(Inspired by Andy Wood's sermon at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard this morning.)
Peace is a common theme around Christmastime. We remember the angels’ words to the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth: “Peace on earth, good will to men.” But where is the peace? There is no peace in Afghanistan where we send our young men to fight and die; there is no peace for Christians in Indonesia and India who are harassed, terrorized and murdered by those who hate them; there is no peace in Somalia, rated as the worst country in the world because of anarchy and lawlessness. There is no peace in the jails of Columbia, no peace for children whose parents are addicts to drink and drugs; no peace for the mentally ill whose thoughts torment them with lies of failure, worthlessness and worse. There is no peace.
There was no peace in the days of American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Civil War was raging, his wife had died and his son had been seriously injured. He wrote a seven-verse poem which later was set to music and became a Christmas carolling favourite. The last two verses say:
And in despair I bowed my head;Jesus didn't promise peace for his day either. He told his disciples: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 NIV) The world has certainly experienced that in the last two thousand years.
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"
What is peace? In his sermon this morning, Andy Woods quoted one wag who described it as “the brief moment in history when everyone is loading their guns,” and then suggested that “peace is that something that fills the void with something good and right. It brings restored relationships.”
Do you have a void in your life? Is there a place of emptiness that nothing seems to fill? Thomas Merton, a twentieth-century leader of contemplative prayer, said, “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” That makes a lot of sense to me.
In John, Jesus said, “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.” (John 14:27 NIV) This is the source of any peace we hope to have.
Peace with God transcends all problems in our lives, whether they are broken relationships, lost jobs or persecution by enemies. Andy asked, “When was the craziest time you’ve felt peace?” When did you experience peace at a time when peace made no sense? For me, it was the morning of my son Mikael’s funeral. A flood of unexplainable joy overwhelmed me and filled me with all that is good and right.
Others this morning spoke of being at peace in a third-world city filled with election-day violence; of peace despite a son missing and unaccounted for in the middle of the night. “Shalom,” “Peace,” is still the greeting in Israel though the country experiences little peace. How can anyone know peace in such trying circumstances apart from God? Is it possible? I don’t think so.
How do you think God wants to bring peace to you today? Why not ask him?