Advent – A Season of Peace – December 22, 2019, Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 11
December 22, 2019
Isaiah told us that Jesus would be called “Wonderful counselor” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and then this last one – “Prince of Peace.” And that’s our theme for today. The fourth candle on our Advent wreath reminds us that Advent is a Season of Peace.
Now, you’ve heard me talk about peace before. And one of the things you’ve heard me say is the same thing I say about Joy. And by the way, this particular Advent liturgy substitutes the word “Love” for “Joy.” But I think you’ll agree that Joy is also a big theme during the Advent/Christmas season!
So, what I often say about Peace and Joy is that they are not things that happen devoid of struggle or pain. In other words, because we are God’s people, does not mean that we live lives that are always peaceful, and always full of joyful times.
I remember being told that from the very earliest days of my Christian faith! As God’s people we need to be reminded – and reminded constantly – about that. As God’s people we strive to know God’s peace, no matter what the circumstances. We seek the joy of his kingdom, even when times are tough.
Despite what some people think, things are not all rosy and happy because we are Christians. I don’t know where people have gotten that idea, or the idea that something must be “spiritually wrong” with them if they are going through tough times, or maybe they don’t have enough faith. As Christians, we follow Jesus who said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” “But, be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” That’s the Jesus we follow!
Paul told the Philippians, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” And where he says the word “content,” I believe that we could also use the word “peace.” “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be at peace.” Can we say that? Can we do that? Can we have peace in whatever state we’re in? I believe we can, if we remember his “secret.” Do you remember what it is? “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.”
I think “Peace” is perhaps the most important of the themes of Advent that we have to give to the world. Because so many people in our world are so desperately seeking peace. And in so many cases, they’re not finding it. And sometimes Christmas becomes quite a stark contrast! The world is turned into a fairyland of lights and decorations and music. From our TV’s we see messages of love and hope, and we see images of family gatherings and joy, and yet if we happen to be watching the news, we also see sad stories of tragedies.
Last week we sang the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which maybe we should have sang this week! It’s a Christmas song I’ve known for years. You probably have, too. I’ve come to love the Casting Crowns version of that song. (Maybe that’s the only one some of us know!) But I never really thought much about the words. And for some reason last week I decided to look it up. I googled it! And what I found really touched my heart!
“I Heard the Bells” was originally a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, set to music by Jean Baptiste Calkin. What I didn’t know was that the poem was written in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. And it speaks of the darkness and despair of those days in contrast to the Christmas message of the peace and goodwill of Christmas. (Sound familiar?) I’d like to read a few stanzas for you. Some of these were not included in the song. Others you might recognize.
After several stanzas about the bells sounding peace and goodwill Longfellow wrote this:
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
That song will never be the same for me again – in either version! I also understand the poem was written after Longfellow had lost a son in the war. For him and for the world, it became an anthem of hope in a time of despair. And it has become my new favorite Christmas song. “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”
As God’s people we are engaged in the struggle between joy and sadness. And in Jesus, we can come out on the side of Joy. In him we can know peace, even in times of sadness. In fact, C. S. Lewis observed that joy and sadness are not all that far apart from each other. He noted that we sometimes laugh at the saddest times of our lives and we cry tears of joy at the happiest.
At Christmas, we are reminded that his name shall be called “Wonderful counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” and the “Prince of Peace.” That is the child of Bethlehem we celebrate. He is all those things. And this time of year we are reminded that the “Prince of Peace” is able to bring his peace into our sometimes conflicted, stressful lives, now and always.
It was indeed “Good news of great Joy” the angels first announced to the shepherds in the fields. May their words echo in our minds this Christmas season, “Glory to God in the Highest. And on earth Peace.”
Eternal God, help us to know your peace this day, this season, and throughout our lives. Help us to learn the secret of being at peace in all circumstances. May your peace dwell in our hearts and be seen in our lives, as we reach out with peace to all the world. For we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus, our Lord, Amen.