Finding Peace in Troubling Times
By Linda Rex
December 6, 2020, ADVENT | PEACE—How do we find peace when everything around us seems to be everything but peace-filled? During this advent season, we look at both sides of the Parousia, the coming and presence of Jesus Christ. Before Christmas, we often focus on the incarnation, the coming of God into human flesh in the arrival of the Christ child. Our reflections on that “silent night” of Jesus’ birth often give us a sense of peace. But we can also use this time profitably to consider how we approach living right now in the everydayness of human existence in the light of Christ’s return in glory.
I believe it is instructive that Mark began his gospel with a description of John the Baptizer, who was calling people to a baptism of repentance out in the wilderness where Israel wandered for forty years before finally entering the promised land. John was baptizing at the place of a critical junction in Israel’s history, the Jordan River, where God’s people crossed over into the new land. Even though many Jews believed they didn’t need this type of baptism (it was reserved for Gentile proselytes), there were those who were cut to the heart by John’s preaching and were moved to repent and be baptized.
Israel believed the coming messiah would save God’s people from their Roman overlords and bring in a new expression of the nation in their place. They were being called to repent from their sins and to amend their ways in the light of this expected deliverance. But John said that there was much more to be anticipated beyond his message and baptism. He pointed to someone who would baptize not simply with water, but would baptize with the Holy Spirit. This person, the Messiah, would usher in the age of the Spirit, a time of righteousness and obedience to God—something his people had longed for over the centuries.
The struggles of everyday life of the Jewish people under the Roman government caused them to lament and long for their messiah. In many ways, people today experience the same longing for their deliverance in the midst of cultures and nations which seek to silence, oppress and/or enslave them. In our hearts, whether we know of the Savior Jesus or not, all of us understand the inner cry which longs for the world we were created originally to inhabit, where other-centered love is its guiding light and foundation. In our misguided ways, we seek to live there today, not realizing that this broken sin-ravaged world is incapable of such an existence apart from its redemption and restoration by its Maker. Without Christ’s deliverance, it is headed down a dead-end road toward its eventual destruction.
One day the astonished Mary was approached by the angel Gabriel and told she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit who would be called Jesus, the Son of God. What could have prepared her for this? Nothing really. The shepherds at Bethlehem were amazed when the angel announced the birth of the Messiah to them—none of them expected to have their simple pastoral life interrupted by such incredible good news. But what was the response of Mary and the shepherds? We’d do well to pay attention. Mary told Gabriel, “may it be done to me according to your word.” The shepherds ran to the nearby town and told everyone the good news. Both of these responses teach us how to respond to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ when we hear it.
First, we are told that God’s Son came into our humanity to live our life, die our death, and rise again, sending the Spirit to dwell in human hearts. This is the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, included each of us in the divine life and love. We are free to receive this gift of forgiveness and salvation or to ignore and reject it. Mary teaches us that the response we were created to give is to simply agree with God that his Word be done in us—we turn away from our own agenda and self-driven life and turn to Christ. From this day on we respond, may his will be done in us by his Spirit. We are baptized as our entry into the body of Christ and to show our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and we participate in communion regularly to show our ongoing inclusion in Christ’s death and resurrection. We begin living and walking in the truth of who we are in Christ.
Secondly, as the living Word Jesus Christ is written on our hearts and minds by the Spirit, and we start to experience the transforming, resurrection power of God at work in our hearts, minds and lives, we begin to share this good news with others. Like the shepherds who couldn’t keep silent after their vision of angels, it is not something we are keep to ourselves but are meant to include others in. When Christ comes and reveals himself to us in the Spirit, and we, by faith, experience new life in him, we cannot and must not stay silent about it. Part of our renewal and transformation occurs when we are bearing witness to the change, healing, and wholeness God has brought about in our lives and in the lives of his people.
As we come to faith in Christ and begin to walk in newness of life, we will encounter difficulties, criticism and maybe even persecution. But this is not something we are to be alarmed at. Hard times will occur. We are to live in the already-not yet of God’s kingdom, living even now as though we are already present in the heavenly realities. Paul says we are to keep our minds and hearts on things above, not on things on this earth (Col. 3:1-2). We face the possibility of death in every moment, but we also realize that Christ is going to return in glory—we look forward in anticipation of the new world to come while living today in Christ’s presence by the Spirit.
We are told by Peter that one day what we see around us will be burned or melted away to become a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. If we are preoccupied with the things of this life, of building our human citadels of power, authority, possessions or people’s approval, we will discover that everything we have invested in, counted on, and trusted in will disappear in a moment and we will be left with nothing. If we are pouring our hearts into things which will last beyond the removal of this temporary existence, into other-centered love and our relationships with God and one another, into properly stewarding all God has made and given us, then we really will have nothing to fear. The experience will be simply that of stepping through a door into a new, incredible life in the presence of our loving Lord.
Just as John the Baptizer pointed his listeners away from himself to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, we tell others of what Christ has done and is doing in our lives and in our world today. We turn away from ourselves and turn to Jesus, and we point others in this direction as well. We live in attentive joyful anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ in glory—the time when we will reap the harvest of the seeds we have sown in this life, the results of Christ-like living. Jesus is our right relationship with God and one another—we’re to be focused on growing up in him and becoming more Christlike as time goes by. Then we will discover with astonishment on that unexpected but glorious day when Christ returns to establish the new heavens and earth that we look very much like our glorified Savior.
Dear Father, thank you for the hope and peace you have given us in the gift of your Son and your Spirit. Jesus, we long for you to come even now to save us from the difficulties, pain and suffering of this life, to give us comfort and peace in the middle of our turmoil. Awaken us to faith and enable us to live even now in the heavenly realities of your love and life so when death comes or you return, we are not caught unawares, but can joyfully celebrate with you. In your name we pray, amen.
“A voice is calling, | ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; | Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. | Let every valley be lifted up, | And every mountain and hill be made low; | And lill pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; …” 2 Peter 3:10-15a NASBet the rough ground become a plain, | And the rugged terrain a broad valley; | Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, | And all flesh will see it together; | For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:3-5 NASB
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens w
“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … And he was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1:4, 7-8 NASB