Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gifts of Advent: Peace

It’s Advent. It’s a time to remember the gifts of God given to us because Jesus has come. So, what I would like to do over the next couple of weeks is to take a look at a few of those gifts. In doing this I want to first, remind you of some things that you know. Being reminded of God’s goodness results in praise, always a good thing. But then, I also want to push some of what you know a little further so you will see a bit more clearly how it speaks to wise living.

What we’re going to look at today is something the angels said to those very surprised shepherds:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14
One of the precious gifts of Jesus’ Advent is peace. And God knows we need this peace. There is so much turmoil and unrest all around us - and too often within us. So, this morning we’re going to take a look at peace, a gift of Jesus’ Advent.

To unpack that some I’m going to use something that Paul wrote.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4.6,7
Here we see Paul encouraging those Philippian Christians with the promise of the peace of God. It’s helpful to notice what he contrasts this peace with: anxiety. Paul urges those saints, ‘Don’t be anxious. There’s no need for that. Enjoy, instead, the peace of God.’ What Paul wrote to those saints is what I want to say to you. You can experience this gift of Jesus’ Advent to such an extent that even in the midst of all the troubling things that life throws at you, you will be at peace. No anxiety, none. Only peace. There, in a nutshell, is the point of the sermon.

Let’s begin by spending a little time taking a look at anxiety. What is it? Anxiety is just another way of talking about fear. You think that something bad is going to happen. Life is going to hurt in some way. So, as a result, you become afraid. You become anxious.

There are lots of different ways that anxiety can show. Some people show their anxiety by eating. It distracts from the fear. Then there are those who just start talking a lot. On the other hand, there are those who just shut down in the face of certain fears. Some get angry, and the people around them feel it. And, of course, there are those who are stuck fretting about it. They have no solution nor do they expect to find one. But still, they go over, again and again, what surely is going to happen and how bad it will be. There are lots of ways that anxiety can show itself, and none of them feel good.

Anxieties can be about almost anything. The usual suspects, though, are problems with health or job, or family issues like wandering kids or ailing parents. And there is always some money issue conveniently at hand.

The common assumption in all of this is that anxiety is to be expected. Everyone knows that there will be anxious feelings when problems occur. Not to feel some anxiety just isn’t natural. Anxiety is just a part of life. Everybody knows it. But what did those angels say? ‘Peace on earth’. Did they really mean that? Or was it just some vague and sentimental religious language that doesn’t really mean anything?

Let me remind you here of what I said earlier. You can experience this gift of Jesus’ Advent to such an extent that even in the midst of all the troubling things that life throws at you, you will be at peace. No anxiety, only peace. Life will still hurt at times. Those Psalms where David cries out in pain and deep longing are still needed. Your life will still have troubles. But you can deal with them guarded by the peace of God. It’s a gift of Jesus’ Advent.

The question to ask at this point is obvious. How? How can anyone do this? Paul told those Philippian brothers and sisters the first ingredient when he wrote,
The Lord is at hand.
We’re back to Jesus. He has come near. He is at hand as our Savior. And that has changed so much. Because of Jesus, God is now our Father. The Fatherhood of God is such a precious treasure. Being convinced that God is your Father is the foundation for a powerful life as a disciple. Here’s something from the Heidelberg Catechism that expresses just a bit of what it means.
[God] is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father. In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.
Note how this explains peace.
In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt…
Those who are anxious doubt. They doubt that God is their loving and oh so very powerful Father. But those who trust in their Father have no doubt. Or to say it differently, they enjoy the peace of God.

Please notice that this trust covers the good things and the bad.
[I] have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow.
Needs will be met, and the Father will turn even the evil of adversity to good. The person who believes this part of the Gospel lives in peace. He is enjoying what Paul promised: the peace of God.

Here, you need to be careful. This isn’t about trying to convince yourself that it will all turn out fine. That doesn’t work even if you tell yourself that the Gospel says that it will all turn out fine. What is that but trying to create peace all by yourself. You’re trying to give yourself a sense of peace. What the angels talked about and what Paul wrote about is something entirely different. That peace doesn’t come from within us. We do not create it by convincing ourselves. It’s a gift, something God gives. And this gift isn’t for some special few. It’s for all, all who, like those Philippians, are disciples of Jesus. So, don’t be thinking that you need to go home and have a good talking to yourself telling yourself that you just need to believe the Gospel better so that you will experience this peace. That’s just trying to save yourself from the sin of anxiety. And where is there any grace in that?

This peace is yours as a gift, a gift of Jesus’ Advent. And Paul is quite clear about how it becomes yours.
… in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Way back when, King Hezekiah had a problem. Jerusalem was surrounded by Assyrian armies. The king of the Assyrians sent a message to Hezekiah telling him that he should just surrender. He told Hezekiah that his situation was hopeless. And he was right. The situation really was quite hopeless. The Assyrians were a superpower. They had already conquered nations much stronger than tiny Israel. So what did Hezekiah do? He went into the Temple and spoke to God. He acknowledged his complete inability to do anything to meet the problem. And then he asked God to act. To use some words from a familiar hymn, Hezekiah’s prayer was simply, ‘Thou must save and Thou alone’. And what do you know, He did. God acted and saved His people. You can read about it in Isaiah 37.

Hezekiah acknowledged his complete inability and simply prayed. And that’s what you need to do. It really is a matter of grace. There won’t be some army at the gates confronting you. It will be some health or job or family issue. The particular problem will be different. But the temptation to become anxious will be the same for you as it was for Hezekiah. And your response should also be the same.
… in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And how does the rest go?
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The peace of God. A gift of Jesus’ Advent.

This sounds so simple. So, why don’t we respond like this? Why is it that all too often we find ourselves anxious? The problem is what it always is. It’s our sin. People today don’t understand the power of sin. It’s not just some legal statement about your disobedience. Sin is a powerful menace, a very powerful menace. It is not dealt with easily. Getting rid of sin can sometimes feel like treating cancer. Getting to enjoy the peace of God really isn’t complicated. But our sin is deeply embedded and trips us up. And one common way that it does that in this kind of situation is by unbelief. The goal of Jesus’ Advent is clearly stated. ‘Peace on earth!’ The Apostle explains what that means in contrast with anxiety. All that is needed is a simple faith that says,
[I] have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow.
But, we can’t accomplish even that. It’s okay. Our God is very patient and very gracious. He will give us that simple faith that grows into something very confident that has no doubts. And He does that by the Spirit first pointing out our sin, those times when we give in to the temptation to become anxious, and then calling us to repentance. And as we exercise what small faith we have to repent, He blesses us with a bit more. And little step by little step our faith grows, and our doubts shrink. We grow in our experience of the peace of God. And we come to do that to an extent that we never thought possible. Problems that had twisted us into tight knots of anxiety become little matters that we know the Father will take care of. We experience more and more of that peace of God, the gift of Jesus’ Advent.

While all of this has much to say about you, it also has much to say about the people you know. We live in a time and in a place where so many people are so very anxious. They are afraid of what might happen. There are so many little things that could quickly become large problems. And it’s no wonder that they feel this way. They have no Father. They are trying to live all on their own in a fallen, evil world. They should be afraid. Bad things are going to happen and there’s actually nothing that they can do about it. So, as your life shows more and more of the peace of God you will have opportunities to explain how you are able to experience that peace. You will have opportunities to talk about Jesus’ Advent gift: peace. So, instead of trying to talk to folk about their guilt, you might do better, at times, to talk to them about their fears and anxieties. You can tell them how Jesus is blessing you with the peace of God. It’s the Gospel, and they can enjoy it too.

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