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Peace [12-5-21]

Do you ever feel hit hard by the grind of life? Sometimes things can be rough. Hardscrabble hardly does it justice. These past 20+ months, for many, have been sorrowful, stressful, fearful, and confusing. How does our Christmas faith speak to times like these?

Romans 15:13 gets right to the heart of the matter:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

This is a great bridge passage us taking us from last Sunday to today to next Sunday. Last Sunday, our theme was hope. Next Sunday our theme is joy. Today, our theme is peace. These are promises from God for our lives in troubling times.

Paul is saying that, in Jesus Christ, we have a lasting source for meaning in this life. Paul is saying that, as we trust in God, we will experience hope and peace and joy. No matter what happens in our lives, no amount of horribleness, can take away our hope and peace and joy. That's what Paul means when he says we will abound in these things.

The conversion of the apostle Paul happened on the road to Damascus. Damascus is a city in Syria. It has a rich history. Andrew Zimmern, of The Food Network, once did a culinary tour of Syria. It was a lovely program. That was before the most recent civil war. The country, and its people, have been devastated.

Here's an email from a pastor in Syria at the height of the devastation:

"I am here in my room sitting in the darkness because we now only receive one hour of electricity per day. It's around midnight. I'm waiting here with others in my building as we play hide and seek with death. As I write, another two mortars just fell on the building in front of us and another on the building to the right and another on the building the next street over. So far we've been spared. But are we next? When will it be our turn? Should I just stay in my bed so that I'll die in peace or should I go to the ground floor of the building so that I might be able to escape? But how long should I stay here? Should I try to sleep or is it better to stay awake for the moment when death comes riding in on one of those mortars? Wow! Just finally now hit us. Shaking this big building I'm living in. The windows pushed out violently. I can hear the horrifying screams from everywhere all around me. Yet except for that flash of light there are no lights. I can't even see what's going on. I can only hear it. I think I've decided it's better to stay in my room and await death. Another mortar just hit. I'm just going to be quiet."

It's embarrassing to admit I complained when gas prices hit about $3.50 per gallon.

Crisis and chaos are woven through the fabric of history. We saw it again, writ large, in Oxford, Michigan. We understand that. So what does it mean to say that Jesus brings hope, peace, and joy?

Later, in Luke 4:16-21, here's what Jesus, now an adult, said about his purpose:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as

was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus made it very clear that part of the purpose of his ministry was to help hurting people. As Isaiah describes him, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. And that peace is internal, emotional, spiritual and physical. Jesus rescues the perishing. He offers a way out of violence and strife. He brings a healthier way of living for families and communities. For followers of Jesus Christ, the peace he brings is real and tangible. As Paul promises in Philippians 4:7, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Do you remember what King Herod did when he learned of the birth of Jesus? As Matthew 2:16-18 reports:

Herod Kills the Children

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

That was absolute wickedness. It was the world into which Jesus was born.

And that's the world we live in to this very day.

At times, peace seems so far away. When I say chaos is just around the corner, I don't think I'm being fatalistic or cynical or negative. Come back next week, and we're going to hear a lot about joy and why we celebrate. We're going to look at the good and gracious ways in which God blesses our lives and the wonderful choices we make to bless other people's lives. That's real and true and good. But there are still problems in the margins of life…in the parentheses of life…even found in the footnotes of a life well-lived. Some of the time, a lot of the world is not at peace. A lot of the time, some of the world is not at peace. Never in the history of the human race has there been a time when all of the world has been at peace.

So what do we do? We sing about peace on earth. What can we do?

For most of us, on a world-wide scale, we neither possess the ability nor the drive to bring peace to troubled spots. Some people love to pontificate and decry and bloviate over situations they will never do anything about. That's human nature. But the big problems, generally speaking, are not our problems to solve. For most of us, we bring peace to our little corner of God's world. This is where He puts us and plants us and calls us to grow.

Think about all the places you go and live and breathe. Think of them as circles of influence. and then think about how those circles intersect, sort of like a Venn diagram. You're here…and you're here…and you travel in this circle…and you interact with others in this little sphere of influence. Think about all of them and the blessed connections you have. And then, think about Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Those are the places and that is the way in which you bring peace to your little corner of God's world. As the birth of a Savior has brought peace to your life, those are the ways in which you spread that peace around.

We care for our families. We care for our church. We care for our community. We care for our co-workers. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us. Here's something you might want to write down:


Finally, don't forget prayer. Never an afterthought, prayer is essential to

our work for peace. As Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.

Remember what we said earlier. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. No matter what conflict is inside you, or what fear that is terrorizing you, you can find peace in Jesus. Even in chaos, the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, is working in your life. Let him give you the gift of peace this Christmas.

Together, let's say:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

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