Summary: God’s gift during Advent is the promise of a peaceful kingdom, even in the midst of pain and suffering
The prophet Isaiah lived during the time around 720 BC, which is a significant date in Hebrew history, because it marks the time of the fall of the ten Northern Tribes of Israel. The Assyrian Empire, which was the world’s only superpower at the time, overtakes these ten tribes. We find in the first ten chapters of Isaiah that Israel is facing judgment from God because of her unfaithfulness in serving the gods of the nations around her. Isaiah tells Israel that because of their disobedience they will be invaded by the Assyrians and carried into exile; and that’s exactly what happened. The dynasty of King David, which is now two hundred years old and to the south in Judah, is clearly in danger. With the Assyrian Empire on a roll, the question lingers of what will happen if they kill every member of the royal family, which is their custom when they take a country over? The lineage of King David is in danger of becoming extinct. What would this potential interruption to David’s royal line mean to the future of Israel? Would they ever know hope again? Would they ever experience peace again?
In the wake of what took place on September 11th, these same questions are being asked today. We’re not in danger of being overrun by a superpower, but we are in danger from a madman’s ill-advised acts of aggression. We have already been the victims of unannounced, fanatical acts of violence, and there’s no guarantee we won’t fall victim again. It’s truly amazing that we can turn the pages of this Holy Book to a time almost 2800 years ago and find parallels. The mode of violence may be different, but the outcome and uncertainty is not. The questions still apply: Will we ever know hope again? Will we ever experience peace again?
As we considered peace in our Bible study this past week, we focused on two kinds of peace. Peace that is represented by the absence of conflict or turmoil, acknowledging that this type of peace applies not only to nations, but also institutions and relationships. We also recognized spiritual peace- the inner tranquility that is a state of mind, a state of being, and how true peace comes from being able to nurture and develop this state of being, even in the midst of turmoil and conflict, which raises the question: How? How do we find peace?
There was a study done at Duke University on factors that relate to “peace.” I found their conclusions interesting, and I’d like for us to consider some of their findings.
One of the factors that leads to an increased sense of peace is refusing to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Willingness to accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune. This point of view is a doubled edge sword. On the one side is the notion “You gotta pull yourself up by your own boot straps. Life ain’t perfect. Deal with it and move on.” Some of our misfortune is the consequence of bad choices. We’ve put ourselves in situations that aren’t in our best interest, and the consequences of those choices have come home to roost. In those instances, we have to take responsibility and deal with it: speeding tickets; poor study habits; not being prepared at work. The truth is that we have to deal with life’s obstacles head on. We can’t run from them.
But not every situation is a result of bad choices, which means it can’t be dealt with that matter-of-factly. When I was putting together this past Wednesday’s prayer list and considered the painful situations people were dealing with, the response isn’t “Deal with it and move on.” You don’t tell the family of a 7 year-old who has cancer that they need to “Deal with it and move on.” You don’t tell a daughter whose father lost a battle with cancer to “Deal with it and move on.” You don’t tell a friend who’s lost their job to “Deal with it and move on.”
It’s true that we can’t swim in self-pity, because we’ll drown. We have to accept the fact that life isn’t fair and sorrow and misfortune will come our way, but we’ve also got to show compassion and allow ourselves time to grieve and regroup. When Christ is part of that process, that’s when we discover inner tranquility in the midst of uncertainty. James Russell Lowell said, “Sorrow and misfortune are like knives that either serve us or cut us as we grasp them by the blade or handle.”
Another factor in finding peace is to not waste time and energy fighting conditions you can’t change. Cooperate with life, instead of running from it. This too is a doubled-edge sword, because as Christians, many times we are called to stand in opposition to societal thought. We can’t give up, and just say, “That’s just the way it is,” no matter what society may be tolerating.