Preparing for Peace - Isaiah 9:6-7, John 14:27, John 16:33 (Saturday December 23rd - “Fourth Sunday In Advent)
Peace…peace…peace. We hear that word more this time of year, probably, than any other. We talk about it. We sing about it. We pray for it. We crave it, perhaps, more than anything else—whether we realize it or not. After all, shouldn’t that be the highlight of this time of year as we gather to celebrate the the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Yet, for many of us, peace is more elusive this time of year than any other.
Our calendars disrupt our peace. There are church services and other faith activities…. parades… school programs… work and sometimes work Christmas parties… family gatherings… decorating… shopping… wrapping… cooking and baking… phone calls and Christmas cards… Peace? Who has time for peace?
The weather disrupts our peace. In North Carolina that’s a given. It’s rainy. It’s sunny. It’s cold. It’s hot. We’re outside playing ball in shorts and short sleeves. We’re huddled on the under blankets while wearing our winter pajamas. All in one week. All in one day. Peace? Things are too unpredictable to find peace.
Our finances disrupt our faith. Job layoffs… business closings… unemployment… Gifts and meals that aren’t part of our regular budget… thinking about the bills that will come in on gifts bought on credit… Unexpected home repairs…doctors visits…car maintenance…. Peace? All the money in the world wouldn’t finance peace.
Our health disrupts our peace. We fail to do enough push always and stay at the table far too long. We have what Davey’s girlfriend terms “snacksidents” munching on something every time we walk by the table, counter, and/or island. Heartburn. Food allergies. Colds and viruses jump on us, our children, our grandchildren. Emergency surgeries. Planned procedures. Rehab. Physical therapy. Unexpected and undesired results from medical tests. Peace? We’re too sick to think about it.
Our families disrupt our peace. Yes, I said it. Most of us think it but would’ve dare voice it, but it’s true. Little Johnny changes his wish list for the 20th time. On December 23rd we remember we forgot a gift for our spouse. We have to travel across state or across country to visit family members…or the family members all converge on our home and want to come at the same time. Both sides of the family want to have their family gatherings at the same time in different towns. Family you haven’t heard from in years suddenly shows up…or worse, another year passes, and you still haven’t heard from them. Family members who don’t get along somehow end up sitting beside each other at the Christmas dinner. We are reminded of those, who because of divorce, death, or other disruption, are no longer with us to celebrate the season. Peace? We can’t relate to peace.
Peace? Peace in most of our lives tends to be more elusive than a white Christmas on Harkers Island. And yet, 8 out of 34 Christmas cards we have received this year mention peace.
It begs us to ask the question, just what is peace? Most of us would define peace as “the lack of conflict”—an absence of physical or psychological attacks between nations, between political parties, between communities, or between family members. And yet around the globe there are wars and conflicts raging, even in places where peacekeeping troops are on the ground. And even in our homes Peace seems to be missing where there is yelling and sometimes physical confrontation—between siblings…between parent and child…between husband and wife. All of us longing for peace…even as we read the papers about bombs being blown up…cars are being driven into crowds…gunmen opening fire in church…If Isaiah’s Prince of Peace has come…why does it feel like we are no closer to peace than before that baby’s cry erupted in the midst of cattle and donkeys and sheep and camels?
We are here tonight to proclaim that there is no “if” about it…the Prince of Peace…the Holy One, has come. The one that Isaiah promised would arrive, did arrive in Bethlehem on that star-lit night, and he came to bring us peace. Yet, as he would later share with the disciples on the night which led to the most violent day of his life, the peace He offers, the peace that the Jesus pours out upon us, the peace that began that night, is different than the peace that the world offers. “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Later, he would add, after telling them of all the trouble that they will encounter, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
That, my brothers and sisters, is the Christmas peace that we gather tonight to celebrate…that is the peace that we prepare for. It is a peace that is not dependent upon the conditions in which we find ourselves. It is a peace that is not rooted and grounded in the absence of war or conflict. It is not a peace that is dependent upon an absence of family conflict. It is not a peace that requires smooth sailing and sunny days. The peace of the Prince of Peace is a peace that is anchors itself in Jesus. It is a peace that is available to all who come into a relationship with Him. It is a peace that comes from knowing that nothing, absolutely nothing in all this world can truly destroy us. It is a peace that comes from knowing that anything we face from terrorist attacks to Alzheimer’s and Cancer to family collapses and abandonments to bankruptcy to the loss of a loved one can never rip us out of the loving embrace which our God has placed around us. It is the peace of knowing that no matter what, God has already declared Victory and that while the battles may rage, the war has has been won.
This is the peace that the Isaiah and the angels proclaimed…this is the peace that God through Jesus delivers…it is the peace on a baby’s face asleep in a manger…it is the peace of the silence of an empty tomb. May we also this peace to reign in our hearts this night, through the Christmas season, and forever more.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.