Lasting Peace

When we talk about the miracle of Christmas, the gifts His birth provided for us are without end, and perhaps the one I hold most dear these days is peace. There’s so little of it right now. The world has been wracked with chaos and turmoil since flaming cherubim took their places at the entrance to the Garden. The one place where peace reigned was off limits, and now humanity slogs about looking for it in places and people that were not designed for that purpose.

I’m reminded of Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV):

“But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.”

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him. This phrase is not new to me, having grown up in the church. But in reading it the other day, the words planted themselves deeper, and I haven’t been able to shake them.

The word “chastisement” is used throughout the Bible, often in terms of a father chastising or correcting his children. But in this verse, the word is used to reflect the vindictive nature of the cross in pursuit of justice. Meaning: we messed up, and someone had to pay. Of course, we all know that the Prince of Peace came and purchased our peace through His death, but what does that look like in daily life? How does that help us now when everything is such a mess, when the headlines report nothing but the consequences of a culture that has gone completely off the rails?

For the last two years I have found myself in mourning, for lack of a better term. I’ve mourned the state of my country, the racial tension, the pandemic and everything surrounding it, the redefining of marriage, and the list goes on. I found myself angry and disillusioned, thinking if we could just get the right people in office at all levels of government, things would improve.

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:14-18 (ESV)

Before Christ came, the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles was….tense. It was all about the Law, and as far as the Jews were concerned, the Gentiles were unclean, unholy, and without hope of turning that around. The Jews were a haughty bunch, and despite having the Law directly given to them by God, they were equally without hope.

When Christ came, He replaced the object of their feuding, that is the Law, with Himself and declared them equal and fully ale to come to Him. In essence, Jesus came to bring peace between us and Him and us and everyone else.

The problem is that as believers, we forget that God is our peace and has called us to live in peace with all men so much as it is within our power to do so. In the same way that we walk through this life with the power that raised Jesus from the dead, so too are walking around with Jesus-sized peace. Often, instead of being instruments of that peace, we jump into the fray wearing the same armor of defensiveness, anger, hatred, frustration, worry as everyone else, adding nothing but more noise to an already-deafening culture.

My desire this Christmas is to meditate on the reality of what Christ did for me and to let it permeate every corner of my soul because without a deep understanding of this miracle, there can be no meaningful outpouring of it to others .

Back to the question: what does peace look like in everyday life? It’s a soft answer when verbally attacked. It’s a holding of the tongue, praying blessing over our enemies, avoiding knee-jerk reactions, speaking up when warranted but always in love. It’s all the behaviors that are not natural inclinations but possible if our minds are firmly fixed on Christ. Our gift to the world is the hope of lasting peace.


A Season of Advent

When I was about four or five years old, my mom bought my sister and me our first advent calendar. It featured a snowy scene with children playing, making snowmen, and sledding, drawn and tinted in soft shades and highlighted with white glitter. Every morning we woke up excited to see what surprise picture hid behind that day’s window.

At almost 52 years old, I still love a good advent calendar, and these days they’ve gotten more elaborate. I’m especially partial to the ones that hold samples of candy or coffee behind each door. But if you like perfume, tea, socks, or anything else, there’s a calendar for you.

The thing about advent calendars, besides opening the door to a fun surprise, is that they signal the beginning of the countdown to that one day we celebrate that changed everything. Jesus’ birth was also a countdown, a 33-year countdown to the day when the veil that separated us from God would be broken in two and we would receive full access to God. You know the veil I’m talking about; the one that measured seventy feet wide, thirty feet high, four inches thick, and according to Jewish tradition, took 300 priests to move it. The one that would be broken and replaced with Christ’s broken body so that the words of the writer of Hebrews would be true.:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heb. 4:16

Growing up in the Jewish tradition, the shepherds were acquainted with the story of the coming Messiah. Most likely, they weren’t assuming they’d be the ones to hear about it first. I imagine the scene like this: a group of shepherds, some sleeping (no doubt), others talking, others maybe chasing some sheep who managed to wander off from the group. Whatever their activity, they stopped when the night sky suddenly filled with a heavenly choir announcing the one thing they’d heard about their whole lives. After the initial shock and at the encouragement of the angels, they take off to find this Baby.

Upon entering the stable, they stop short, bumping into each other like a stack of dominoes. And they just stare. There He is. The promised Messiah. After hundreds of years of someone else entering the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, face shrouded because the mere reflection of God’s glory was too much to bear, that same God lay in front of them in human form, a tiny, vulnerable baby unable to care for Himself just like any other baby. Astonished, the incredible sight propelled the shepherds onto the streets to tell everyone what they had seen.

Usually when we get to the Christmas season, we call each other to shun the busyness and consumerist tendencies the season brings and replace them with intentional remembrance of the true meaning.

This year, like the last one, brings with it a new layer of grief and worry for many people. As people shop and prepare, I’m guessing it’s with one eye on the news and one engaged in the hunt for the year’s most popular toy or newest gadget. More than ever, we need a heavy dose of remembering and meditating on what exactly the birth of Christ means for us. At least I do.

This side of heaven there is no way to fully comprehend the depth of what the season represents, but we can ask for eyes to see, hearts to understand, and a craving for more of Him in a posture of worship and thankfulness.

It really is a miracle. No other religion in the world can claim that the object of their affection and worship loved them to the degree that God loves us. No one has ever done what Jesus did.

You’re invited to join me each week this month as I reflect on what the miracle of the Christmas season has meant for me. So, in the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Come and see what God has done.”