Isaiah 9:6-9, Luke 2:8-14
December 8, 2013
The Advent theme for today is “Peace.” Again, this is one of those words that you often see all by itself as a Christmas decoration. You’ll see it in lights or on banners. “Peace.”
Of course “Peace” is an important word in the Advent and Christmas celebration. Isaiah said, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Then in the story of the shepherds, the angel host sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…” Peace is part of what Christmas is about. And it’s what I want us to think about today.
When the shepherds heard the word “Peace,” they knew that it meant more than just “the absence of warfare.” They were living under what history has called the “Pax Romano” – the “Roman Peace.” That meant there was no war, and the people lived in security. And they had all the advantages of what was an advanced civilization. I would be quick to point out here that we often see Rome as the “Evil Empire,” just like we do the country of Egypt in the Old Testament. But both of those were the height of civilization in their time! And they both gave us much! Rome gave us great advancements in art, culture, government, architecture, science, and roads. That was all great! But, if you were under the “Roman Peace” you were conquered! You were subjugated! And if you stepped out of line, you found out quickly what a “brutal peace” it really was.
That’s the “Pax Romano.” That’s the “Roman Peace.” That’s the background for the life and the stories of Jesus, and for virtually all of the writings of the New Testament. And I’m sure that’s at least some of what Jesus had in mind in the Upper Room when he said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world gives…” (John 14:27) I’m sure at least the context of that statement, the background of their world, the “Pax Romano,” was some of what he meant when he said, “Peace, not as the world gives.”
Well, if you think about it, we have our own version of that today, don’t we? We have our own “Pax Romano.” Yes, we have no actual warfare in our lives – at least most of us. Yes, we live in relative security. But as you know, many people in our world still fail to find true peace. And at Christmas time, a time when we celebrate peace, it is even more noticeable that it’s missing. No, we’re not living under oppression as the people were that first Christmas. We’re not subjugated. (Though maybe some would argue with me on that one!) But so many in our world lack very the peace they wish to find in this celebration.
So, how do we do that? (…I hear you ask.) How do we find that peace? Well, I think there are two ways. Well, there may be more than two, but let me give you these two, because they’re pretty basic, and I think they’re very effective.
The fist way we find that peace is to pray for peace. And specifically, we pray for peace for ourselves! Maybe we don’t normally think about that. Usually, when we pray for peace it has to do with asking God for an end to an actual war of some kind. Or maybe we pray for peace for someone else. Maybe we know someone who is hurting, either physically or emotionally, and we pray for peace for them – as well as for healing and direction. And those things are good! Don’t get me wrong! But how often do we pray for peace for ourselves. How often do we pray that we will know that peace in our lives on an every day basis? I know I forget that sometimes! And I’ll bet you do, too!
Well, let me tell you that just doing that, just praying for peace for ourselves, puts us in the mind of having that peace. Think about that. Just praying for peace for ourselves puts us in the frame of mind where we can have it. And that leads to the second part of this. We need to set our mind on peace. We need to seek peace in our lives intentionally! We need to take time every day, and step back from the things that concern us. We need to let go intentionally of those things that make us anxious, and to heed the words of Jesus when he said, “Don’t be anxious for tomorrow. Let the day’s troubles be sufficient for the day.” (Matthew 6:34) Jesus knew the importance of having that peace in our lives! He did that himself! And he knew that making time to think of peace and pray for peace makes a huge difference!
And while you’re thinking about that, let me give you just a hint here. And this is a practical part of this. We cannot let our peace depend on the actions of others. And we often try that, don’t we? “If only so and so would ___, life would be much easier.” That’s a trap, my friends! If we base our ability to have peace on what others do or do not do – in other words, on what we want them to do – we will find ourselves heading quickly down the road that leads to disappointment and resentment. And at the very least, our peace will be gone. Because others frequently do disappoint us! We can’t control them – much as we wish we could. And we will make ourselves crazy trying! But if we seek peace apart from that. If we seek the peace, not as the world gives – or as anyone else gives – if we seek the peace that God gives, then we will find it. (Because the world really isn’t very good at giving peace, is it!
So, those are my thoughts. This is a season of peace. God brings us peace through his son the Prince of Peace. He wishes for us that we live in peace. May we pray for peace. May we seek that peace this season – intentionally. And may we find it. As we celebrate this wonderful time of the year, may God’s grace, mercy, and peace surround us.
Eternal God, you have truly given us your peace. But we fail to see it. We fail to live it. And we fail to promote it in the lives of others. Help us, Lord, to follow the one who has been called the Prince of Peace. Help us to know that peace which passes all understanding, that peace “not as the world gives.” Help us to be people who bring peace into the lives of others. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.