Advent Part 4
Peace – December 23, 2018
Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. This short season of the church calendar is not part of Christmas. It is the season before Christmas. And one of its primary purposes is to prepare our hearts for Christmas.
In this series, we have examined the traditional themes of Advent: hope, love, and joy. This morning, we’ll look at the fourth theme, peace.
Does anyone here like the sound of the word peace? Listen to these definitions from dictionary dot com:
- the non-warring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world
- a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations
- freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community
- freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, or anxiety
I love all those ideas, but two are really appealing to me:
- harmony between people
- freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, or anxiety
As we think of Advent as the season of anticipation, it’s good to recall the words of the prophet Isaiah, spoken 700 years before Jesus’ birth.
The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14).
For to us, a child is born, to us, a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this, (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Today, two days before we will celebrate Jesus’ birth, it’s also good to consider words from the apostles John and Paul:
- John recorded these words from Jesus himself, “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,” (John 14:27)
- Paul included these words in his letter to the church Philippi, “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,” (Philippians 4:6-7).
I see something interesting in Paul’s words. I’m willing to bet that you’ve noticed it in life—peace is usually preceded by anxiety (or distraction or annoyance). Those things trigger our desire for peace…our search for peace…our efforts for peace.
I think there’s a more important scriptural lesson and it’s the fact that ultimate peace doesn’t come from the absence of anxiety, distraction, or annoyance. It comes in the person of Jesus Christ and we can know such peace through a personal relationship with him.
Writing to the churches of Galatia, Paul listed peace as a fruit (or outcome) of God’s work in human lives. And note again that to the Philippians he wrote that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrase Philippians 4:6-7 in The Message, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
Let me tell a story that will help you see that ultimate peace isn’t dependent on the absence of anxiety, distraction, annoyance, turmoil, trouble or any other description we can use.
Horatio and Anna Spafford were part of the upper class in the booming city of Chicago in the 1860s and 70s. Horatio was a well-respected partner in a thriving firm and an expert in medical law. They were active in both abolitionist and temperance movements and supported the Union during the Civil War. They were close friends with evangelist D. L. Moody.
While theirs seemed to be a charmed life, it was not without anxiety, distraction, annoyance, turmoil, or trouble.
In early 1871, they lost their four-year-old son to scarlet fever. In October of that year, with the family still mourning the loss, the Great Chicago Fire broke out. Though legend says it was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, the official report states that “whether it originated from a spark blown from a chimney on that windy night, or was set on fire by human agency, we are unable to determine.”
After burning for three days, the fire destroyed more than three square miles of the city and left more than 100,000 people homeless. The north shore along Lake Michigan sustained heavy damage and this was problematic for the Spaffords because Horatio had invested heavily in the real estate of that area.
In 1873, Horatio decided the family would travel to Europe—first to France for vacation and then to England to meet up with their friend Moody who would be conducting a crusade there.
They were to schedule to sail from New York in November 1873. When it was time to depart, Horatio was summoned back to Chicago on urgent business. He sent Anna and his for daughters on and promised to join them as soon as he could.
The Spafford women were crossing the Atlantic on a luxury steamship. Four days into the journey, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel. 226 people died and only 27 survived—including Anna. Their daughters—11-year-old Annie, 9-year-old Maggie, 5-year-old Bessie, and 2-year-old Tanetta were among the lost.
Anna was rescued and taken to Cardiff Wales where she sent a telegram to Horatio that started with these heart-wrenching words, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
Horatio rushed to England (as quickly as one could rush in travel in 1873) to meet Anna. On the voyage across the Atlantic, he had asked the captain of the ship to alert him when they reached the spot where the shipwreck happened, and his girls were lost.
On the deck, as the passed over the spot and he mourned their loss again, an idea came to his mind and he penned these now famous words:
When peace liver a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
Those words reveal a depth of trust in God that seems astonishing…and yet it shouldn’t be. If the prophets really did foretell the coming of the Prince of Peace, if Jesus really did offer peace that results in our hearts feeling neither troubled nor afraid, if praying and thanking God really can bring a peace that doesn’t make sense regardless of the circumstances of life, then such trust in God should characterize each of our lives.
And yet, such peace isn’t something we experience because we read about or listen to someone else talk about it. It’s something we experience as we choose to trust God to give us the peace he has promised. And as we learn to rest in that peace, we find the confidence to count on it and to tell others about it.
How about you this morning? Could you use peace in your life? The only really deep satisfying peace comes from God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Lasting peace doesn’t come when all the bills are
Lasting peace is found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
We’re going to close this serve a bit differently today. We’re going to sing Horatio Spafford’s song. It is number 112 in the hymnal. As we sing, if you are in need of peace, make the song a prayer.
I’ll dismiss in prayer after we’ve finished singing.
 Peace. Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/peace, © Random House, Inc. 2018
 Owens, L.L. The Great Chicago Fire. ABDO. p. 7.
In this series, we will explore the season of Advent and how it helps us anticipate and prepare for Jesus' return.