At Christmas, we see the word “peace” all around us.
Greeting cards, Christmas carols, and holiday movies all proclaim “peace on earth and goodwill to all” and we’re readily reminded of that warm feeling this season is meant to fill us with – a sense of comfort, cheer, and goodwill toward others.
However, the reality of our lives is often at odds with this image. If we lift our heads from the festive trimmings around us and take a cold hard look – peace and comfort may be the last thing we can seem to find right now!
On this second Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of peace, and as we do so, we might be wondering – is peace anything more than just a nice idea?
A Renewed Vision of Peace:
One glimpse at the news will remind us just how difficult these last few years have been and how very weary our world is. We’ve all faced ongoing conflict in our communities, discord in our own lives and relationships, and crisis fatigue from global events – more than ever, we are longing for peace.
I feel this longing when news breaks about yet another crisis. I feel it when scrolling through social media, which seems to temporarily soothe an underlying anxiety that I can’t quite put words to. I see it when I find myself living in the economy of, “If only this could happen,” or “If just this one thing changed,” things would be okay.
My heart tells me that peace is something that always feels a little bit out of my, and the world’s, reach. It’s something that can only happen when some hard circumstances are taken away, or when something good comes to pass.
But John 14 tells me that peace is something I actually already have…it’s something that was given to me and won for me long, long ago.
Contrary to what my heart tends to believe, peace is not the absence of strife or suffering – it’s the presence of Jesus.
Peace is everything Jesus accomplished for us in his coming, living, dying, and rising for us. And it’s Jesus that brings the wholeness and restoration that we long for.
But if this is true – why don’t we feel a sense of peace?
I think there are two things at play here. One is that what I know to be true theologically struggles to sink its roots into the place my heart lives day in and day out. I settle for artificial versions of peace or look in all of the wrong places for it.
And secondly, like this Advent season of sitting in darkness and waiting for the light to come, we live in between the reign of peace ushered in by the baby in Bethlehem, and the final realization of peace in full, in the renewing of all things.
Is it possible that our felt lack of peace — is actually a means through which God is inviting us, today, to feast on him in deeper ways…
AND to enter into becoming agents of the peace he is actively working to bring about?
Peace Within: An Invitation to Feast
Why does my heart feel more noisy than peaceful?
Why is it such a struggle to access the peace that is mine in Jesus?
It turns out that our hearts are constantly places of war.
The Spirit is in constant conflict with our flesh. And my flesh cries out for the most immediate and easily accessible way of attaining peace…
I falsely believe peace can be attained through managing my own reputation, gaining the approval of colleagues, pleasing the people in my life, or even just achieving momentary comfort. Instead of coming to the feast of God’s peace, I settle for the scraps I can most easily find.
If you’re like me, you’re prone to looking for peace in all of the wrong places. Even though the behavior might look different, the heart dynamics are the same.
Understanding what your heart runs to for peace can be a pathway to receiving those things, in far richer form, from Jesus instead.
But it’s more than accessing what is mine in Christ…it is Christ himself. He is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).
What would it look like, when my heart feels troubled by the current news cycle, the hard work situations, the fear of the unknown, rather than self-soothe through scrolling, to run to Peace himself?
For me, that looks like fighting to believe that in Christ, I actually have, in perfect form, a secure reputation, the approval of God himself, permanent belonging in the family of God, and a shepherd who doesn’t let one hair fall from my head.
It looks like noticing the ways I am scrambling for peace, naming the deeper things my heart is longing for, and in faith, asking Jesus to meet me in that deep need.
When I can notice that my mind is rehearsing, over and over again, something I said in a meeting, wondering if it changed how people viewed me, I can name the longing for approval and acceptance that runs deep, and feast on the truth of the approval I have in Christ.
When I can be a little more mindful of why I am scrolling Instagram without thought, I can name and bring to Jesus the events of the day that have made me anxious, and let him meet me there.
Our deepest longing is peace with God. Living out of this peace radically influences every other kind of peace in our lives.
Peace With Others: An Invitation to Take Part in God’s Shalom
But, even if we were all able to perfectly access God’s perfect peace, I think there would still be a sense we couldn’t quite shake, that all is not well.
As we practice experiencing the peace of Jesus’s presence, we’re also invited into becoming agents of that peace to a weary world – to usher in the shalom that our world, and our hearts, are groaning for.
It is precisely because we rest in the peace of knowing our reputation, our identity, our future is held secure by Christ, that we can enter into the work of extending that peace to others.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that one of the ways the world identifies us as God’s children is through being peacemakers.
It is one of the ways we “image” Jesus to the world.
It’s tempting for me to see conflict, disagreements, and tensions with others as a hindrance in my life.
But what if engaging these conflicts with gospel hope and fighting for reconciliation, is actually part of our calling as God’s children, and a part of how we image peace in this Advent season?
In 2 Corinthians 5:16-20, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about their calling to participate in the work of reconciliation:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Christ was the first and ultimate Peacemaker, reconciling us to God through the greatest conflict of all time.
We are called to engage in conflict constructively and with kingdom hope because that is actually a way that we participate in the footsteps of our older brother Jesus – who brought restoration through the gospel.
And yet, when it comes to conflict, our hearts often settle for far less.
Left to our own devices, we operate out of self-preservation rather than love for our brothers and sisters. We either attack, out of protection of self, or we settle for a fake peace that falls short of the kind of shalom our hearts were made for.
The difference between destructive and constructive conflict is what we would do naturally, and what we would do (and can only do) by grace.
Healthy, constructive peacemaking for the glory of God, cannot actually be done apart from God. Seeing it for what it is – as a 100% supernatural way of life – can help us normalize and name how hard it is.
Is it hard? Sure. It runs opposite to every bone in our body that wants to protect the self first.
It runs counter to every action our heart wants to take when someone has wronged us.
But it was never meant to be done apart from real-time help from God himself.
This means we can take relational risks. We can look hard at our own sin and invite insight into its impact without being destroyed by it.
We can repent without shame. We can say hard things to those we love. We can reach out first, ask for forgiveness and offer understanding.
Because we are actually not alone, and we’re not poor. We’ve been given Christ himself.
What does peacemaking look like? It looks like:
- Dying to oneself and love with a costly love.
- Moving out of a place of self-protection and toward the other person.
- Prizing the other person’s good, even at the expense of your own comfort or what you feel rightfully owed.
- Imaging God’s reconciliation of himself to us through our reconciliation to those who may have hurt us.
- Expecting God to work his redemption in you and through you as you engage in it.
The goal in the ultimate conflict of the gospel was to win you and me, to bring glory to the Father, and to usher in that final and lasting Peace.
Every day, we are invited to echo and mirror that peace to the world through our peacemaking with one another.
A Prayer for Advent:
Prince of Peace, reveal yourself to us today. We long for peace in our lives, our homes, our church, our work, and the whole world.
Help us to slow down, see your invitation to feast, and seek out the peace only you provide.
We thank you that we are not alone in even our deepest conflicts and that you have provided all the resources we need to boldly move outward in love and engage in everyday peacemaking, for your glory. Amen.
This blog post is part of Renewal for Advent – a five-part Advent devotional series, centered on asking Jesus to renew our Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love:
Renewing Our Hope (by Rev. Scotty Smith)
Renewing Our Peace (by Lindsay Kimball)
Renewing Our Joy (by Dr. Robert Kim)
Renewing Our Love (by Piper Fordham)
Catch up on the whole series at: serge.org/renewal-for-advent