Peace that Passes Understanding – December 13, 2015
Luke 1:67-80, Philippians 4:4-7
December 13, 2015
I’ve thought a lot about this sermon. It’s hard to know what to say about the subject at hand. Because the subject at hand is “Peace.” That’s the Advent candle we lit today. And the problem I have sometimes – and maybe you do, too – is that it’s hard to think about peace when such terrible things happen in our world. A few weeks ago it was France. Last week it was San Bernardino. A few years ago it was Sandy Hook. Not long before that we were still reeling from Hurricane Sandy. And besides all that, this is also a time when personal turmoil seems to increase for a lot of people.
Christmas can be a tough time of year. We’re trying to celebrate, and yet there is still tragedy in our world. And I find myself thinking of the prophecy of Jeremiah, the place where God calls the people to the carpet. And he says, “[You] have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) Do you ever feel that way? I know I do.
I hope you heard something I said last week. I was talking about the difference between “sadness” and “depression.” Now, I know I’m not a trained psychologist. (Although I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express!) I’m not a trained psychologist, but it makes sense to me that depression is sadness with no hope. We’re all sad from time to time. We can even be devastated. But when we have no hope, when it seems like our difficulties will never end, it’s then we begin to talk about depression.
So, what I want to say about the Advent message of peace, is that even though there are sad things happening this time of year, sometimes even deeply sad things, there still is hope. And because there is hope, we can still find peace. Because true peace, is not about the absence of war or turmoil or chaos. True peace is the inner peace we can find even in the presence of war and turmoil and chaos.
In the Upper Room, Jesus told his disciples many things. But I think one of the most significant things he told them has to do with this very subject. He told them this. “In the world you will have tribulation. But (?) be of good cheer! For I have overcome the world!” Notice, he didn’t say, “I’m going to take all the tribulation out of your life.” I hope you see the difference!
Now, I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why God doesn’t take away the tribulation. And by the way, don’t forget one of my biggest “beefs” about this. “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord…” does not mean that God causes all things! Just because God does sometimes test a person’s faith with some kind of hardship, that does not mean that every hardship happens because God is testing someone’s faith. We cannot make blanket statements about God like that. And I cannot say that enough!
So for me, it’s not a matter of God causing suffering. It is, however, about God allowing suffering. And that’s where I struggle. Why does he allow it? He may allow it for similar reasons. He may be allowing something to test or strengthen us. But again the operative word there is “may.” We get into trouble when we say some way God is working is always the way God works! God is with us in the difficult times. He does not cause them! In fact, a lot of times it’s we who cause them!
When I think of how God allows suffering, I remember a great thing I read once. It said, “I wanted to ask God why he allowed bad things to happen when he could have done something about it, but I was afraid he was going to ask me the same question.” Do we ever find ourselves in a situation where we could do something about it?
That’s a challenging thought, isn’t it? And this is a challenging time of year. Because, as I said at the start, there is a lot of suffering in our world. Do we ever find ourselves not knowing what to say in response to the hardships of the world? Do we ever find ourselves as the ones saying “peace, peace” when there is no peace?
One of the most frequent things I’ve said about the faith over the years is that being a follower of Jesus does not mean that life will always be great! Sometimes people want to say that. Or they’ll try to say that if you pray hard enough, all those hardships will go away. And sometimes that makes us feel like something is wrong with us, or with our faith, if we still have difficulties.
That’s why I love Philippians 4! Paul told the Philippians to “Have no anxiety, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, bring your requests before God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you pray for something, that does not mean that God will always give you what you want. But he still doesn’t want you to stop praying!!! In fact, it’s the prayer, it’s the interaction – the sharing of our lives with God – that he truly wants! That I can say universally about God! And he wanted that so much that he came here himself! That’s what we celebrate. And in his coming here, he truly is the “Prince of Peace.” In his coming here, he has “overcome the world.” In his coming here, he gives us the “peace that passes all understanding.”
That’s the peace I want. I know I sometimes stand in the way of it. I know that sometimes I push it away. But still I want it! As I close my eyes at night, one of my most frequent prayers is short and sweet! “God, I sure could use your peace right now.” That’s it. Try it! See if it makes a difference.
In thinking about the world in which we live, it helped me this week to think about the world into which Jesus was born. It was pointed out to me how the time of his birth was recorded. Luke tells us that it took place in the time of Caesar Augustus, “when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (Do we hear the name “Quirinius” any other time?) In Matthew we read that it was “the days of Herod the king.” Those names were important for the people at the time. Those earthly powers were dominant. They made life sad and even depressing for God’s people!
However! Think about how the time is identified now? Is it defined by Caesar? Herod? No! Time is now marked by “Anno Domini” – “The Year of our Lord!” Those other guys are a mere footnote in history! The only mark left by Caesar Augustus is our month of “August!” He and Julius Caesar named a couple of months after themselves, which makes “Sept-ember,” our ninth month, even though the word “September” literally means “The seventh month.” It’s the same with last three months in the year, too. Here we are in the 12th month, but it’s named “December,” which literally means “The tenth month.” You see how those two silly Romans messed up our calendar? But(!) how often do you think of the two Caesars during the summer? I know I don’t. But every time I write a date on anything, I identify the time as being “the Year of Our Lord!”
Jesus was true to his word. He has overcome the world! So we can have hope! Because of him, we can have the peace that passes all understanding! And where some might argue that Jesus was weak and ineffective, because of his humility and the lowly way he came into this world, we can know, in the grand scheme of things that he was not! He was and is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” that we proclaimed him to be a few weeks ago on Christ the King Sunday.
So the good news is that Jesus has not “healed the wound of the people lightly!” He has not “cried ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” He has said, “My peace I give unto you, but not as the world gives. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Eternal God, we need your peace. Fill us with the hope we have in Jesus, that we may bravely walk our earthly way, and live rejoicing every day. Help us these days to think constantly of the birth of our Lord, and to wait anxiously for that celebration. For this we pray in his name, Amen.