The Cantata will be performing here at Bethel at 3 o’clock today. We’ve been working on the songs we will be singing for about 2 months now. At the beginning of every practice we warm up our voices because talking all day is different than singing. (give example)
I remember when I was in a choir at another church. We would meet on Thursday nights to practice and we would also warm up. But that director would ask for our favorite hymns to warm up with. It didn’t matter to me. It could be 900 outside and I would always say “#239” (from the hymnal that church used). That was, and still is, my favorite hymn. It’s not that warm today so join with me in singing that now. That director finally quit using that technique for us to warm up.
Sleep in heavenly peace. But wait a minute. What peace? Where is this peace we’re supposed to have?
Last week we focused on hope. Jesus brought hope to a hopeless world. Hope springs eternal because the one we hope in is eternal.
This morning we relit the candle of hope and then lit the candle of peace. Now, considering the state of affairs in our world today, we can rightly ask, “What peace”? Let me read some headlines from the papers this week.
Peace, it would seem, is a stranger to us. The Society of International Law, based in London, states that during the last 4,000 years there have been only 268 years of peace, only 7% of the time was there “peace”! In the last 3 centuries there have been 286 wars on the continent of Europe alone. 8000 peace treaties were made—and broken. During this period there have been 14,351 wars, large and small, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed.
Can anyone tell me what happened on this date in history? Just 22 years after WWI ended, the “war to end all wars”, our “peace” was shattered in the early morning attack on Pearl Harbor, and WWII was begun. Then came the Korean “conflict”. Followed by the Vietnam War. Grenada. Desert Storm. The Falkland Islands. Kosovo. And now Al-Qaeda.
I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone here that we live in a world of turmoil, right? All you have to do is watch the news, read the paper to see that things are going wrong. People are fighting all over the world. They’re fighting in Bosnia. They’re fighting in Ireland. They’re fighting in South Africa. They’re fighting in the Middle East. Russia has serious internal conflict. There is fighting over property, rights, a piece of ground.
Our age is characterized by an absence of peace and a presence of turmoil. So we ask ourselves "what happened to ‘peace on earth?’" Where is this peace that Jesus was supposed to be bringing?
Well, obviously, it wasn’t an end to wars or terrorism. At least not in this world. In Matthew 24:6 Jesus tells us that, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars…”. But we want to know about now. Where is the peace now? Can we find peace anywhere?
Well, let’s see. Do we find peace in a location away from turmoil? Over 20 years ago a retired couple, concerned about the threat of nuclear war, decided to carefully research the safest place on earth to which they could move and live. They studied and traveled, traveled and studied.
Finally they found THE PLACE. And on Christmas they sent their pastor a card from their new home – in the Falkland Islands – just prior to the war between Argentina and England in the early 1980’s! No, I don’t think we can find peace by running away from turmoil.
No, to find where the peace is, we first have to know WHAT peace is. What is peace? When the world thinks of peace, it defines it as what it isn’t. The dictionary describes it as “the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation”, and “a state of harmony among people or groups”, to name a few. Peace, according to the world, is the absence of turmoil. But, of course, it’s not that simple. Nothing ever is.
What is peace? Well, what KIND of peace are you looking for? Are we talking about relational peace, peaceful circumstances, peace of mind, the peace of a smooth trouble free life, inner peace?
A study was done some years ago around the subject of peace & contentment. One thing it showed is that self-centered, egotistical people scored lowest on any test that measured peace and contentment.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “The trouble with some self-made men is they worship their creator.” The message here is to believe in something bigger than yourself. Mmm, like maybe God, the God who sent peace to the world through his Son.
Jesus came as a baby and there was “peace on earth, goodwill toward men”. Yet, tragically, this peace doesn’t last long. Herod finds out and immediately orders the killing of all male children under the age of 2 around Bethlehem. So much for relational peace.
How about peaceful circumstances? Well, the entire area is under the thumb of the Romans, who weren’t exactly the nicest guys in the world. So there was oppression, crucifixions, battles with upstarts. Not very peaceful then. Not very peaceful now.
Let’s see. How about inner peace? Can we have inner peace in the midst of turmoil? Let me tell you a story and you can decide for yourself.
Long ago a man sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings arrived from far and wide. Finally the great day of revelation arrived.
The judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered. Tension grew. Only two pictures remained. As a judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd. A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.
The man with the vision uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Could this be peace? A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky ledge; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power. A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.
Can we have inner peace in the midst of turmoil? The good news is that, yes, we can. How do we achieve inner peace? Is it as one guy said, “My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of chips and a bag of M&M’s. I feel better already.” Nah, I don’t think that’s the answer.
Let’s think for a moment about the sort of peace that Jesus’ coming assures us of. First of all, Jesus’ coming brings us peace with God. We read in Romans 5 "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We can have inner peace because God gave us his Son. But to achieve inner peace, we must clear a hurdle. We must realize that even this peace is not the absence of turmoil; rather, it’s peace in the midst of turmoil. Because as long as we are in this world, we will live in and with turmoil.
So, can we, as followers of Jesus Christ, expect to find peace in our lives? Well, again that depends on what kind of peace you’re looking for. Relational peace? History shows us, probably not.
The peace of a smooth, trouble-free life? No.
Circumstances in life can change in an instant. Economies head south, companies scale back, and you lose your job. Your circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t. Your parents grow older, their health declines, and now you have to care for your mother or father. Your circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t. Annual physicals indicate good health, but out of nowhere cancer appears. Your circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t.
God could have imposed a peace on the world, the way the Romans did. He could have made it so swords rusted away before they were used. But instead he chose to send peace into the world through his Son. Jesus was born as a child, grew up, lived among us, and eventually died on a cross. If Jesus had to go through that to bring us peace, why do we think we can have it without some turmoil?
How about inner peace? Yes, because Jesus offers us peace, His peace. He says in John 14:27, “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.” There is a peace which Christ brings that passes all understanding. It’s a lasting peace that remains with us even when times are difficult. And it’s a real peace, a peace that will see our hearts being put at ease.
We can have inner peace in our hearts, even if everything in our lives and the world seems to be going crazy. Through prayer and faith in Christ, he can give us a peace so deep that nothing in this world can touch it.
Our faith and hope in Christ sets us free to live in peace even if the whole world is falling apart around us. Despite “wars and rumors of wars”, despite turmoil among families, despite terrorism, we can be content and undisturbed in our stormy surroundings.
If we accept what Jesus did for us and have faith in His power to give us a “peace that passes all understanding”, then we can put our hope in Jesus to help us to be at peace no matter what is going outside.
Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, God’s gift of 2000 years ago, brought, and continues to bring, peace. But not as we define it. Our peace does not consist in having a life or world free of turmoil, but rather in having a quiet heart in the midst of turmoil.