Advent: Peace

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  This year we’ve decided to celebrate Christmas through the lens of Advent.  Advent is latin for the word Coming, or Arrival.  And so – we are celebrating with these four candles – kind of a Christmas Countdown – and also a reminder to prepare our hearts for this season.

The great trouble with the Christmas season is that it’s so busy and full of activity that we have to be very intentional about carving out some time to reflect upon the profound truth of Christmas – which is that God Almighty shrunk down to the size of an embryo inside the womb of a nervous teenage unwed mom – and subjected himself to the genuine and real hardships of life – in order that he might become for us the kind of God who truly understands the jagged edges of life in this broken world.

Last week we looked at the idea of Hope.  And this week our theme is peace.

This image is the church of the nativity in Bethlehem.  What would happen is that as time went on and Christianity grew people made an effort to try to locate the most likely places where important biblical events happened – and they often built a church on top of the place in order to protect it from having a Starbucks built on it.

And so this is the supposed place in Bethlehem where Jesus was born 2000 years ago.

An interesting little story about this place – in 1853 the Turks, who were in control of the Holy Land – decided to give the keys to this church to the Roman Catholic Monks – giving them control over this church.  Well, the Greek Orthodox church didn’t like that – nor did the Russians who backed the greek orthodox church.  They felt it was suppressing the Greek orthodox people in the Holy Land – but the mostly roman catholic church in France just basically told Russia to deal with it.  they weren’t giving up those keys.

Anyway – they went to war and more than a quarter million people were killed.  Merry Christmas!  Peace on earth, everyone.  Peace on earth.

It’s interesting that if one were to pick and choose the most well known verses from the Bible that dealt with Christmas – verses that might even be familiar to people who are not regular church goers – I think that Luke 2:14 might be the one that rises above all the others.  When the angels appear to the  shepherds and say – “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

What in the world does this verse mean?  Because we have to be honest and say – that if the birth of Jesus was supposed to inaugurate some kind of peace on earth – then he failed miserably.

How much peace on earth has there been in the past 2000 years?  I read one article that reported in the past 3000 years there have been 300 years without war.  And frankly, I am a little skeptical about that number – it seems too high.

But Christmas is supposed to be about peace.  Another very familiar verse comes to us from Isaiah – who prophesied this more than 700 years before the birth of Jesus….

6 For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

In what sense is Jesus the prince of peace?

Well, one thing is for sure – Jesus IS the prince of peace, but not the kind of peace we might think of when we hear the word. He isn’t the prince of peace between people.  He didn’t come to bring harmony between people.

How do we know?  Because he told us.  Straight up.  Luke 12:51

51 Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!

Well, that seems like the least Jesus thing Jesus ever said.  What does he mean he has come to divide people against each other?  How can Jesus be the prince of peace and then declare he didn’t come to bring peace?

Well – here’s what he means.  Look it’s just a reality that that not everyone in your life will be a fan of your decision to follow Jesus.

I remember now about ten years ago we had a man named Mark Christian – come and speak with us – a doctor from Egypt who came to the states to better his education for his work.  And one day he is walking through a grocery store and he sees a stack of bibles for sale in the checkout aisle.  And he told us that he looked around and when it seemed no one was looking he grabbed one and put it under same boxes of cereal – he wasn’t sure it was legal in the States for a Muslim to buy a bible – it wasn’t legal in Egypt.

He told us that he read it and fell in love with Jesus and decided to place his faith in this Jesus – to believe that he was the savior of the world.

And when his father heard about this in Egypt – he told his son that if he ever returned to Egypt his own father would kill him – because he has disgraced his family.

You might not have anyone threatening to kill you for your belief in Jesus but you might have some family members who aren’t at peace with it.  They might be coming from a different faith background and feel betrayed or angry by your decision.

See, Jesus demands of his followers that our primary allegiance lie with him.  More than our parents, family, children, or even our country.   And honestly, through history we see countries that are threatened by Christianity.  Christians have been routinely persecuted in their own countries by their own government.  Why?  Because a Christian’s allegiance is NOT first to their own country, but to Jesus.

Now Jesus will one day return – the second advent – and when he comes next time he will in fact usher in a new age where, Isaiah tells us in chapter 11 – the wolf and the lamb will lie down together.  That’s peace right there.  When a lamb can sleep without worry that the wolf will eat it.

But that day is yet to come.  So if Jesus didn’t come to end all wars immediately, it’s fair to ask – In what sense then is Jesus the Prince of Peace.  The bible gives us two ways that Jesus is our prince of peace.  Jesus is the prince of peace with God.  And he is the Prince of the Peace of God.

This is a picture of the headline from the San Francisco Chronicle, on June 6th, 1944 – it reads – INVASION!  Allied armies are landing in North France.  It was what we now call D-Day – and it marked the beginning of the end of the second world war.  This newspaper is making an announcement.  The beginning of the end is here.

This is a painting from 1423.  It’s a painting of another invasion.  God invading earth by becoming a baby.  And as Normandy was the beginning of the end of World War 2 – Bethlehem – Christmas – is an announcement of the beginning of end of the greatest war that mankind has ever fought.

Did you know that the bible is abundantly clear that in our natural condition we are hostile to God?  Colossians 1:21 tells us this as plainly as can possibly be stated.  Check it out.

21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 

Does it shock you to read those words – that we were once his enemies?  Most people find this to be offensive.  They think – I was never at war with God – there was a misunderstanding – I was just misinformed – I lacked understanding.  But I was never at war with God.

But the bible stubbornly insists that – whether we recognized it or not, we were in a battle – and you know we were fighting with God over?  We were fighting with him about who gets to control things?  Who gets to call the shots.  We were fighting with God over who gets to control the keys to my life?  Me or God?

This is the original sin.  It was Adam and Eve who invited themselves to take God’s place and call their own shots.  And that has been our natural condition for all of mankind ever since.

It’s very important that we understand this if we are going to appreciate and celebrate peace this Christmas.

I mean, think about it – if someone gave you a book for Christmas – maybe you’ve been trying to lose weight – and someone gave you a book called how to gain weight.  (Worst selling book of all time) You’d say, thanks I guess, and put the book on the shelf labeled “Donate to Good Will.”  Why, because it’s hardly a gift you think you need.

If we think – we don’t need this – it’s unimportant – but we NEED peace with God.

It’s not until we realize that there was something between us and God that needed to be resolved that we will appreciate and receive with thanksgiving the peace that comes from placing our faith in Jesus.

We were- apart from God – without hope.  Without Peace.  Unless we understand the problem, we will not be able to celebrate the solution – the ultimate price God was willing to pay to remove the wall of enmity that stood between him and us.

Jesus left heaven and invaded earth in order that he might in his own body take the penalty for our sins.  That he might pay the debts that we could never pay on our own.

Jesus came to make things right between us.  So that now, when someone decides to surrender the keys to Jesus – to allow him to govern our lives, we are forgiven of all our past sins and are received into the family of God as his adopted and cherished daughters – and adopted and beloved sons.

Romans 5:1 puts it this way.

1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 

Colossians 1 again,

 20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Jesus is the prince of peace with God.  Through faith in Him, the offense that stood between God and us has been removed, restoring to us a right relationship with our heavenly Father.

Have you come to the place where you have made the conscious decision to trust Jesus with the keys to your life?  Have you surrendered and submitted yourself to His government of your life?  Or are you still at war with Him?

This is a picture of the Japanese signing papers of unconditional surrender aboard the USS Missouri in September of 1945.  This brought the end to World War 2.

The only way to peace with God is our unconditional surrender.  And what will we receive?  Not fear of having to live under the thumb of a tyrant.  Rather – we receive gifts.

We receive hope.  Peace.  joy and love.  Today is the day to surrender!  It’s now!  Use those words in your prayers.  Surrender your heart to Jesus and allow him to bring peace between you and your heavenly father.

See – Jesus is the prince of peace with God.

But wait – that’s not all!  Once we make peace WITH God, we begin to receive the peace OF God.

Internal peace.  See – when you are trying to run the world – while you are fighting against God’s rightful reign, your soul is under tremendous pressure.  If we think that “if it is to be it’s up to me?”  That philosophy naturally leads to worry and anxiety and tremendous stress.

Heavy is the head of the one who wears the crown.  And if YOU are wearing the crown – the weight is too much for your soul – it will wear you out.

But once we decide to surrender the kingdom of ME – and enter the kingdom of God – I no longer have to rule and reign.  God – our heavenly father -gets to do that.  And he assures us that he will lead our lives with great purpose and that he will strengthen us from the inside to be able to walk down any path he knows we need to walk down.

In 1873 Horation Spafford sent his wife and four daughter on a boat to go to England – where he would shortly join them after wrapping up some business.  The boat his family traveled in sank – and though his wife was rescued – their four daughter perished in the accident.  As Spafford crossed the ocean to be with his wife – he crossed the same area where his daughter perished.  And he sat down and penned one the gratest hymns ever written.  It is well with my soul.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Where was Horatio Spafford able to secure peace in the middle of such sorrow?  In the face of such sorrow and grief – where did he find this peace?  He tells us.  He found it in Jesus.  Who took our sorrows upon himself in order to provide for us assurance and peace.

Peace comes from knowing that – no matter what path – the garden path or the dark valley – we never walk alone.  We have the peace that comes from holding our fathers hand as we walk.

The peace of God that assures us that everything is going to be okay.

Jesus is the prince of the Peace of God.  There is a tangible sense of peace that comes from knowing God knows what he is doing as he leads and directs our life.  He really is our good shepherd.

6 For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Prince of Peace with God.  Prince of peace of God.

As I close in prayer I’d encourage you to open your palms up.

For some – it’s a symbolic gesture of letting go of the keys to your life and future.

For others who are struggling with the peace OF God -I want to you to imagine – giving up to God whatever is troubling your hearts and soul today – imagine you have placed that in your hand.  And now open up your palms and allow God to take it from you.

And now I want you to imagine has taken those burdens from you and now – peace.  Maybe he is holding your hand like a father holds his daughters or sons hand.

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