If I were to ask you to sum up your life in a word or phrase…especially this time of year… I’m going to just hazard a guess that “peaceful” was not the word that came to mind. “Hectic” perhaps. “Controlled chaos” maybe. Or perhaps it’s a little darker. “Oppressive”, “Grim”, “Painful”.
But peaceful? No, no not really.
And yet, why not? How often do we say the word “peace” in our readings, our songs, our liturgies? Isn’t peace one of the most prolific gifts that God brings us? Why do we so often seem to utter lack this promised blessing?
If you’re not feeling the peace this holiday season, then perhaps Advent is exactly what you need.
Let me just unpack that for a minute for the uninitiated. The seasons of our church year revolve around the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death, resurrection, and spread of his church thereafter. We just wrapped up the season of End Times and we’re starting the church year anew with Advent today. Advent is a neat little wrapper of the church year because it overlaps both ends. It focuses on the coming of Jesus. It’s at the same time a look back to anticipate celebrating the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and a look ahead to celebrate the time when Jesus will come again to end this world.
So, Advent is all about God coming here. Whichever way you look at it. God coming to be with us. That should help bring some peace, right?
Should I be happy that God is coming here? Any one of us could spend all day listing examples of ways we don’t put God first, don’t trust him first, and basically don’t make him our God. Every day is littered with the choices I make, deliberately, to not have God as my true god. I break God’s commands. I sin. And God is literally at war with sin. St Paul tells us elsewhere the sinful mind is hostile to God. Our default state is to be enemies of God. And what a dumb thing to do! Yes, let’s pick a fight with the ruler of the universe, that will end well. If he’s coming here, that is not something to look forward to so much, it’s more on the end of terrifying. Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t find any peace in my life.
But let’s not forget the double meaning of Advent. It’s not just about Jesus coming again, it’s about his first coming as well. I think we’re all pretty familiar with the holiday “Christmas”. But look past the trees and lights and presents and cookies and parties and remember the manger. God came to this earth before and he didn’t come to terrify us or judge us then. He came to restore peace between God and his creation.
Our sin is a debt we owe God. Our lives are not the perfect lives that God demands of us. But Jesus is our payment. Jesus is our perfect life. And all this before anything we do. Which is good… cause we would mess it up! Paul writes here:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies, while we fought God, while we had nothing to offer and wanted nothing to do with him…God lived and died for us. Jesus, God, came here and died as one of us so that your sins could be paid for, so that his perfect life could be counted as yours and he sent the Holy Spirit to you to change your heart, teach you this truth, and make you someone who loves God as much as he loves you. Because of his work, we are not enemies of God anymore. God looks at you and sees someone who always did what he asked, always loved him, and did everything right. There’s no reason to fight.
God loves you. And because he loves you so much, he literally took your place so he wouldn’t have to punish you. He lived, died, and rose for you. As Paul says here:
[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
The God who rules over this world is not your enemy anymore. He is your loving Father. Imagine all that power, wisdom, and goodwill all applied for your benefit. Not only does the all-powerful God of creation no longer consider you an enemy, but he actively is interested in your well-being and when this life ends he will come to take you to paradise. What greater peace is there to know that whatever happens to you, you have God behind it all helping you out?
When God comes here to judge the world, we don’t have to look at that with fear but rather we can look up and say, “finally!” We can set down our hard labor and rest with our God forever. Yes, he’s coming to judge, but because of Jesus, the judgment is going to be, “Not guilty!” And God will say, “Come home. Be with me. I’ll care for you forever. No suffering, pain, or trouble ever again.” And we will live in perfect peace and harmony with God forever.
That’s really good news. The peace between you and God brings a profound internal peace to our lives, come what may. But there is still a problem. See, I doubt I said anything new to most of you. These are all things you know. And yet when I asked the question of you at the start, again, I’d guess “peaceful” is not how you would describe yourself. Maybe now, being reminded of it all, you’re feeling the peace. Maybe you’re feeling relaxed and ready to go back out and face life, knowing God is on your side now and for eternity.
But…how long do you suppose that feeling is going to last you this week? How long until you hit the first roadblock, problem, tough choice, impossible to-do list, bad news, or whatever it is that steals this peace away from you? Maybe all the current troubles you’ve got right now are keeping you from even feeling at peace right here and now!
Why? Why does that happen? God has called a truce! And we didn’t do anything to make it happen, he did all the work! He lived, died, and rose before we even wanted anything to do with him. Why… are we still not at peace?
Well…engage with me in a little bit of logical deduction with me, if you will. God is… God. He’s perfect. He’s perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and all-powerful. He does everything he does without mistake. So, if that’s who has worked this peace between us and him… and we’re still not feeling the peace…
Well, it’s not a huge logical leap to guess where the problem is. It’s not with God.
It’s because even though God has done everything that he has for you and declared peace between you both… you are still fighting him.
Either we’re fighting him through our active choices or we’re fighting him because we won’t accept his will in our lives. Both rob us of peace that we should have in him. Not that this life will ever be smooth sailing, nor should it be, but we can be at peace because of the peace we have with our God and what that means for everything else.
So how do we fight God? We fight him whenever we refuse to do what he commands. God is our good Father. He does not impose his will arbitrarily. Like a good parent, he only commands his children whatever is best for them! How many of you remember the times you didn’t listen to your parents because they told you to do something you didn’t want to do or didn’t understand why you should? I do…and one whole bag of Oreos later, I did understand why that was a bad idea.
Don’t touch the stove. Don’t run into the street. Don’t play with the outlet. We don’t tell children these things to stop them having fun, we say these things to protect them.
Every single one of God’s commands is designed to protect you. And when we ignore him, when we defy him, or even worse, when we don’t even bother to learn or study his rules… we hurt ourselves. We suffer unnecessarily. It’s fighting God after he’s declared peace and it only hurts ourselves. So, take the time to study his will, study his word and learn what he wants from you so you can live that will in your lives. The more we listen to our Father and stay at peace with him, the more trouble we will avoid, and the more we stay at peace.
But that still does not guarantee a trouble-free life. God actually promises us trouble. That’s a good thing. Remember last week how we talked about the lukewarm church that had it too easy? Too many creature comforts? They forgot how much they needed God. They forgot the point of this life was to look forward to the next. We need God to send us trouble so we don’t forget we need him. Paul tells us here for that very reason we glory in our suffering.
When trouble finds us, do we let it shatter our peace? Do we even try to blame God? The correct, eternal, godly perspective can help us stay at peace no matter what happens to us here. But we fight God when we live only to be satisfied now instead of living for him forever. God keeps us from getting too comfortable so we don’t forget.
When suffering comes, don’t fight God over it. Instead, say “Thank you, Father.”
When a job is lost, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me you are the one who provides all I have.”
When an illness is diagnosed, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that my life, my strength, and all my abilities are in your hands.”
When we lose things or people leave us, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that you are all I truly need to be content.”
And when death comes for you or your loved ones, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me I don’t belong here, that what is waiting for me is so much better, I have no reason to cling desperately to this life, I can let go in peace knowing you have me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t use your abilities and gifts to correct trouble or alleviate pain. But there’s no reason the trouble needs to steal our peace at all. And if we can’t fix the trouble, whatever it is, we are still at peace with God.
There will be trouble. But we can be at peace with God through the troubles. He allows the troubles to help you. Don’t fight him. Let the troubles bring you closer to him.
In all these things it is the strength of God and not our own strength that lets us keep this attitude. He promises to give you the power you need to carry out his will in this life and stay at peace with him. He promises to give you this power through the Holy Spirit working in study of his word. Read and study his word to stay in his power and keep the peace with him. And for the times we fail, which will not stop happening here, there is always the forgiveness of Jesus to bring us back to peace.
Brothers and Sisters, through Jesus you have peace with God. He has given you a new life in him. You are forgiven and perfect in his eyes. God has established the peace. And through his Word he provides the power of the Holy Spirit to you so that you can keep the peace on your end. Even this is his power working through you.
Stay in and study God’s Word and God’s will for you. By the power of his spirit, don’t fight him anymore. Look to him for everything good now and forever, and know the peace that he has established.