The Text: Luke 1:78-79
Being the season of Advent, this sermon is based on the imagery of the advent candles.
Today’s theme is peace – a major aspect of life with God.
The Words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, are good to start us thinking about this:
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78–79 (NRSV)
In the church we often use the greeting: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’, and the response: ‘And also with you’.
When we are greeting with those words we may not be feeling very peaceful. It might be we have had another difficult moment with someone, or a troubling circumstance has happened, even on the way to worship.
One of the reasons we have this greeting in worship this way is, that, through God’s people, Jesus bestows his peace upon us.
Peace is at the heart of God and God’s word to us.
In the Old Testament it is the word ‘Shalom’. Shalom is beautiful term, pregnant with meaning. Not just peace, but also wholeness, welfare and deliverance.
To wish someone Shalom says: “I want you to have not only peace, but also come into physical, mental and spiritual wholeness and deliverance’. So not just a feeling, but a process too. It’s beautiful.
Who creates the beauty though? Who makes SHALOM it what it is?
It won’t surprise you to know that this sort of peace is something that is made possible by God. In the beginning God lived at peace with us in the garden. God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. Such was the peace that existed! Ever since we disrupted that peace by reaching for that fruit we were told not to have, God has been trying to bring us back into peace. You see, God wants to walk in the garden with us once more.
Peace is a very relational thing. A side-by-side concept. No surprise – God is entirely relational. And so God comes to be amongst us in a very side-by-side way. Why? So he can bring us back into his garden.
One of the well-known prophecies about Jesus says:
‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For unto us a child is born…And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ (various verses from Isaiah 9).
Jesus is our Prince of Peace.
But he is not a prince like William or Charles waiting for the Queen to die. This description of prince in the Hebrew language refers to one who exercises dominion. It’s not a second-rate power, but first rate.
Now as much as I like the idea of having the first-rate power on my side, its what he has achieved that is the really important thing. To see what his achievements are we might start with Jeremiah 6:14:
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace”.
The context to this verse is this: The prophets and priests are saying there is no problem in Israel. In fact however, serious sin abounds; but the prophets and priests are washing over it.
Donald Trump used to talk about fake news. What these priests were doing was fake peace.
What Jesus achieved for us was anything but a washing over of our condition. He wasn’t into merely dressing our wounds. One doesn’t dress the wounds of a dead person and expect them to get better.
And that applies to us. Ephesians 2:1 tells us this pretty stark news: ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins’. Or as Romans 6:23 puts it: ‘The wages of sin is death’.
Jesus did not just dress our wounds. Instead, he received deep terminal wounds on our account. The scourge of the lead tipped whip of a Roman torturer. ‘With his wounds- his stripes – we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:6).
Then the nails from the Roman Execution squad: ‘But he was pierced for our transgression. He was crushed for our iniquities’ Isaiah 53:5a
And the glorious conclusion: ‘The punishment that brought us peace was upon him’.
There was no fake peace with Jesus.
He entered deeply into our condition and took deep, deep wounds in our place. So deep they went through his wrists, feet and side!
So let’s paraphrase Jeremiah in terms of what Jesus did for each of us, starting with the original:
‘They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.’
Now imagine Jesus reporting to the Father on what happened on Calvary and in the open grave: “I address the wounds of my people because they are serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ I say, for there is NOW complete peace.”
So what we now have is peace with God. Romans 5:1 puts it like this: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Peace with God given to us when we believe God is the foundation of all peace. If people lived out of it more there would be a lot more peace. If people were determined to put it into action there would be a lot more peace.
But let’s come back to a day today when we might feel as though we lack real peace. Unsettled. Even questioning of God and why life is not more ‘outwardly’ peaceful.
We need to remember these words of Jesus from the night before he died. They come from John’s gospel. He said to his disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
What we have here is Jesus telling us that despite what he will do on the cross, the day-to-day rubbish we have to put up with won’t change. There will always be trouble. “But take heart … or ‘be of good comfort’ as some other translation put it… I have overcome the world!”
That is what Jesus tells us. We shouldn’t have an expectation of some sort of global mega peace. And certainly in our own lives a sort of ‘feet up lying around the pool on kabanas cocktail in hand’ peace. Sometimes we get glimpses. It’s nice when it comes along.
But to think it is all the time is just unrealistic. Why doesn’t God bring me more peace? Less disagreement in my family? At my workplace? On the road? In the stories I hear on the news?
Well the problem is not God but our distorted view of what he has said. There is no promise of final peace now. There is however the promise of peace in the midst of a tumultuous world. That’s why Jesus tells us some of this will almost be with us. “There will always be trouble” (John 16:33b)
But because he partners with us as he changes us to be more like him, he also shows us how we can make a difference as people who receive peace from him. And that’s by sharing his peace.
He says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
There might be trouble, but we are also blessed by Christ to be Christ to each other.
And how about this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
Is that too demanding?
No! God is generous to us here.
In this world there will always be trouble. Yet, nevertheless, this side of eternity, we have important work to do in as far as it depends on us, live at peace with everyone. Share his peace.
And sometimes, that’s as simple as apologizing and asking for forgiveness.
Jesus brought us peace!
No superficial band-aid for the deep terminal wound of our sin and separation from him, so that now, brought back into the garden by our prince of peace, we are his agents of peace in his world. Therefore: May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.