Scripture Readings: Isaiah 40:1–11 | Psalm 85 | 2 Peter 3:8–15a | Mark 1:1–8
“Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” (2 Peter 3:14-15).
As we travel together through this season of Advent, awaiting the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord… not only in His birth at Christmas, but also awaiting His promised return to set God’s world aright once and for all… we find ourselves confronted with one of the greatest challenges of our time: that is, the elusiveness of peace. In the world around us, in our relationships, and even in ourselves… true peace can be hard to find, and many of us have no clue how to pursue it.
Some say that peace can only be secured at the edge of a sword. That the only way to ensure the end of conflict is to use power and violence to crush all those who oppose us. Others go out of their way to avoid any hint of conflict… just going along with the crowd, and ignoring serious and really destructive behaviours as a result… compromising what is right and good to keep from making waves, so to speak.
And at a time with so many barriers to communion before us, and when unending divisions and conflicts seem ready to tear us apart, the need for true and lasting peace seems greater than ever.
And so today, the second Sunday of Advent, calls us to contemplate God’s peace together: to reflect on what it is, what it requires, and most of all, what Christ has done to bring it about.
So, what kind of peace are we talking about?
Not the ideas of peace that depends on the tranquility or stability of our surroundings… a way of describing an untroubled environment we find ourselves in. No, God’s peace refers to a condition that we can experience in any circumstance, because it refers to something other than the absence of conflict. As you may know, the Hebrew word for peace used by the authors of the Old Testament is the word shalom… which points to a state of wholeness, of completeness. Not simply an absence of conflict, but an integrity… in ourselves, and in our relationships… a wellbeing that can withstand the pressures and storms of life without crumbling to pieces.
And Scripture tells us we humans were created for this kind of completeness. Belonging together in God’s good world… at peace with our Creator, with one another, and within ourselves. But from early on, and throughout our history, we can see that this blessed peace has been shattered by our self-centeredness and sin… again and again… and so that complete communion we were created for has never quite come about. We might get glimpses of it, here and there… pockets of peace that last for a time. But the perfect peace of the Living God… the peace we all long for, remains elusive… seemingly out of our reach.
And yet, this perfect peace is not just some idealistic dream. It is a reality that has been promised… and which we can actually begin to experience here and now.
But to experience… to receive this kind of perfect peace, and begin to put it into practice in our lives… something has to change. And it has to change in us.
We need a change in our direction. A turning around, inside and out… which is what repentance means. To practice peace we need to stop going down those same old dead-end roads that keep leading to destruction… not ignoring, but acknowledging the wrongs we have done, and how we all keep on missing the mark. Paradoxically, in order to become whole and complete… we need to confess our own brokenness. And that, try as we might, we can’t seem to put ourselves back together.
But turning around is only one part of the path to peace. Along with confession comes the need for absolution… for true forgiveness… for atonement. And as we know from Scripture… from the very beginning, this is precisely what the Living God has been seeking to give to the world. Atonement… repentance and forgiveness… reconciliation are all core themes of the biblical story… as the LORD seeks to bring His peace again and again to our shattered world.
In our reading today from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear words of comfort and hope from the LORD, reminding his wayward and unfaithful people that God’s intentions even in disciplining His people are not to destroy them, but to turn them wholeheartedly back to Himself, so they could finally find life! Isaiah 40:1-2,
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.”
And verses 10-11,
“See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.”
And carrying forward the prophetic tradition, in our Gospel reading this morning we hear the words of John the Baptist, preparing the way for the LORD by calling God’s people to turn around… to embrace repentance and receive forgiveness for their sins… and a new beginning, which could only come by acknowledging their incompleteness… their brokenness… their need for mercy.
We Christians profess to know that the only way to completeness… to peace in ourselves and our relationships… is to receive forgiveness. For peace to grow, their must be pardon. And so, each week, as we gather to worship the Living God, and draw near in faith to the table of Christ, we confess our sins, and place our hope in Jesus’ absolution… not wallowing in our guilt, or stirring up low self-esteem… but practicing and seeking the way of peace… with each other, and with our LORD.
And we can do this in confidence because Christ Jesus Himself is our peace. He is the reality that’s at the heart of the Scripture’s message of atonement… He is the One that all of the Old Testament Temple practices point us to… and He is the foundation for all the hopes of Israel’s prophets: He is Himself the complete reunion of Earth and Heaven… the Word of God in Human Flesh… and our forgiveness is assured through His own atoning death, and resurrection… taking on our world’s brokenness in His body broken for us on the cross… pardoning our sins through His precious blood poured out for us all… and piecing our shattered world back together in rising again from the grave. Who Jesus is and what He has done for our world has opened the door once and for all for God’s perfect peace to overcome all of our divisions. And the cross, that symbol of death, oppression, and defeat, is where we now come into contact with the power of the Living God to bring His perfect peace to life in us.
We Christians are called to be people of God’s peace… to become true followers of the Prince of Peace… turning away from our old ways, placing ourselves in the service of His pardoning love… and becoming the place on earth where others in God’s war-shattered world can find peace as well.
The German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lost his life due to his active opposition to the Nazi regime that had seized control of Europe, had this to say about peace: “where God comes in love to human beings and unites with them, there peace is made between God and humankind and among people. Are you afraid of God’s wrath? Then go to the child in the manger and receive there the peace of God. Have you fallen into strife and hatred with your sister or brother? Come and see how God, out of pure love, has become our brother and wants to reconcile us with each other. In the world, power reigns. This child is the Prince of Peace. Where he is, peace reigns.”
Regardless of what the world around us is waring over, and how much one side or the other may want us to join in the fight, or to be torn apart… the Risen Christ remains with us, and His peace alone will reign.
This is what the Apostle St. Peter reminds us in His letter, written to Christians facing all sorts of threats, and persecution for their allegiance to the Prince of Peace. Despite how dark and broken the world seemed, St. Peter sees God’s gracious patience at work, giving us time for His pardoning peace to take root, and turn around all who will receive it.
2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
And for St. Peter, this is all a call for us Christians to use our time on Earth wisely, and be serious about living out God’s peace here and now… living lives in line with the holy love and wholeness that we have been created and rescued to share in… anticipating the day when Christ our Prince of Peace will return to bring the whole of creation to complete communion.
In light of all this, he asks us: “what sort of persons ought [we] be in leading lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11)? What does it look like to be a people of God’s peace today?
It all starts with being at peace with the Living God… Father, Son, and Spirit. With receiving His forgiveness in and through Jesus, offered to us all at the cross… drawing near to Him in faith, and through His Spirit at work in us, becoming more and more like Him.
It starts with having our lives turned around, and filled with the fruit of God’s Spirit… love, generosity, self-control, kindness, faithfulness, patience, gentleness, joy, and peace… not just when it comes naturally, when life is going our way… but because our lives have now become a place where the Prince of Peace resides and reigns.
This then opens us up to being at peace with ourselves. Of no longer being driven by our fears… or guilt… or shame… or hurts… or anger, but in Christ, finding our shattered selves being put back together… bound up by His healing pardon and mercy. Finding His Spirit at work in us leveling all our mountains of pride and self-centeredness… raising up our valleys of doubt and despair… straightening our crooked ways, so we can finally be complete.
Alongside this Christ-centred peace in ourselves, we discover peace with our fellow believers. Learning to share our lives with our brothers and sisters who have also encountered God’s grace and forgiveness, and practicing how to become a community at peace with one another.
This leads us to strive for peace with our neighbours… and in our world. Stepping outside of the relatively safe community of faith to start to live out God’s peace with those who don’t yet know of His saving love, and proclaiming by our words and our actions the Good News of Jesus the Prince of Peace. To take on the many challenges that lay before our conflict-ridden world, and seek to bring the peace of God we have received wherever it is needed.
No matter what pressures or storms we may face, in Jesus Christ, we are complete… and through His Spirit at work in us, our world will encounter His complete peace as well.
Let’s close now by saying together the well known prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, ed. Jana Riess, trans. O. C. Dean Jr., First edition. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 74.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School