This is the final Sunday of Advent. There is one more week until Christmas, so I hope you are ready! If you’ve been with us throughout this Advent season, you’ve heard me say that the word Advent is a Latin term meaning “coming.” So these four weeks leading up to Christmas have been an opportunity for us to look forward with great expectation to the coming of Christ. And to get our hearts and minds on Christ, we’ve been on a journey exploring the four gifts delivered through His birth: hope, love, joy, and peace.
The star has been our guide. That Star of Bethlehem, which was briefly mentioned in Matthew’s account of the Christmas story, drew wise seekers from afar to the Savior thousands of years ago. It’s estimated that the wisemen traveled hundreds of miles, like 400 or more. Hundreds of miles that must have led them over rough routes and smooth ones, through easy passages and ones that appeared difficult with no way to cross. And they undoubtedly encountered fellow travelers and sat in the company of deceptive and powerful people like King Herod.
Through all the circumstances and surprises of their journey, the star never faltered or failed. It faithfully remained before them and pointed the way to Jesus. So together, we continue to look for the light today as we follow the star on a journey of peace.
When I think of peace, I am reminded of the well-known hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” The old song is loved by so many because of its message: “When peace like a river attendeth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say / It is well, it is well with my soul.”
The song portrays such strength and steadfast trust. But the song has become famous and admired even more for the story that’s behind the words. Horatio Spafford was a businessman in Chicago in 1873. After already losing one child to pneumonia, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him on a ship to Europe. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank, and all four of Spafford’s children died. He got a message from his wife that she had survived, and he left on the next available ship to go and meet her.
During his journey, near the place his daughters had died, Spafford penned the words to this song. The painful circumstances that he faced make the lyrics all the more powerful. The words were not written by someone who was enjoying an easy life, but instead by someone who was experiencing extremely deep heartache, but yet found peace—a deep, authentic peace.
Yet, when we think of peace, we often think of the absence of hardship, violence, and fear. But as the hymn so beautifully captures, the journey of peace is not immune from those things. In fact, they are central to the story. On this journey, we learn that peace is not the absence of trouble, but rather the presence of God.
This journey of peace is certainly an appropriate journey for our world today. Much like the ancient Roman world must have felt during that first Christmas, our world seems to be full of violence, war, hurt and uncertainty. And the pressures of our daily lives bombard us at an unparalleled pace.
Whatever pain are you facing this season, whatever struggles are weighing you down, whatever anxiety and stress are stirring up chaos in your life, maybe the pressures and problems are external; maybe they are internal battles. But whatever they are, we all know this, we and our world are in desperate need of peace! And I want to assure you today that you and me can actually have real peace. We can have peace because the Prince of Peace walked this earth and understands. He has come, He is still present, and His peace is still available to us today in the midst of our struggles. So let’s talk about…
- Peace in the Midst of Struggles
How do you picture the night Jesus was born? So many images and songs focus on a picture of “silent night”—a peaceful moment when all was calm and bright. But if such a moment occurred on that first Christmas, it was probably a very brief moment. Mary gave birth in an animal shelter. The city of Bethlehem was overflowing with hordes of people who had arrived after many dusty miles on rough, dangerous roads by foot. Every inn and place to stay was full, she was nine months pregnant so they were the last ones to get there, so she ends up giving birth in a barn. Then, that same night that the baby was born, visitors started arriving to visit the new baby within just hours of His unsanitized birth. And all the while, King Herod was in angry pursuit.
Yet in all of this, a company of angels come rejoicing, worshiping, and assuring everyone with a message of peace. Their message:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’.
There was noise and hurt and pain, struggle and fear that first Christmas. And yet there was great joy and deep peace of the highest order. Our journey of peace this season is not one separated from the realities of life. Instead, it’s a journey of peace in the midst of life with all its noise and chaos.
We have one more week till Christmas, let’s acknowledge the fact that our lives are far from peaceful and the eternal peace promised at Christ’s second coming is still not realized.
But let us also acknowledge that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
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, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.
Let those words sink in. Jesus brings peace right into the center of our hurt and frantic striving, just like He did that first Christmas. He brings the power to cease the noise, calm the storm, and overwhelm our hearts with His restorative sense of perfect peace. He is indeed the Prince of Peace.
- Prince of Peace
The prophet Isaiah’s words reveal something very important about peace. Peace is not just a feeling or a state of being. It’s a person. Throughout Jesus’ life and teachings, we see that peace comes from the person of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit—in other words God’s presence with us. By sending His Son, God sent peace into the world. When we abide with Him, we abide with peace. And as we abide with peace, we learn to trust God with the unpeaceful parts of our lives, and then we find ourselves transformed within.
In the midst of all that was happening that first Christmas, we are told that…
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
On the surface, Mary’s life had not become more peaceful. If anything, things got even crazier with her miraculous pregnancy and the birth of a new baby. But Mary was learning to trust the One who was in control. When we can surrender our control—stop worrying, stop planning, stop striving— when we can surrender our control to the Prince of Peace, we can find rest in Him. The inner and outer chaos, anxiety, noise, and busyness of life may not change, but we can experience peace because we trust the One who is in control.
Think about the psalmist’s words:
Be still, and know that I am God.
“Be still and know that I am the One in control.” Such stillness can be a precious commodity in this busy holiday season, but even a short pause can allow us to breathe and connect with Jesus.
That may mean pausing, even briefly, at the start of your day to read the guiding words of Scripture and to converse with God to align your day. But it may also mean pausing during your workday or in the middle of the shopping mall to breathe deeply and repeat some words from the Bible to get realigned. They could be as simple as, “Peace; be still,” Jesus’ words found in Mark 4:39 when he rebuked the wind and sea. “Peace, be still.” Let those words wash over your troubled or hurried mind, and allow them to tune your attention to the source of our peace, Jesus.
- Peace for the World
Now, Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, and we can abide in Him and experience peace in our souls, but we know that peace doesn’t always come to the world around us. As we look around our world and read the daily news, we realize how desperate our world is for peace. Countries are at war. Refugees are far from home. Our neighbors are hurting. There is violence in our schools. There is anger in our families.
We continue to live in the place of tension between the past, present, and future—that place in a broken world still churning and reeling until God completes His restoration. Against that setting, our path may not look much like a journey of peace even as we look toward and near Christmas. Yet Jesus has brought peace to the world with His first arrival, and He continues to fill us with peace through His Spirit, but it is not until He comes again that our world will experience complete and perfect peace.
And in this world right now, as it is, is where the peace we experience can shine the brightest—because it doesn’t always make sense against the surrounding circumstances. The Bible tells us God’s peace is beyond understanding, and yet we are encouraged to draw close to God and to rely on Him for it.
Philippians 4:6–7 tells us,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
It doesn’t make sense—it exceeds our understanding because it is too good to be contained by the limits of this world. And its reality is even better. When we abide in the Prince of Peace and come to Him in prayer in every situation, His peace flows over us to settle and guard our hearts and minds.
Maybe this is the paradox of prayer. So often we come to God asking Him to change our circumstances or the ones around us. And sometimes He does, but more often than not instead of changing our circumstances, He changes us – our hearts and perspectives.
As we pour out our hearts and connect with Him, we are able to see a little more like He does, we’re able to trust more confidently in His ability to handle things no matter what, and we’re able to settle in the peace of His goodness and faithfulness—to tap into that sense that it’s all going to be okay no matter what, one way or another, because He’s got it and He’s holding us.
That sense of understanding, of calm and acceptance, acts like a guard around our hearts and minds. It’s the gift of peace that Jesus brought when He entered this earth, and it’s the gift of peace He promised when He left the earth.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” He told His disciples. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Those weren’t just empty words. They were rooted in reality—a deeper reality than the harsh conditions facing Jesus’ followers at the time and the ones He knew would come. Jesus knew there was a lot to fear. Just think about this, from the threats of Herod to His death by crucifixion, Jesus spent His whole life with people out to kill him.
And He knew there was a whole lot of suffering in store for His followers. Yet He told His disciples—and us—not to be afraid. Why? Because He knows the end of the story. He knows that no matter what troubles us and causes us fear right now, in the end, His peace will overcome all. And meanwhile, His peace will sustain us through our difficulties, which may be big right now, but are also temporary in the light of eternity.
As we journey toward Christmas, we can trust that promise for ourselves and for our world, and we can experience peace because we know the One we put our trust in. He is faithful and true. And His peace was prophesied long before His arrival:
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
In other words, if you trust in Jesus, He will keep you in perfect peace. The promise of Jesus’ first arrival has been fulfilled. The Prince of Peace has arrived. So we can trust Him that He’s going to fulfill all His other promises.
Where do you need to surrender and enter the journey of peace? Because remember, peace is not the absence of trouble, but rather the presence of God.
As we end our time together today, I want us to pause and just soak in Jesus’ words: Peace. Be still. I’m going to give you a few moments before I pray to just repeat those words, and let them wash over you. The Prince of Peace has come, and He is coming again. And in the meantime, He gives us this message: Peace. Be still.
Prayer: God, thank You that in the midst of all the chaos and pain of our lives, You invite us into Your peace. Help us to abide with the Prince of Peace and to rest in the peace that comes from trusting in You. Give us the courage to trust You with our whole lives and with the situations we see in the world around us. Please fill us with Your peace and keep us there. May Your peace continually restore us and draw us close to You. And in return, may we bring Your peace into the often-chaotic world around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Words: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864 Music: Tune, WALTHAM, by John Baptiste Calkin, 1872
American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem, “Christmas Bells,” at the height of the Civil War in 1863. Against his wishes, Longfellow’s son joined the war and was severely wounded. Shortly prior to his son’s being wounded, Longfellow’s wife had died in a fire. The text of this song tells of hearing the beauty of the bells ringing on Christmas Day, the meaning of those bells, but also the despair he was feeling. However, the songs ends with a final ringing of the bells that proclaims the message that God is still alive, and that right will prevail with peace on earth and good will to men.
Benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26)