When you think of peace, perhaps you think of somewhere quiet and calm, far from noise and distraction. Perhaps you imagine time with loved ones and close friends.
For me, peace is being with my family. Having everyone in the house at Christmas time is a time of joy and peace for me.
Maybe, though, your mental picture of peace is a little more detailed. Maybe you can’t help but hope for restored personal health or the restored health of a loved one. Maybe more financial security, a better family dynamic, or less violence in your community immediately come to mind.
I get it. Peace can often elude us.
But regardless of what you imagine or why, most of us can agree on this: our lives are not always peaceful, and we think we know why.
Around Christmas, ‘peace on earth,’ as the old song goes, can feel so close and yet so far from each of us. It’s as if all God had to do was move this one small obstacle or send a little bit of help and all would be well in our world.
And yet, he sent Jesus. Into this messy place with all its problems, God sent a baby.
The Prince of Peace?
Interestingly enough, amidst their own sea of questions and skepticism, the Israelite prophets of old assumed that their coming Messiah would bring peace. The prophet Isaiah foretold Christ’s coming thousands of years before the Incarnation ever took place—long before the days of Mary, Joseph, or those lowly shepherds. He writes in Isaiah 9:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Now, those verses claim quite a list of good things.
As we are in the midst of a government shutdown, I don’t think the “government is on his shoulders.” And, not far from where Jesus was born, war in Syria wages on and “the greatness of his government” does not seem to be bring peace of which there “will be no end” right now.
Yes, this is where Jesus was born. He came into the backwaters of the Roman Empire in a midst of a chaotic region and a chaotic time. And, he did not do what people expected.
He did not throw off the yoke of the Romans, nor exercise overt political power. He did not bring peace to all the wars that waged then. His peace wasn’t going to be brought on by political power, all-out war, or a land grabbing campaign.
This is the key for us to understand peace today.
Peace Beyond Circumstances
You see, Jesus didn’t promise us a peace centered around our circumstances.
This is confusing. It was confusing 2,000 years ago, and it is confusing now.
You see, the people of Israel expected an overt and overthrowing kingdom—many expected the Messiah to bring them power, prestige, and political influence instead of the oppression they’d experienced living as a religious minority.
But the peace the people longed for—peace brought on by worldly solutions to worldly problems—was not what Jesus had come to bring them.
At least not yet.
Last week, I took my colleagues to see Hamilton. I’ve been obsessed with the music for a while, but it was especially fun to go with twenty colleagues from Wheaton.
I wanted to tell them all the backstory, but I resisted the temptation (to be fair, my daughters insisted). But, if they had let me, I would have drawn attention to one particular line.
It’s after the British have surrender at Yorktown. John Laurens, who fought for abolition and more, wonders aloud, “Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom.”
George Washington responds, in a sudden and music-free moment,
And so it is with us. And we are reminded of this at Christmas time.
But, we can still have peace in that time of “Not yet.” (And we can work to make the world align more with what Jesus wants it to be.)
Theologians say that we live in the “already, but not yet.” As today we celebrate the First Advent, we are still aware that we await the Second.
Peace in the Not Yet
When talking to his disciples, Jesus illustrates this point. The disciples are worried about what is going to happen once Jesus departs and are peppering him with questions as a result of these anxieties. But towards the end of John 14, Jesus quiets the disciples fears with this reassurance: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Peace is real and can be lived by the believer, but it still means acknowledging the “not yet.”
The first advent was the inauguration. The second advent will be the consummation—the completion of many things, including perfect peace. The Kingdom is already here because of the first advent, but will fully come at the second.
Between these advents, we don’t need more people telling us ‘everything is going to be ok’ or promising us good fortune with a bigger and better new year to come. What we need is Jesus and the circumstance-transcending peace that only he can bring.
In the midst of, well, peace-less circumstances, we can still have real peace, the kind we really crave. That kind of peace comes through Christ and his work on our behalf. It allows us to lay our biggest problems and fears at his feet trusting that though they might remain unchanged, he is always faithful.
Peace Between the Advents
Let me end with a passage from Romans. Paul writes, quoting Isaiah:
And again, Isaiah says, "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope." May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:12-13).
So, this part has happened and you may have sung about it last night in your Christmas Eve services:
"The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope."
But, and here is the key, this part can happen in your life and mine:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him”
We live between two advents, and everything is not yet right. Yet, we can still have joy and peace in Him, even as we work to make the world more aligned with the values of that Kingdom that is already but not yet.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
Gabriella Siefert serves as an Editorial Assistant for The Exchange. She’s a senior at Wheaton College studying Political Science, Spanish, and Biblical and Theological Studies. Outside of her work as a writer and communicator, Gabriella enjoys volunteering with Juvenile Justice Ministry.