A Season of Living Peacefully
In this beloved Methodist Advent carol, with words written in 1744 by Charles Wesley, I invite you to observe its phrases and images through the lens of God’s peace, from our scripture readings. Consider Isaiah’s prophecy that there shall be endless peace for David’s kingdom. And in particular, that God “will establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness.”
So often Bible readers assume that the it referred to in Isaiah is God’s coming kingdom, the kingdom referred to in verse 3 of Wesley’s hymn. But what if the it in Isaiah’s promise is God’s peace? What if God’s peace, which this newborn king ushers in, will live through us. What if the promise is that God with establish and uphold peace with justice and righteousness, God’s peace in the Christ-child, born to reign in us forever.
Consider where you see peace in Wesley’s carol, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set they people free.”
Isaiah 9:2,6-7 – 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
John 14:25-27 – 25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King; born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
Rebekah’s two kids never got along. From the moment the second one was born, they disliked each other. The older refused to share and the younger screamed whenever they were together. And it never got any better. All through school they were always at each other’s throats. Rebekah often thought she should have named them after Isaac’s two fighting sons in the Old Testament. They really were just like Esau and Jacob. But she loved them both and so desperately wanted them to love each other. And now after 10 years of not seeing or talking to each other, they were both coming home for Christmas. Whatever made her think that was a good idea? Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set your people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our peace in you.
There’s something about this season of the year that longs for a peace which otherwise seems to elude us. Deep down inside we feel the ache of personal fears and the guilt of foolish mistakes that over time regrettably become the norm of everyday life. And yet as Christmas approaches each year, mysteriously we feel moved again by the promise of release from our human frailty and drawn again toward the comfort and calm of the one born “Prince of Peace.” And even though some seriously question whether this expectation is realistic, somehow the promise wells up inside us each year during this season. We want to trust Jesus’ promise, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and be not afraid.”
It’s not like Rebekah actually intended to have her two kids home together over Christmas. It sort of just happened, and she didn’t stop it. Within a day and a half of each other, both kids called independently and said they were coming for Xmas weekend. And she thought, ‘this is it. This is what I’ve been praying for, hoping for – a reunion; a new era of harmony in my family; a Christmas blessing.’ Born your people to deliver, born a child and yet a king; born to reign in us forever; now your gracious kingdom of peace bring.
Our spiritual reality is simply this: peace is not just being released and set free from the stress and strain of our daily lives; the peace offered by the Christ-child delivers us for a purpose, for some gesture of good will, for an intentional act of peace-making in our daily lives – but without being manipulative or naive. This is a season for living peacefully, for intending goodness in the lives of others with no strings attached. Our spiritual reality is simply this: the way we will honestly receive and experience God’s peace is to share peacefulness with others. ‘Not as the world gives, but my peace I give to you,’ Jesus promises.
So later that evening Rebekah sent a personal email to each of her children. She explained honestly what happened, and wrote that after praying she decided to try to help make it happen. She promised that she would not take sides, would try her best to make this a peaceful weekend together, and most of all that she loved and respected them both and prayed they could do the same. And both times she hit “send” she quietly thought, “May Christ’s peace touch both of you.” By your own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by your all sufficient peace, raise us to your glorious possibilities.
All any of us can ever do is try. Living peacefully is more an attitude than a result – enthusiastically seeking peace in our relationships, in our lifestyles, and in how we view the world around us, even when it doesn’t feel like it’s working out. Do you remember the linguistic roots of this word, enthusiasm? EN THEOS, in Greek … it means IN GOD. At the very heart of living peacefully is the desire to participate enthusiastically in the world as partners in Christ’s eternal passion for peace. It’s a work in progress, and the one who comes as a child, invites us grow with him, en theos. It’s what Jesus reminds us, that “the Holy Spirit will teach us what we need to know.”
So you probably wonder how Rebekah’s Christmas turned out. I really don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet. All I know is the weekend gets closer and closer; and she reports that as her fears and anxieties rise so does her feeling of God’s strength and encouragement. She has a few friends she confides in and is preparing her heart to accept whatever happens. Yet her single focus is to remain as peaceful as she can all weekend, regardless. She’s trusting that God’s peace may indeed be possible if she can remain peaceful. And that’s how she’s living this season of living peacefully. People’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth you ara; dear desire of every person, peace in every longing heart.