Advent Reflection (18) – Peace

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Today, I turn to the theme of the ‘God of Peace’. In the midst of personal heartbreak, political turmoil and military conflict, where is the ‘peace that passes understanding’? Has the Prince of Peace been dethroned – indeed, has He ever reigned? These are the questions that we ask ourselves sometimes.

Peace, for many, can like the mysterious ‘unicorn’.  Something that many people talk of – but almost in the sense that it is a myth, a story, a distant memory. Lives can be peppered with pain and saturated in suffering so often. Where is God’s peace? No doubt some people reading this will be coming to terms with unexpected tragedy. Where is God’s peace for them this Advent season? What about those whose families are struggling, or whose sons and daughters face conflict in their homes or their work places? What about the turmoil in foreign fields – is God’s peace their promise?

As we reflect on the God of Peace, may you be reminded that peace is not just a feeling, it is a promised reality, given to all who are ‘in Christ’. The Prince of Peace reigns, even if we cannot see it. His presence is with all who follow Him, even if they cannot feel it. The words of scripture promise us that God is with us, that He will never leave us or forsake us. What they do not promise is that we will always ‘feel’ such presence. Indeed, the stories of the saints remind us that God is not always ‘felt’ – but He is always there. That is the challenge for our faith this Advent. Perhaps we need to ‘remember on purpose’ that peace is the inheritance of the followers of Christ. We have peace because we have Him. Advent gives us the opportunity to re-orientate our lives around this reality in faith. Believing before seeing. Trusting that what has been said to us through the bible will shape what we eventually experience in our lives. 

Matthew Henry reflected that on the cross Christ’s last will and testament was seen. He left the keeping of His mother and her care to John, He left His garment to the soldiers, He promised paradise to one of the thieves hanging beside him. Christ left His followers something too. Down through the ages, from the first to the last, from the most recent to the most established convert, Christ left us His peace – His gift to those who serve Him and like all good gifts, once received, it is never taken from us.

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Christmas

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

The bells of waiting Advent ring,

The Tortoise stove is lit again

And lamp-oil light across the night

Has caught the streaks of winter rain.

In many a stained-glass window sheen

From Crimson Lake to Hooker’s Green.

The holly in the windy hedge

And round the Manor House the yew

Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,

The altar, font and arch and pew,

So that villagers can say

‘The Church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial public houses blaze

And Corporation tramcars clang,

On lighted tenements I gaze

Where paper decorations hang,

And bunting in the red Town Hall

Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’

And London shops on Christmas Eve

Are strung with silver bells and flowers

As hurrying clerks the City leave

To pigeon-haunted classic towers,

And marbled clouds go scudding by

The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,

And oafish louts remember Mum,

And sleepless children’s hearts are glad,

And Christmas morning bells say ‘Come!’

Even to shining ones who dwell

Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? and is it true?

The most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,

A Baby in an ox’s stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant.

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare –

That God was Man in Palestine

And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Reflection

Reflect on the words of Betjemen’s poem. As we journey toward the end of Advent, do you think we sometimes forget that the Great Story is true? How can we embed the truth of Christ’s coming into our daily lives and choices? Are there people or circumstances in your life that you can lift to God in prayer for a few moments now? Ask God to give them His peace – that deep sense of know that He is with them and that He will not abandon them. If the people you are praying for do not yet follow Christ pray that this season of Advent will be a truly transformational     time for them. Advent is the start of the Christian year – pray that they will have a new start with Christ.

God of Peace.

Isaiah 9:1-7 (New Living Translation)

 1 Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

 2 The people who walk in darkness
      will see a great light.
   For those who live in a land of deep darkness,[c]
      a light will shine.
 3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
      and its people will rejoice.
   They will rejoice before you
      as people rejoice at the harvest
      and like warriors dividing the plunder.
 4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery
      and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
   You will break the oppressor’s rod,
      just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
 5 The boots of the warrior
      and the uniforms bloodstained by war
   will all be burned.
      They will be fuel for the fire.

 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,[d] Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 7 His government and its peace
      will never end.
   He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
      for all eternity.
   The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
      will make this happen!

Take a few moments to read Isaiah 9:1-7 slowly and thoughtfully. Take time to read the words. What do they say to you? Is God your ‘Wonderful’? Is He your ‘Counsellor’? Is He your, ‘Prince of Peace’? Remembering what we looked at yesterday – that He is the One we yearn for and Who, more importantly, yearns for us – allow that sense of longing to rise in Your heart. What gets in the way of God being all the things that He promises in Isaiah 9 to you?

God Himself is our Peace.

We can allow ourselves to get very confused as Christians. We can think that if we do not ‘feel’ something then it must not be true. Perhaps those of us in the charismatic end of the church can, at times, end up making our feelings more important than the facts of the Gospel and our faith in the God of the Bible. 

Scripture is abundantly clear – when we have ‘Christ’ then we have peace. Ephesians 2 tells us ‘He is our peace’. The context of those words was that the Jews and the Gentiles needed to be reminded that Christ was the Person who had brought an end to their conflict and their separation. He was the One who brought them together. The application of this truth to us is not as obvious as it might first appear. The point is this – what unites followers of Jesus is not our culture, our music preferences or our nice neat and identical social backgrounds. A Christian community is bound together by Christ Himself – who stands at our centre. He is our ‘Peace’. He is the one that unites us. He is the one that holds Gold Hill or any other Christian community together. We can be different but at peace. We can have different ideas but still be one. Christ is the centre of our community – He is our Peace!

Look at  Isaiah 9:6 and Ephesians 2:14 again. Think about the ways in which the promise of ‘Christ as our peace’ can be applied to your own context. Are there people whom you are struggling with who are also followers of Jesus? In what ways can you be helped by remembering that Christ is your peace – that He is the One who unites you. What can you do to maintain ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’?

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Peace is an ongoing promise of Christ’s presence, not just an absence of conflict.

Reading the whole passage of Isaiah 9:1-7, it is important to remember that these words were a promise of the Messiah to Israel. God Himself would be their Messiah and His Anointed One would bring ongoing peace because He would carry ongoing authority and power. The ‘peace’ of God’s purposes and plans grows, it does not diminish.

The words of Jesus in John 14:27 are very important in this context – 

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

So often we can think that peace is the absence of conflict or trouble or stress. That is not true for the Christian – our peace springs from the abiding and continual presence of God living in us through the Holy Spirit. This is such a strong promise – and such a different way of looking at the issue of peace that we need to allow ourselves time to think about it. God’s promise of peace is a promise for the whole world. One day, there will be an absolute and clear demonstration to all of the civilizations of history that God is indeed the Lord an Ruler of all through His Son, the Lord Jess (Philippians 2) but at this moment in time that rule and reign is given to ALL who are ‘in Christ’. In other words, when we have Christ, we have peace. We have the settled promise of God’s presence and power in our lives always – no matter how we feel, the facts are clear – have Christ, have peace!

Take time to think and reflect on these truths. Why do you think we end up being driven by feelings and emotions so much rather than the facts of our faith? It is one thing to say that we believe that ‘in Christ’ we have peace and ‘through Christ’ we have been promised abiding peace – but it is another thing to live it out. Christ’s words to His disciples about leaving them His peace were just before the most horrific and violent separation they would have to face. Yet He told them that He was leaving His peace with them. Do you think that sometimes God needs to remind us that the presence of pain and conflict does not mean the absence of peace?

Important principles of peace for us.

Having said that Peace is our inheritance and our promise and that it springs from God’s work in us through Christ, you would be forgiven for thinking that you should never feel a sense of ‘lack of peace’ – but we do! Often we can end up losing our sense of God’s peace in our lives – why is that?

The reality is that this loss of God’s sense of peace is always circumstantial. Something has happened to us, in us or through us that has taken away our sense of God’s peace. The sense of God’s peace with us is our settled and promised position. The lack of God’s peace is the unusual position to find ourselves in. When we do find ourselves in such a position, the Bible has lots of guidance for us on how to re-mind ourselves of what God has done for us and in us. 

Philippians 4:6-9 is extremely helpful in guiding us in this. Paul ends his letter to the believers in Philippi with a series of injunctions, or commands, that robustly and positively encourage them to a maintain a godly lifestyle.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me and the God of peace will be with you  (New Revised Standard Version)

These words show us that although peace is our gift, there are times when we can lose our sense of ‘peace’. When that happens there are things that we can do to help and sustain us. These are Holy Habits. Our spirituality does not fall on our laps! We are required to work at it, to develop attitudes and approaches and habits that enable us to receive all that God has for is. Peace is a gift of grace – make no mistake about that – but we must also practise the presence of God, daily choosing to allow what God says to shape us.

Read through Philippians 4:6-9 again. What does Paul teach us about the following: How to handle worry? What our attitude to  God should be when we have needs? What the focus of our lives should be? What our ‘thought life’ or the way we think should be governed by? What our attitude to persistence and daily obedience should be? Having looked at all (or some!) of these questions, what do think would be the impact upon our sense of peace?

The greatest peace comes from being in the centre of the will of God.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest peace comes from being at the centre of God’s will. This is the most exciting, challenging and yet most ‘peaceful’ place we can find ourselves in. Jesus Himself shows us this. In John 13:1-5 as He faces the greatest trial, we read:

‘Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray Him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off His outer robe, and tied a towel around Himself. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around Him.’ (New Revised Standard Version)

Jesus knew who He was, what He was called to do and how He was called to do it. He was secure in His identity, His purpose and His mission. That is why He could wash the feet of His disciples and it is what enabled Him to suffer on the cross. As He rested in His Father’s purpose for Him, He was enabled to face the trials before Him. He knew He was in the will of His Father.

This is the challenge for us – are we in the will of God? If not, then how do we ensure that we remain in the will of God?

P.E.A.C.E.

Perhaps this little acrostic will help you to ensure that the decisions that you make and the things that you do enable you to remain in the will of God for you? Remember, God’s will is not ‘rigid’. There are a thousand ways that He can bless and guide you. He knows the plans that He has for you- but He does not force you to make decisions. His foreknowledge means that He stands ready to bless you, but that He will always lets you make a choice – and we live with the consequences of the choices that we make. Even when we make wrong choices, however, God is able to turn us and the situations we face around when we are willing to return to Him, acknowledge our mistakes and our need of Him and ask Him to be at the centre of our lives again.

When you are facing decisions, ask yourself the following:

P: Is this providential? Does this opportunity fit with God’s overarching purposes for His Kingdom on the earth and for my life?

E: Is this expected? Is there a sense of the Lord speaking to me about this issues prior to this decision – or does this decision somehow given me fresh, new and clear direction for something that I have been struggling with?

A: Is this acceptable? In other words, does this decision fit with the commands of the Bible and the teaching of the Lord Jesus?

C: Is it confirmed? Is this decision itself a confirmation or do I receive confirmation of this decision from other sources before I finally make it?

E: Do I have ‘Ease’? Having made a decision, do I have a peace in my heart and my spirit with the decision I have made and am I willing to face the consequences, even if I feel unsure, nervous or excited.

Does the little acrostic help? Are there decisions you need to make that you can at least get some guidance for? Take time to also remember world situations and other peoples’ circumstances where there is an absence of peace. Use William Barclay’s prayer, which follows, to help you pray for them

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Prayer for Others in Trouble (William Barclay)

We hold before You Lord,

Those for whom life is very difficult;

Those who have difficult decisions to make and

Who honestly do not know what is the right thing to do.

Pause

We hold before You Lord,

Those who have difficult tasks to do and to face

And who fear they may fail in them;

Those who have difficult temptations to face and

Who know only too well that they may fall if they try to meet

Those temptations on their own

Pause

We hold before You Lord,

Those who know that they can be their own worst enemies

and struggle to break free from a wrong image of themselves.

We hold before You, Lord

Those who have difficult people to work with

Those who have to suffer unjust treatment

Unfair criticism

Or unappreciated work

Pause

We hold before You, Lord

Those who are sad because someone they love has died

Those who are disappointed in something for which they hoped very much.

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