December 9, 2018

The Gift of Peace

Passage: Luke 3:1-6

The Gift of Peace

One of the greatest gifts that any human can hope for and that many in this world desperately long for is peace.  The history of the nations of this world and its peoples is filled with stories of conflict, turmoil and the full range of human emotions that have torn apart the earthly existence of many.


Even in our own lives – as peaceful and peaceable as they are – we can experience conflict and turmoil.  Perhaps there are trivial things that we find disturbing the peace we seek to create in our lives but no doubt there have been traumatic events as well that have disturbed us deeply.  Still others among us may have found our world shattered by some event and have found ourselves struggling to regain a sense of balance.


There are many mysteries to this life and perhaps even more mysteries when it comes to understanding the presence of God in this world and in our lives.  As people of faith we struggle to understand the continuing presence of evil, of war, of conflict and turmoil in a world not only created by God but redeemed by God.  We hold a firm belief that God is in control and yet we find ourselves living through situations that seem to belie that control. We see suffering. We experience disease and death and we wonder where how we can find peace.


The dilemma we find ourselves in today is the same dilemma faced by every generation throughout the history of the world.  Each generation has sought to understand how to live this life in a responsible manner with mutual respect and yet deal with those persons who seem bent on doing everything in their power to create havoc and destruction.  What response are we to make to the world in which we live and how are we to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others that will lead to peaceful resolutions and understanding.


Add faith in the God of the Holy Bible – the God of an ancient nation – and our dilemma seems to increase tenfold.  As believers in this God, we have committed ourselves to a way of life that seeks to promote peace, love and forgiveness not only for those who are fellow believers but for all people in this world.  But our commitment to this way of life is based on our belief, trust and faith in the One who shared this way of life with us.  We did not invent God, nor did we create his persona.  God came to us. God met us. God communicated with us. God shared with us a vision for life.  True, in the latter history of this world, God shared a vision for life beyond this life as well; but the primary vision that was shared was one that was given to guide us in the living of this life in this place – a vision that was designed to reveal to us the true meaning of our existence and give us insight into what the purpose of our creation was and is and will be.


For the people who have put their faith and trust in this God there is an expectation that this commitment of our lives will bear the intended results.  We expect to find ourselves hopeful, we expect to experience peace, we expect to be able to love and receive love and we expect that we will be filled with joy in our lives.  When life does not turn out as we expect, we are challenged to continue to believe in this God.


Somehow over the centuries that have elapsed since the coming of God in the person of Jesus, we have conditioned ourselves to believe that God will heal every disease and solve every conflict and turn every heart to peace and love in this time.   When the reality does not meet this conditioned expectation, we find ourselves at a loss to convince others and even ourselves that it is worth our time and effort to continue to be people of faith in this God.


We tend to forget what the people of God experienced in their lives and what was expected of them by God.  Perhaps it is because we believe that the coming of God in Jesus has changed everything for the people of God. In one respect everything has changed for now we have a hope and a promise that this life will not be the only life we can expect to live with the presence and companionship of God but in many other respects the life we live in this present time is no different from the life lived by those who existed before the coming of God in Jesus.


All those who encountered God and made the decision to be in a relationship with God and be obedient to this God did so of their own free will.  Their lives changed as a result of this new relationship, but they still made mistakes, they still experienced suffering and even death but they also experienced mercy, forgiveness, love and times of peace in their lives.  Yet they carried a sense that they were responsible for their own lives and their own decisions.  They could seek the wisdom and strength of God to help them and pray for deliverance from disease and turmoil, but their ultimate hope was not for a perfect life but a life that was lived with the constant support and companionship of God.


In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes: If it is for this life only that Christ has given us hope, we of all people are most to be pitied.  Paul wrote those words to give the people of the church in Corinth hope to believe that while they may find themselves in conflict and turmoil in this life, God in Christ had provided them with a hope not only for this life but for a life lived in eternity.  They were not to lose hope in God no matter what they faced in this life.


When Jesus spoke with those first disciples, he knew that they would experience many trials and much turmoil in their lives when he was physically gone from them.  I am sure that they were filled with terror as they contemplated what life would be like without his physical presence.  Yet it was only after the trial and crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that they could begin to appreciate the words he spoke as a parting gift to them:  Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give.  Set your troubled hearts at rest and banish your fears. (John 14:27)


God has given us a gift of peace.  But that gift is a peace such as the world cannot give.  It is not a peace sealed with documents of agreement; it is not a peace marked by the laying down of weapons of destruction; it is not a peace marked by the exchange of promises of good will; it is a peace that can be experienced within the times of war, within the times of oppression, within the times of conflict and turmoil, within the times of disease, suffering and death.  No one else can even begin to share this gift of peace for it is a peace that only God can give, a peace that is not felt just by body or mind.  It is a peace that goes to the very depth of our being and that can provide a calm amid our harried lives.


If you have ever found yourself in the eye of a storm and experienced the calm before the fury of the storm returns, you will have experienced physically the spiritual calm that God’s peace can bring.  That is the gift of peace that God brings to us through Jesus. That is the gift of peace that God longs for us to know during this life so that we may have hope in believing and continue to seek to follow this God for the rest of our lives.




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