25 December 2018

THE PEACE WE NEED


Merry Christmas to you! If you didn't plan to, or weren't able to make it to a gathered celebration of Christmas this year, here is a message that I shared at Georges River Life Church this year. So after all the food and festivities subside, the food coma lifts and you have a quiet moment in this holiday season, pause a moment and have a read.  May you know a lasting peace today and for the coming year.

Long before the birth of Jesus a coming saviour king is foretold by prophets and leaders for hundreds of years in remarkable detail, even down to specific times, locations and events. One key insight from a prophet named Isaiah 700 years before Jesus, describes the kind of saviour that would come. In Isaiah  chapter 9 he says "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. The government will be on his shoulders and he will be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace."

Isaiah’s next words were “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” - endless peace- now that sounds good. But no matter what era of history you care to choose, the search for peace is a never-ending pursuit because peace is always a passing experience.

Peace is hard to pin down in our lives and our world. Even the birth of Jesus was not in any way a peaceful time - a long uncomfortable journey, a sudden labour, the absence of accommodation, the barrenness of an outhouse, the odour of animals, an emperors murderous campaign, fleeing to Egypt. From the get go, the prince of peace was subject to the absence of peace like you and I.

Peace is fleeting, fragile, endangered experience. There seems to be a chaos, an anxiety a tension at every level society and life. From Brexit’s and impeachments and civil wars all the way down to our families and our lives. And whether you believe in God or not, your soul knows you are already seeking a peace you really long for. It may only be a whisper in our soul, a nagging sense of being unsatisfied, incomplete .. and yet the tantalising sense of hope that peace is still available, just around the corner…

I’d like to propose that the kind of peace we all need is not the kind of peace we all want. 

I think the kind of peace we generally want is simply the absence of something - anxiety, conflict or discomfort, hurry or trouble. And who wouldn’t want that! But I don’t know if being permanently anxiety free, conflict free, cancer free, care free, debt free, fat free, stress free is ever a realistic portrayal of being human. Is it?

Jesus says this on several occasions. Like in his sermon on the mount in Matthew 6.34 he says – "therefore don’t be full of anxiety about what tomorrow brings – each day has (peace sapping, anxiety generating) trouble of its own." And in John 16, before Jesus was crucified, he shares at length with his disciples what trouble will befall him and them - “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world.” If you are looking for certainty in life about anything – it’s that you’ll have trouble that will steal your peace. Merry Christmas!

It appears that wherever we are, trouble or anxiety is not far away because it’s not just around you in your circumstances, it is you! Like that comical sign that was erected on a congested Sydney street that read “you are not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic”. We encounter trouble and let’s be honest, we create trouble.

What I’m saying is that we humans are bombarded with peace-sapping situations and behaviours every day, in one form or another. So the peace we want is almost guaranteed to be fleeting or a tantalising tease – just out of reach. Like the moment of wonder and nostalgia I had as we finished decorating our live Christmas tree last week only to have our 2 cats descend on it and proceed to gorge themselves on the green grassy needles in order to bring on a good fur ball vomit. The sound of dry reaching Burmese on the Persian rug was not in my Christmas picture.

So I wonder if there is another kind of peace that we need? I suspect there is a clue in Jesus words back in Jn 16.33 I have told you these things (that you’ll be faced with extreme hardship) "so that in me you may have peace." I wonder if peace is not so much the absence of trouble but the presence of something, someone greater than our trouble. In me, you, may have peace. What if real peace is not a thing of human enterprise? What if peace is not made, but encountered in someone greater than us. Someone who can be with you in both the joys and victories of life and sorrow and defeats. Someone that doesn’t violate human freedom yet someone that will have the final word on all of this mess.

In me, you have peace. What if there is a peace that is available to you right now that has little to do with your circumstances? What if that peace is found when you find yourself in (friendship with) him? What if the kind of peace you need to pursue is a person who longs to overcome the world within you more than around you – because if he can change the world within you, you can change the world around you.

And what if it is available not because we managed to wrestle back every difficulty in life in our favour but because someone outside of us has entered into our mess and overcome the power, the finality of our mess. People thought they wanted a king to established a government of power… Jesus came to establish his government of peace in our hearts and to be our enduring peace.

That's the peace we need.

You might be thinking that’s all nice but how do I start experiencing this kind of peace? The stoics said if you want peace, don’t love anything at all – because everything you love you will eventually lose - they’d be great to go to a party with!  But St Augustine said peace rather is found in the correct ordering of what you love, and the first thing you should love is that which doesn’t change, that which you can’t lose. He said

“God alone is the place of peace that cannot be disturbed”

If you love anything more than God or live for anything more than God peace will be as sustainable as your capacity to hold onto those other loves. And to be honest we lose more sleep gaining and retaining our loves than we do experiencing the gratification of them. Like the person who loves owning that big boat but they never enjoy it because they are exhausted from having to work 70 hours a week to pay for debt they racked up to get it - let alone the stress to maintain it. And if for some reason it sinks so too will your peace in that moment.

See I’m sure there is another kind of peace we need. To be plain, peace found in Jesus – Prince of peace, God in our midst, God coming to us, God coming for us. Christmas reveals that in the midst of our trouble, the prince of peace will meet you right there – Jesus enters into the chaos, exchanging glory for rags, perfection for fragility and in our shoes – reveals both what peace looks like in a person and eventually would be our peace by surrendering his peace on a roman cross – so that you can permanently enjoy the gift of peace in and with God.

'Isn’t that too wonderful… and this Christmas our prayer is that you’ll see through any anxiety, striving, and trouble, your highs and lows. Because just at the right time, in the most unexpected way, one brilliant, cold starry night, God broke into this muddled world. True love came hurtling our way, slipping through a back entrance, in a place that we didn’t expect and hadn’t thought to look, offering us another foundation that can’t be so easily shaken, a peace that can’t be so quickly stolen. You know the peace you want. May you know the peace you actually need this year…