Good morning, church. On this second week of advent, it seems particularly appropriate to say, grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. During this season of advent, we wait together as a church, not for a new year, but for a new world—for the second coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, when he will make all things new, and we remember the time when the people of God waited for the incarnation of Jesus, our God, in this world.
Today, we speak of peace—the peace of Christ—please go with me to Matthew, chapter 2.
“Peace on earth, and goodwill toward men,” the angel said when Jesus was born. Peace on earth is something you hear around this time of year, it’s a well-wish, like Merry Christmas. But it wasn’t a well-wish when the angel said it. The angel was declaring something else. The angel was declaring in power the victory of peace on the earth. The angel is saying, “Peace has come,” the peace of Christ, where everyone is whole and restored, society is restored, and everything sad comes untrue. With the birth of Christ, peace broke through on earth. And when our Lord returns, that peace will reign. Until then, we are in-between: his peace is already here, in every place the real presence of Christ is to be found, but also yet-to-come. We watch and wait for peace. We long for it, and by the grace of God, we participate in his peace.
The peace the angel declared that day was not optimistic. The angel was not hoping everything would just kind of work out and next year might be better than this year. The peace the angel declared was unshakably founded in the advent of Christ, and I’m telling you today that if you want to know peace in your life or in the world around you, that peace will have to be founded on faith in Christ and participation in his work, nature, and kingdom.
In the passages we are about to read, you’ll notice a contrast between the peace the angel declared and everything happening around the birth of Christ. In this world, not everything is as it should be. We are not at peace. The earth in Jesus’ day did not know peace on earth, because the peace of Christ, the peace the angel declared, the peace we celebrate throughout advent, stands in bright contrast to a dark world. The peace on earth does not come from us. We don’t create it, and it’s not within us. Peace on earth is only found in Christ.
Read with me in the book of Matthew, chapter 2, starting in v.1. [Matthew 2:1-18] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord God, Father, who has written the story of our world; Holy Spirit who waits with us; Jesus Christ who left his throne; please show us your truth in your word this morning, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
The passage we just read is in a period of history known as the Pax Romana, which means “the peace of Rome;” after decades of war and conquering, the emperors declared that they had brought peace to the earth, because the earth was subdued. But what happens in this passage is not peace; at least it’s not the peace of Christ, the peace of everything as it should be. This world means something else when it uses the word peace. This is important to know: The peace of Rome, the peace of this world, is not the peace of Christ. We’ve always had a choice—you have a choice today—or which peace to pursue, of which peace to work toward in our community. The peace of this world, or the peace of Christ. Ask yourself which do you choose, not just mentally, but day by day, actually, which do you tend to choose?
Herod slaughters children, creates refugees, all to keep his throne and his power, and the emperors look and say “this is peace on earth.” The peace of this world is actually closer to the biblical idea of comfort than it is to peace. Herod, the emperors, the Sanhedron don’t have peace; they’ve grown comfortable. The peace of this world seeks to maintain the status quo, because it does not strive for the peace yet-to-come, the peace we wait and long for during advent. That kind of peace is only found in Christ.
First, this morning, I want you to see: the peace of Christ is able to restore you. The peace of Christ is able to restore you. The peace of Christ is able to make you as you should be.
Don’t settle for the peace of this world in your life, the peace of everything as it is. We are so easily pleased with comfort, the peace of the world, that we’ve forgotten to strive for the peace yet-to-come, the peace of everything as it should be. We only pursue comfort because we think peace is unattainable, but it’s not. Peace is what God is offering to you right now. Real peace, not the peace of this world. I know it sounds unbelievable and impossible—it was unbelievable and impossible in Jesus’ day, too—but the angel declares, “peace on earth,” regardless, and we need to believe him. Because Christ is come, we are able to be made whole, restored back to the people we were created to be. The peace of Christ puts things back to rights, not just back to normal. It seeps into every aspect of our being, into every conversation, every relationship, every act.
The peace of Christ in our lives is already here, and it is yet to come. I am not entirely as I should be. And the people in this church are not as they should be. Advent reminds us that there is still a lot about us that is broken, so we wait. But I know that Christ has begun a good work in each of us, and I know he will be faithful to complete it, so I wait and I hope for him to make me whole, even as I see glimpses of his work in my life now.
I would invite you into that same peace in your life. It sounds unbelievable and impossible that Christ would be able to change you, to make you whole, but he is able. And I want to be clear, the peace of Christ is not inner peace. The peace of Christ in your life is a restoration of your very person. He restores you to your purpose, and teaches you throughout your life how to take part in his nature and work, in joy and love. The peace of Christ is given to you, but it’s not for you to hold. Again, it’s not inner peace, not an emotion. It’s a peace that comes spilling out, like a cup overflowing, meant to change your actions, to guide your speech, to restore your relationships. The peace of Christ is given to you so that you might go and make peace in the world, starting with yourself, yes, but then flowing over into your families and friendships, into your community.
Peace in our lives starts small; it has to—there’s no other way but a prayer to God asking for forgiveness and for reconciliation. And reconciliation to God is able to grow to reconciliation with the people around us, with our friends and families, and into our societies across the lines that divide us.
We need the peace of Christ in our lives when we content ourselves with things as they are, and we never strive for change in our lives. We’ve stopped longing for anything more, and we’ve grown comfortable with ourselves. We need the peace of Christ in our homes, when we fight and bicker and hurt each other, when we grow apart from friends, family, and church, and begin living separate lives. We need the peace of Christ when we wander without purpose, to restore our personhood and make us whole, to spill over to the people around us, even into our communities.
Which is the second point I want to make this morning: the peace of Christ is able to restore you, but also, the peace of Christ is able to restore our communities. The peace of Christ is able to restore our communities.
You see, because the angel doesn’t declare peace to you—the angel says “peace on earth.” Jesus’ peace is not just personal; it’s cultural, it’s societal as well. His peace is a kingdom breaking through, already here and also yet-to-come. We who are in Christ are citizens of that kingdom, and we are able, even now, to participate in God’s work of the kingdom come.
In our passage, an angel comes and tells Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt; they became refugees, because Herod is searching for Jesus, to destroy him. Herod was famously insecure, and when the wise men came to him claiming a new king had been born, it was the last thing he wanted to hear, so he sends soldiers out to kill all of the children in Israel of that age. This is the kind of peace this world offers. It’s very far from the peace of Christ.
The injustice, here, is easy to see. Herod is using his position of power to murder, and he’s not doing this in secret. Look at v.3. Who was troubled when the wise men declared the promised king had come? Was it just Herod? No, it was “all Jerusalem with him.” This probably isn’t referring to everyone in the city, but to those who had rule over Jerusalem, those who were in positions of power. Why are these people so troubled at God’s ordaining a new king over the people of Israel? They’re the leaders of Israel! Shouldn’t they rejoice to hear God has finally come to dwell among them?
But they had stopped longing for the peace of Christ to come in their lives or in their society. They were content, they were comfortable, with the peace of this world. Even as Christ was leaving his throne over all creation to save his people, the rulers of Israel clung to their small thrones, killing and cheating to keep them. They did all of this, the scriptures tell us later in the book, to keep the peace in Israel.
But the peace of Christ turns back injustice, and in the coming of Christ to earth the peace of Christ has come. Have you ever noticed how familiar the story of Jesus’ early life feels? He’s born in the promised land, but his father, Joseph, flees to Egypt, miraculously escaping the mass murder of children, only to be called out of Egypt, again to Israel. He’s baptized in the Jordan, passing through the waters, and then he wanders in the desert being tested for forty days, only to come out again to proclaim a new law on the mountain of the Lord. Do you see how it’s the story of the people of Israel, retold?
Matthew is trying to tell us, yes, Herod reigns over Israel through injustice; but there is a new kingdom of Israel come, and a new king, who left his throne willingly to die in behalf of his people. In this new kingdom, the religious leaders, pastors, are not rulers, but rather servants of the people, taught to wash the feet of the people given to them. Refugees, strangers, those who are lost are invited to be brothers and sisters in Christ; they’re welcomed into the kingdom while they are still enemies. This kingdom is eternal, while the others are passing away, even now. So, even though in this world we experience injustice, the peace of Christ is able to turn it back, to heal our world and make it whole.
What do you want our church community to be, a place of comfort or a place of peace? Because rarely do the two coincide. The work of peacemaking can be uncomfortable, like having an honest conversation with a person who has offended you, or making conversation with someone whose life experience is completely different from your own. Discovering doctrinal disagreement and still loving each other in Christ. Being vulnerable with someone about your real needs; helping people deal with their deep problems when all they want from you is a shallow fix; trying to make a friend when you’re afraid of rejection. None of that is comfortable, but all of it is involved in making peace, the kind of peace that is already here, and still yet-to-come.
What do you want our city to be? A place of comfort or a place of peace? Comfort is far easier. We can all retreat, after the service, into our segregated worlds and media echo-chambers and not come out again until next week. Peace would require following Christ into places of pain and need, crossing over the street to tend to the person who is bleeding and wounded at cost to ourselves. Peace also requires us to seek understanding of people who are not like us and having conversations which make us uncomfortable. Peace requires a confession that we have contributed to the brokenness of the world, even repentance of views that place us comfortably in a majority.
The peace of Christ is not comfortable, but it is good. It’s able to restore us, and restore our communities, lastly this: the peace of Christ is able to make everything sad come untrue. The peace of Christ is able to make everything sad come untrue.
Our passage in Matthew ends with a quotation from the book of Jeremiah, picturing the mothers of the sons of Israel weeping for their children who have been killed or carried off into exile, but in the book of Jeremiah, the very next line tells Rachel to dry her eyes, to stop weeping for her children. God tells her, “I will call your children back from the land of the enemy.” the Lord says, “There is hope for your future.”
Matthew quotes that passage in his gospel account to show that there is hope for peace in Christ even in the face of death and loss, even in the face of the worst of the world. When all seems lost, there is still hope in Christ that the world can be made whole again.
I want to close today by imagining peace on earth in its fullness. What would peace on earth be?
Peace on earth, in its fullness, would mean the end of war and hunger, with everyone provided for. The peace of Christ would mean the end of disease, even this virus. But more than just war, hunger, and disease, the peace of Christ would turn back death itself, so humanity throughout history would be raised again, healthy and whole. Then judgement, everything done in the darkness brought into the light, those who do evil condemned, and those who are in Christ forgiven. Justice for every wrong done, truth told in the place of lies, and reconciliation for those who were torn apart by conflict and division.
And the streets are paved in gold, not because we will have everything we’ve ever wanted, but because you pave streets with things that don’t have any value. For food, there is a wedding feast in the palace to which everyone in the city has been invited. The king himself will serve at the table and wash the feet of the weary. It’s the year of jubilee, so all the captives are freed, all debts forgiven, everyone resting again, at long last, in the place prepared for them as an inheritance.
Political and religious arguments and divisions will give way to truth seen face-to-face. We will at long last be a family without any brokenness or division, one people of one mind and one spirit, adopted children of God the father, who loves and cares for us, providing for us. All those who have wandered will be welcomed back with weeping, and family robes, and signet rings—he’s been waiting and watching for you to come home. Christ will reign as king, and he is a king who would leave his throne, suffer the brokenness of the world, and die in the place of his people rather than be apart from them.
Evangelism will give way to worship with every knee bowed and tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, in spirit and in truth. Even creation, nature, will be restored, crops yielding fruit without any failure, the lion laying down with the lamb because both are content. We will labor without any futility, and ourselves enjoy the fruit of our labor, rejoicing together as a community with the varied contributions of each individual, and together we will go into the house of God where we will see him face-to-face and be unafraid, finally made strong enough to bear it, reconciled at last with our creator.
So you see why we, as Christians, spend so much time celebrating during the coldest, darkest days of the year. Because, maybe all we can see during this time of year is the darkness of the world, all we can feel is the absence of heat and light—just like sometimes we look at the world and all we can see is brokenness. But because Jesus was born, peace awaits. Don’t settle for this world. Wait, labor, and long for the next.
Pray with me.