Welcome to week two of Advent.
Advent is about preparation for and recognition of the birth of Christ.
Every year we get to these weeks before Christmas and Kelsey and Greg have the same conversation: What is Advent?
Kelsey got a book about Advent and has been reading it. She even got some candles (and decided to light them all at once). Isn’t this how the meaning of traditions often becomes personal? It often starts with what is “supposed to be” or how you assume everyone else does it, but then you add your own spin, your own meaning, your own personalizing to it.
As a kid, Greg had the tradition of presents under the tree, but what he really remembers from all those Christmas mornings is having to sit by the tree in anticipation of opening presents while his parents made their coffee.
The excitement, the smell and sound of the old coffee brewer running, the anticipation of his little brother, the fire burning in the fireplace. On reflection, it was never about the presents; it was about family being together.
Think about your own personalized holiday tradition. What was the added meaning of the new tradition?
Week two of Advent is all about peace. Peace can feel very aspirational, like the end of a long journey or something that is sought but maybe rarely discovered.
What are some ways people try to obtain peace?
Think about some ways people try and obtain peace.
Listening to melancholy music or white noise.
Having time in nature.
Taking steps to resolve conflict.
Going on vacation.
Is peace always circumstantial? What needs to be done if that is the case?
Is peace separate from circumstances? What needs to be done if that is the case?
What if peace is an internal choice rather than an external reality?
How does that change your perspective of peace?
The way we think about peace affects the way we pursue it.
How do one’s actions change if peace is something external to be achieved vs an internal process to engage in?
Peace is sometimes defined as freedom from disturbance; tranquility.
But what does it actually mean?
Let me bring three moments from the narrative of the birth of Jesus--moments of extreme external chaos.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
How was peace possible when life just didn’t make sense?
Joseph not being Jesus’ biological father.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
How was peace possible when trust was challenging?
Wisemen risking their lives to visit Jesus.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.]” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
How was peace possible when personal risk was at hand?
How is peace possible when life doesn’t offer it?
Paul lived a life that didn't seem to offer a lot of peace. But he seemed to have perspectives of peace.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I want to understand peace in the midst of a life that isn’t offering it up. I think the words of Isaiah help me.
For this is what the Lord says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
God’s extending of peace is as a mother comforts a child.
What does a mother’s comfort do in a moment of pain?
What is the peace that God offers?
I’ve spent most of my life thinking that peace is the absence of conflict. It’s the state of being when everything is still and serene and there’s no turmoil.
But this is not the peace God offers. I think peace definitely is found in those moments. But they’re special, rare moments that I don’t think we’re supposed to expect.
Life is full of chaos and turmoil and conflict and pain. I have always thought that, in order to pursue peace, I just have to get away from all of those things so that I could find peace.
But peace is not the absence of conflict. In fact, true peace is likely found in the midst of conflict and turmoil. Peace is the path we walk through the terrible times.
It’s easy for me to think that the opposite of peace is conflict. Or war. Or turmoil. I think those things are found when peace isn’t present. But it’s not any of these things. The opposite of peace is fear.
Fear is the root of all of these things that we might see in opposition to peace.
Think about them.
All of these things are rooted deeply in fear.
Think about your own fears.
What is the source of your fear?
Where does it come from?
How would things change if you didn’t have that fear?
Not all fears are bad. Being afraid of grizzly bears in the wild is smart. Being afraid of fire when my hand is inches from it is smart.
But it’s the overwhelming, irrational, incapacitating fears that really don’t do much for us. The fear that’s not based in logic or reasoning but is rooted in worry and anxiety.
How many of us struggle with worry, anxiety or fear? I struggle hard with it. Think about how your life would be different if you weren’t afraid of these kinds of things. How much more free would you be, and in how many different ways?
What is the impact of worry, anxiety and/or fear on your life?
What would the impact be if you weren’t overwhelmed by worry, anxiety or fear?
The people in the time of Jesus and his disciples understood fear. Under Roman rule for some time, they knew violence. With their own history, they saw many examples of fear or things that could bring fear.
But they also understood peace. They saw peace take root in some of the most intense circumstances. Scripture in the Old Testament is full of the concept of peace. But it could have been hard to hold onto that peace in the middle of cultural and political turmoil. What is the peace people in this time would have been looking for?
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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 with God so that we can extend peace to others.
The purpose of peace isn’t so that I can feel calm and conflict-free all the time.
Peace like a river.
A river is full of power and conflict and waves and crashings.Jesus brought about peace in the most unexpected of ways. And He didn’t bring about peace in the most expected of ways.
Instead of avoiding turmoil or pain, He walked into them and was at peace because He chose peace.
There's a big difference between keeping peace and making peace.
The former is often reactive and the latter is usually proactive.
Keeping the peace usually comes by way of avoiding conflict or ignoring problems.
Making peace happens by stepping into conflict and problems and choosing it.
How do you actually let go of things like worry or anxiety or fear in order to let peace rule?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.
By understanding God’s love and allowing it to drive fear out. By letting the peace of Jesus rule in your hearts. This is a process. It’s not momentary. It’s internal. It leads to potential external peace, but it’s there even when the external is anything but peaceful.
Jesus in a boat with his disciples shows this picture.
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”
As a baby, Jesus came to fulfill Old Testament prophecy as the Prince of Peace. Even in the middle of a storm Jesus slept, and then when awoken, He didn’t run away from the storm but became a peacemaker. And when He had every right to act in fear, anger, or retribution, He let Himself die on a cross so that peace could be made between us and God. Then after His resurrection, Jesus came back to his disciples to reinforce that He was giving them peace and calling them to go out and choose it also.
Us. He calls us to be peacemakers. Not to avoid conflict. But to trust that God has made peace with us and that he calls us to go into chaos and pain and confusion and choose peace.
What's one step you can take towards being more of a peacemaker in your world?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38
Share a pregnancy story. (personal, spouse, sibling, relative)
How would you respond if you were Mary or Joseph and received the news?
How did Mary and Joseph seem to respond? Why do you think they responded this way?
How is peace in the midst of the unknown possible?
Why is peace in the midst of the unknown valuable?
How are you challenged, focused, encouraged and/or frustrated by Mary and Joseph's peace in this moment of so many unknowns?
Bible Reading Plan