Together we have been on a journey this Advent and Christmas season following a star. Not an actual star in the sky like the Wisemen followed, but the light of God that we can find in Jesus. The light we have followed has shown us that with Jesus as part of our lives, we have the hope that our lives and our world can be better. In Jesus, we find more than enough love for our own lives, which means we have God’s love to share, and we have also found that when we find Jesus, we find a joy that gives us the fuel we need to keep going, even when things aren’t going our way.
Today we will see how following Jesus can give us the most elusive gift God offers, the gift of peace. On the night Jesus was born, the angels sang about this peace when they said, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward all. The sad reality, however, is that our world has never known peace. While we sing about it, pray for it, and long to experience it in our live and world, finding and creating this peace is elusive, but it is possible.
Let’s go back to the night Jesus was born and think about the scene around the manger. Because of the census that has drawn Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the city is crowded. It is so full of people that there was no place for Mary and Joseph to stay in any home or inn, so they made their way to a stable, a place that would have been filled with all kinds of animals that had come to the city with the people. Goats, sheep, chickens, donkeys, cattle, oxen, camels and many other animals would have made the stable a very chaotic and noisy place.
Mary gives birth in this midst of this chaos, which I’m sure, just added to the confusion, and then, out of nowhere, a group of shepherds arrive. Now, I have never given birth, obviously – that would be the true Christmas Miracle – but I did a very unofficial poll of women who have given birth, and they all agreed that the last thing they would want to see after giving birth, would be a group of shepherds wandering into their room asking questions about their baby. But here they come, fresh from the fields, and all worked up because of the fear of seeing a heavenly host of angels and the excitement in finding a baby that just might be the Savior of the world. This is hardly a peaceful scene, especially for Mary, but then it says this in Luke 2:19, Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. In the midst of the confusion, chaos, and crowds, we have a picture of Mary at peace. She is sitting quietly, pondering in her heart all that is going on.
It is this picture that needs to help us define peace. Peace is not the absence of war, it is not the absence of confusion, chaos, and conflict. Peace is being able to experience the presence of God in the midst of it all. Peace, for Mary, was quietly looking at her son, who she, more than anyone, knew was Immanuel, God in the flesh, the Savior of the world. It was in holding Jesus that she realized everything was going to be ok. No matter what was going on around her, she knew God was with her. No matter what was going on around her, she knew God was for her. No matter what was going on around her, she knew God loved her and that he had come to share that love and grace and power with all the world.
So while we think that our world has never known peace because we have never known a time when there has not been conflict and violence, the truth is that peace has been present every day because peace is God’s presence with us – and God is present with us every day. While God has always been present in the world, in Jesus we see the presence of God in a very unique way. In Jesus, God came as one of us to not only walk with us but to show us how we can live in a way that will allow us to experience peace.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see is that the secret to experiencing peace is to stay focused on God. There is only one story we have of Jesus as a child, and in that story Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem when his family returned to Nazareth. When asked why he did that, Jesus replied, I had to be in my father’s house. As a boy, Jesus was focused on God. All through his ministry, Jesus would seek out time alone to pray so he could keep his focus on God.
When Peter said he didn’t want Jesus to take up a cross and die, Jesus said to him get behind me Satan for you do not have your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. Jesus always kept his heart and mind turned to God which allowed him to always be at peace. Even when Jesus was arrested, tried, beaten, and led away to be crucified, he remained amazingly peaceful, and it was because he kept his focus on God. That is the key to finding peace – keeping our hearts and minds focused on God. Isaiah 26:3 God will keep us in perfect peace when our minds are steadfast and fixed on God.
So peace is not found in a specific time or place, or when the circumstances of the world are just right, peace is found in a person, the Prince of Peace. In the Old Testament, the Messiah was often talked about with images that projected a peace on earth.
Isaiah 9:6-7a. Isaiah 11:1-2, 6-9. Isaiah 2:3-4.
The peace God offers isn’t found outside of the Messiah but only in him, so peace in our lives is not going to be found in the circumstances around us, and it isn’t going to be found by achieving some kind of meditative spirit inside us, peace is only found when we are able to turn our hearts and lives toward the prince of peace – Jesus. When we fix our eyes on him, and when we follow his way of living and loving, we begin to find a peace that truly surpasses our understanding and endures through all things. When we are fixed and focused on Jesus, some of what seems to upset us, leads us into arguments, or creates chaos and confusion in our lives and in our world, simply falls away.
So while peace seems elusive in our world, and fleeting in our lives, we can experience it every moment of every day if we will fully focus on Jesus and that happens when we fully surrender to him. This is what Mary did. Mary fully surrendered herself to Jesus. Mary gave her life and future to Jesus when she said yes to God’s plan, but God’s peace didn’t come in the first moment of that surrender. Mary faced some very difficult days. She had to work through the relationship with Joseph, make a long trip to Bethlehem in her ninth month, and deliver a child alone in a stable, but each day she surrendered to God she found more and more peace. Are we willing to take that same journey? Are we willing to surrender to God day after day in order to find peace?
Like Mary, surrendering to God means giving God our plans. Mary thought she knew what her life was going to look like. Get married, settle down, have a child, and be a good wife, but God turned that around when he invited Mary on a journey to be the mother of the Messiah. God’s plan was going to be different and more difficult. God’s plan put her relationship with Joseph in danger, it changed their plans and their future, and she had to trust that God would work out the details and help her. Surrendering to God often means letting go of our plans and accepting God’s plan for us, but God’s plan is not always easy.
There is a wonderful scene in the animated movie The Star that reminds us that God’s plan for our lives is often difficult, but when we surrender to them, we can find peace. (clip)
Surrendering to God also means letting go of our pride, and nowhere is this more difficult than when we need to forgive and extend grace to others. When we have been deeply hurt by others, it is not easy to let go of that feeling of being offended. We are living in a world where people seem to love being offended. People like it so much that they go looking for it. This year we have heard of people being offended by the lyrics to old Christmas Songs, and even classic Christmas TV specials. It is pride that tells us we need to hold on to being offended and demand apologies. It is pride that keeps us from forgiving those around us. Surrendering our lives to God means opening our hearts to forgive.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we minimize the pain others have caused in our lives, and it doesn’t excuse the hurtful words and actions, but it does mean we let go of the offense and we stop looking for revenge or restitution. Peace comes when we set aside our right to be offended and offer forgiveness.
Surrender also means using our lives for God’s glory. Surrender means looking at all the opportunities we have been given and finding ways we can use them for God’s will and purpose. It means looking at our talents, our abilities, our interests, and our resources and asking God to show us how to use them for his benefit and not ours. This is where the journey of following the star gets messy, because it may lead us in a new direction.
Following Jesus means that while we save up for a family vacation, we might also start saving up to serve God on a mission trip. It means while we set aside money for the eventual new car we are going to need, we also set aside money for people who are hungry now, both here and in places like Venezuela. Surrender means I don’t just think about what is good for me and my family, I start asking how my life and family can be a blessing to others. When we fix our eyes on Jesus in every area of life, we begin to find peace, but as Mary said, it is not an easy road. Jesus also said that the road to life is a narrow road – but it is the road to peace.
The peace that comes with Jesus is not just for us, however, it is also for the world. That’s what the angels said 200 years ago and that message still stands. Jesus, the prince of peace, brings peace on earth. When the Wisemen saw a star in the sky, they knew it announced the birth of a great leader whose reign would bring peace on earth. Jesus was that king, and the peace he offers is possible for the world if we, the body of Christ, can live in that peace and model that peace for the world.
Picture what the world would look like if everyone who said they believed that Jesus was the prince of peace took seriously the call to fix our eyes on Jesus, surrendered fully to God, and lived in the peace that Christ makes available. There would be more love in families and more care for people in communities. There would be more sharing of resources in our world so that no one would be hungry, thirsty, or in need. If we were willing to forgive and put the needs and desires of others before our own, then the community of the church would be so engaging and powerful that people would want to be part of it and the life and faith we share would spread like wildfire and our world would change.
While it is living in peace that helps spread peace across the world, there is one more thing we can do to help establish God’s peace on earth and that is to pray. We need to passionately, persistently, and personally pray for the peace of Christ to be known by all. God invites us to pray for peace in Psalm 122:5-9. When we pray for peace, the world might not change right away, in fact we might not see any change at all, but if we will continue to pray for peace, we will change. We will experience peace within our walls – in our family and among our friends. When we pray for peace we will also see those dark places where peace is needed and as we surrender to God, we will go to those places to allow God’s peace to be known.
Our journey following the star does not end on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day. Following the Star, following Jesus, is the journey of our lives. We start right where we are, in the darkness of fear, loneliness, and sin, but the star leads us to Jesus who offers us hope, love, joy, peace – peace with God and peace with one another. Let us stay committed to this journey with Jesus for days and weeks and years to come so that out of the abundance of our lives – hope, love, joy and peace may overflow into our world, for that is the real gift of Christmas. That is what the angels proclaimed.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth, good will toward all.
The Star – PEACE
1. Focus on these scriptures which tell us that peace came into the world with Jesus the Messiah.
Isaiah 2:3-4 – Isaiah 9:5-7 – Isaiah 11:1-2, 6-9
2. Peace comes when we fix our minds and hearts on God. Begin each day by reading Isaiah 26:3-4
3. Peace grows as we surrender to God, like Mary.
- What plans do you have that need to be surrendered to God?
- What pride can you identify that needs to be surrendered to God?
4. Read Psalm 122:5-9. Daily pray this week for the peace you need and for peace to share.