“Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth!” — Luke 2:14
It’s amazing how many times peace is mentioned in the Bible. Concordances indicate the word is used 429 times in the King James Version of the Bible.
One Bible dictionary states, “In English, the word ‘peace’ conjures up a passive picture, one showing an absence of civil disturbance or hostilities, or a personality free from internal and external strife. The biblical concept of peace is larger than that and rests heavily on the Hebrew root which means ‘to be complete’ or ‘to be sound.’ The verb conveys both a dynamic and a static meaning, ‘to be complete or whole’ or ‘to live well.’ The noun had many nuances, but can be grouped into four categories: (1) shalom as wholeness of life or body (i.e., health); (2) shalom as right relationship or harmony between two parties or people, often established by a covenant and, when related to Yahweh, the covenant was renewed or maintained with a ‘peace offering’; (3) shalom as prosperity, success, or fulfillment and (4) shalom as victory over one’s enemies or absence of war. Shalom was also used in both greetings and farewells. It was meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it was spoken: ‘May your life be filled with health, prosperity, and victory.’ As an adjective, it expressed completeness and safety.”
In the Greek New Testament, the word for peace often refers to reconciliation between God and humanity, and humans one to another. This peace/reconciliation is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus, through whom we now have peace with God and each other. St. Paul makes this clear, proclaiming, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 RSV).
Interestingly, Paul goes on to affirm that this peace with God gives us joy, even in sufferings, because now, in Christ, as we are reconciled to the Father, suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 RSV).
What a blessing that, in and through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, we have not only peace, but because we have peace, our suffering, difficulty and trials in life can be transformed, leading to hope and joy!
Our reality, however, is that we often find that “peace” eludes us.
In this season of Advent, as we prepare for the song of the angels and the birth of the Prince of Peace, our lives can be anything but “peace-full.”
Indeed, our homes and even our congregations can be places largely devoid of the peace of God which is to surpass all human understanding (Philippians 4:7).
We know that families wrestle with chaos caused by dysfunction, addiction and the stress and strain of daily life. At the same time, it’s tragic to hear of congregations where tension, disagreement and struggle rule the day. Life in community, whether home or church, can be challenging! This is the nature of human life and the consequence of sin.
Still, the Christian disciple and follower of Jesus, saved by God’s grace, reconciled to God and neighbor, has been blessed with the “peace which passes all human understanding.” We are called to live in this gift. We are called to let peace reign in our hearts and homes and congregations. This, itself, is not easy.
Martin Luther knew what it was to suffer and struggle in life, agonizing over his sin, guilt and threat of condemnation. It was only through the Gospel witness in Holy Scripture that he finally experienced freedom, release and peace. And yet, Luther states in his Commentary on Galatians,
“To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.” Receiving and living in salvation by grace through faith is, itself, a challenge at times. This is why peace often eludes us.
In a sermon on Colossians 3:2-17, Luther says, “Paul admonishes us to let the peace of Christ have dominion in our hearts. The thought of the verse is: Though the peace of the world and the flesh abides not, though you must witness the forces of discord and disruption, nevertheless let your hearts have peace in Christ.”
The question, how does this happen? How do we “let the peace of Christ have dominion in our hearts?” How are we “convinced in our hearts.” Luther goes on in the sermon, affirming, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
In the Galatians commentary Luther states, “The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.”
Simply put, it is Holy Scripture, the proclamation of the Good News, that convinces us in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God. It is through dwelling in the Word of God that in spite of trial, tension and difficulty, the peace of God will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Indeed, this is why the Word became flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth! Now, the Word of God is near to us, on our lips and in our hearts (Romans 10:8). Now the Prince of Peace, the crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ, is God with us.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and enter into a new year, let us welcome the Word made flesh into our hearts, lives and congregations. Let us commit ourselves anew and afresh to having the Word of God always near to us, on our lips and in our hearts. Let us, in each home and congregation, read and meditate upon and pray over the words of Holy Scripture, that we may be, as Luther says, “convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone.”
That the peace of Christ may indeed be with us and in us. That the peace of Christ may shape our lives and relationships. That the song of the angels will be fulfilled, as we, together with them, give glory to God in the highest and receive the peace that is intended for all people on earth!
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you this Christmas and in the new year!