the first people to hear the birth announcement of the long-awaited One.
POINT #1: THE PEACE OF CHRIST IS FOR EVERYONE
There is a sense from the very beginning of this Christmas story that the hope, peace, joy, and love that arrive with the birth of Christ is not just for the powerful and perfect. The child who is born is literally for everyone everywhere. The peace that will come with His leadership and rule is not for the ones who are already in power, but for the ones who are scratching and clawing just to make it another day. If you don’t feel like you are worthy of the peace that is found in Jesus, just know you are in good company. This message of peace IS for you.
An angel of the Lord appears to these men out in the fields. Their first response is absolute terror. They’re fearful because the glory of the Lord is shining all around them in the dead of night, which must have been an overwhelming experience. But look at the first words that are spoken to them: “Do not be afraid.”
The first words spoken over the shepherds, and I believe over us today, are words of peace: Do not be afraid. Though you may be facing a painful situation, do not be afraid. You may be facing an unfavorable diagnosis; do not be afraid. You may be struggling to restore a relationship; do not be afraid. You may be anxious about the circumstances that swirl all around you; do not be afraid.
Here is why—the angel says that he brings good news of great joy for all people.
I always get anxious whenever someone comes to me and says, “I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?” I always want to answer: I only want one of them, the good news. But because I usually don’t have a choice, I want the good news last. Let’s end on a good note. Then I know that there’s still hope.
Maybe you could use some good news today because your spirit does not know peace. In the arrival of Jesus Christ, we are given good news. The good news is this: You have not been forgotten by God. In fact, He has come to be with you in the midst of your struggle. He was born in the city of David, and He is the Messiah, the Lord. He is in charge. He is King. He is the one you have been waiting for.
POINT #2: PEACE IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF CONFLICT; IT IS THE PRESENCE OF GOD
The peace that Jesus brings into our lives is not necessarily the absence of trouble, but instead it is the confidence that we are not alone. The kind of peace that comes with the fulfilled promise of Jesus’ birth, looks different from what we might expect.
A story from “A Wardrobe from the King” by Berit Kjos:
Long ago, a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally, the great day of revealing arrived. The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered.
The tensions grew. Only two pictures remained veiled. As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd. A mirrored lake reflected green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.
The man with the vision uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. An uncontrollable waterfall cascaded down a rocky cliff; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind, and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a thin, frail tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power. A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings covering her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.
I really mean this when I say, true peace can be experienced in any chaos when we recognize that peace is not about our circumstances. It is about the One who is faithful to walk with us through even the most difficult times.
That first Christmas morning, when the angels brought the good news, they said a child has been born in the city of David. By saying “in the city of David,” the angel is reminding them of a time when the nation of Israel knew peace. The angel is referring to a time when David was king. You might call it “the good ole days.” This was a time that every Israelite wanted to see as a reality once again.
But the angel is also saying, that this time will be even better than David’s time. Their peace would not come from a mortal man. This time the baby who would be found wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger was the God of the universe, who had come down to earth to live among them. And He will be a better king who will rule and bring peace. And an announcement like that, desires a song.
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The song ends by saying that peace will come to those on whom God’s favor rest, those with whom God is pleased with. So, you want to know peace? Then you must receive God’s favor.
POINT #3: GOD’S FAVOR COMES FROM BEING AT PEACE WITH GOD
The story of the Bible reveals that the most important place where we need to experience peace is not within the relationships and circumstances around us. The greatest need for peace is between us and a Holy God. The book of Romans tells us that the rule that governs over us the most is the rule of sin, and it stirs chaos and conflict within us.
6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.
When we find ourselves lost in sin, our spirits are at odds with God. We don’t submit to Him, and we won’t submit to Him because we think we know better. Isn’t that the base of every conflict that we face? Are we not at war with one another and harming one another because, in the end, we think we know what’s best?
You see, the birth of this promised king is the coming of a new rule for the entire world, and that rule begins inside each and every one of our hearts. This baby grew up to be a man who offered Himself on the cross as atonement for our sins. The peace that we find at Christmas comes from submitting to the leadership of Jesus Christ. It reorients our hearts, and it makes us friends of God.
So, though the world may be in chaos around us, we find a comfort and a confidence in knowing that we have been made right with God through the blood of Jesus and that He is with us. His presence in our lives brings us peace.
Maybe today you recognize that the reason there is no peace in your heart is because you have not made peace with God. That peace is available to you today. Because of God’s grace, because of what Jesus did on that cross, we can, in faith, trust Jesus with all parts of our lives.
So I want to invite you to respond to God’s offer of peace right here and now through His Son and trust Him in all things. I invite you to pray this prayer today and truly know the peace of God.
I am in need of the peace that you so freely offer.
I want you to come and rule in my life.
I confess that I have sinned,
And have been at odds with you.
Please forgive me,
And by your grace,
Allow me to receive the favor.
Make me an agent of peace in the world,
and may my life reflect your love. Amen