On this second Sunday of Advent, we talk about peace, which is something we often find hard to come by at this time of year, and even more so during the pandemic. Anxiety is common. What can we do? The apostle Paul has some advice for us in Philippians 4.4-9 which helps us put it all in perspective. You can watch the whole service below, or the message just below that.
September startup has looked different for most everyone this year, but it holds one thing in common with all its predecessors: it’s been a little crazy. It may have been crazy for different reasons, but it’s still been crazy.
Whether it’s trying to figure out if your kids are going to school or going online, or understanding what programs will and won’t resume in the church, or trying to do some of the traditional September shopping, it’s been nuts.
We could all use a little peace.
Back in the 1960s, ‘peace’ was all the rage: “Give peace a chance,” trumpeted perhaps the most famous song on the subject from that era. In the midst of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam conflict, and all else that was going on, people were crying out for peace. And, over time, they got it…in one definition.
The Bible’s definition of peace is quite different from the mere absence of war.
When it first shows up in the Old Testament, the word “peace” is an English translation of the Hebrew word shalom – still a common greeting among Middle Eastern people today – and it doesn’t just mean, “I hope you don’t have any war today.” It’s a wish for groundedness, particularly in your faith in God.
True peace – the kind that is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – is a sense of comfort in your relationship with the Lord, an ability to give thanks in all circumstances (as Paul would tell the Thessalonians). It’s something that other people can spot in you at a distance.
If you want true peace amid all that’s going on this fall – this year! – place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience what Paul wished for the Christians in Philippi: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).
This Sunday marks the 100thanniversary since the declaration of the armistice, ending the First World War. It was deemed “the war to end all wars”, yet it certainly did not turn out to be so. Along with one other significant global conflict, there have been regional, local, and various civil wars that have taken place around the world since that celebratory day in Compiègne, France, on November 11, 1918.
Remembrance Day, as we call it in Canada, is one of those days in the year where church and state comingle in an interesting yet often awkward way. As Canada has grown more pluralistic, the presence of Christian clergy has been augmented by the presence of other religious leaders, and has often been diminished by restrictions placed on how pastors can speak at some Remembrance Day ceremonies.
The Scripture most often cited around Remembrance Day comes from Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15.13: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NLT). Unfortunately, when it’s not given context, one can conclude that this was a passage about the valiance of war. And while it is true that the valiant sacrifices made by those who laid down their lives in the cause of world peace and democracy are significant and not to be forgotten, this was not the context in which Jesus said those words.
Jesus was not talking about brave soldiers. He was talking about himself.
John 15.13 isn’t about a war between nations; it’s about a war between humanity and God.
Sin separates us from God, and puts us at war with our Creator. But Jesus came to pay the price for our sin, and make us right with God once again. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul said, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Ephesians 2.14-15a, NIV).
There will always be wars on earth, until Jesus comes again, or until the whole world knows his peace. So let’s all commit to sharing Jesus’ peace with others, humbly and winsomely, so that war will be a thing of the past – between people and people, yes, and between people and God.
Let Remembrance Day be a reminder of our need for peace of all sorts, especially “God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4.7a, NLT).
On Remembrance Day, we pause to remember and give thanks for those who have fought for our freedom – a freedom demonstrated earlier this week as our neighbours to the south voted in a presidential election.
One of the things I have noticed in recent years, which was writ large throughout the seemingly-endless US election campaign, is that in western society, we are polarized like never before. And it seems to pervade all spheres, not least the political and ecclesiastical spheres.
In church and state, people seem pitted on either side of one issue or a multiplicity of issues, and the mud-slinging comes from both sides. What the world needs is what the church can demonstrate if it will: peace and unity.
To that end, I will let God’s Word speak for itself. Receive these words from the Lord. Read them slowly, perhaps a few times. Allow the Lord to speak to you through them. And respond practically.
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore. (Psalm 133, NRSV)
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. (Romans 13.1-5, NLT)
Next week, Canadians will pause for a few moments to remember the sacrifices made in the wars in which our nation has fought for the cause of freedom. The wearing of a poppy, as a symbol of remembrance, has become a cultural norm for us; the challenge comes in keeping that cultural norm from becoming just another rote tradition.
While we remember, we do not glorify war. In fact, our act of remembrance should be a clarion call to peace – not peace at any price, but true peace, the shalom that only God can give us in this world.
Carl P. Daw, Jr., a contemporary American hymn writer, has penned these words which can serve as a prayer for us as we approach Remembrance Day, working for peace.
O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.
Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
Let it be so.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all. – Isaiah 11.6, NLT
I imagine you remember what you were doing when you heard the news 14 years ago today, don’t you? I know I do.
I was sitting in an automotive repair shop waiting room, getting an issue dealt with on my vehicle. There was a television on. Whatever was on before broke for a news flash: airplanes were crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City.
That senseless act of terrorism changed the world forever – and probably not for the better. In a matter of moments, the world was no longer the safe place it had been – or, at least, it had been perceived to be. When the ‘all clear’ was sounded and airports and borders reopened, it suddenly became mandatory to take your shoes off before clearing security.
For some, 9/11 became a watershed for inconvenience. For others, it became a rallying cry for change. While westerners watched in horror as the video was played over and over again on the news, Palestinian children rallied in the streets to cheer. In the Middle East, many perceived that the Americans were getting what they deserved.
Why were there such disparate views on one tragic situation?
Some in the Middle East saw the United States as a collective bully. Others saw the US as their saviour. Americans saw the nonsensical loss of life and vowed to gain revenge. Whether that revenge was justly exacted remains a point of disagreement with many.
What we can all agree on is that we live in a different world because of 9/11. “The war on terror” became a new phrase, symbolic in different ways for different people. In a way that not even the Cold War could, this new era has caused us to live on the edge of our seats.
So what is a Christ-follower to do , all these years later?
Pray for peace. Work for peace. Don’t be afraid of those who may think, act, or dress differently than we do – but don’t be afraid to disagree with them, either. Reclaim the old definition of tolerance: make allowance for other people to be wrong. But don’t hate them, or fear them, for it. Learn from others, and pray for them. For when we all rally around the Prince of Peace, there will be peace.
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Ephesians 4.2-3, NLT).