This season of the Church’s liturgical year is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The word “advent” is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, “coming.” We are waiting for what is coming!
WAITING FOR PEACE
“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” (Isaiah 9: 6-7 a; NIV).
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10: 34; NIV).
These two familiar Bible passages seem to be in disagreement. The first was said about Jesus eight centuries before his birth. It fueled the hope that the Messiah would bring peace to the land of Israel and to the Hebrew people.
The second was said by Jesus as he instructed his disciples to go out and proclaim the good news. He pleads with them to act wisely and to beware of the potential for harm or evil. They must expect persecution and rejection. They must understand that their words and lifestyle will cause division and turmoil. In this passage, Jesus is correcting false assumptions about the Jewish Messiah’s mission. The writer of Isaiah described the Messiah as the “Prince of Peace.” The interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures took that to mean that the Messiah would bring peace to the earth. That, however, was not Jesus’ mission. These two scriptures can be reconciled if we remember that we will experience the peace that Jesus brings in the eternal kingdom of God. It will not be present in the world we know on earth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who died at the hands of the Nazis, wrote, “We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us (A Testament to Freedom: the Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
The difficulty then, as now, is that the Gospel is such a penetrating counter-cultural message that it acts like a “sword.” The demands of the kingdom of God are offensive to a world convinced of its own rightness. But God “lays claim to us.” We have work to do. As C.S. Lewis said, “We are living in enemy-occupied territory.” Our job is to sabotage the work of the devil, the one who reigns until Christ comes again. If we don’t raise the devil’s hackles, we aren’t living like Jesus. Apprentices of Jesus should expect the same kind of treatment that Jesus warned the disciples about and that Bonhoeffer experienced. After all our Master was rejected and murdered. Why should we expect anything different?
Before Jesus left his disciples he said, “Peace, I leave with you. My peace I give you” (John 14:27). The only way we can make a dent in the evil one’s plans is to welcome the peace Jesus brings to our hearts. That peace is one of our richest blessings. A heart that is content with the life Jesus offers has no need to go to battle for power and control. That heart is called only to witness to the love God has for this renegade planet. So let’s go out during this season in the peace that only Jesus can bring and give that peace away.