First Mennonite Church
December 9, 2018
Advent Walking In the Way of Peace
Text: Isaiah 9:6-7; Hebrews 12:14
Isaiah’s prophecy announces the birth of a child king. By the description given of this child, the obvious is that it is referring to the birth of God’s promised Messiah. “Prince of peace” is one of the marvelous names the promised child will have. And the greatness and peace of his kingdom will have no end, says the prophecy. That is why peace is one of the themes for Advent. Therefore, today I would like for us to reflect on the way of peace, according to God’s will and as demonstrated in Jesus Christ.
There are only two possible ways to meet one another. We can either meet with closed fists or with open arms. We can either meet one another with a warm embrace or walk away pretending we saw no one. We can either welcome one another with a smile or cut off the encounter with the pretense of attending to something more important. We can either build bridges or build walls. But one thing is very clear, the way of peace is to welcome one another with open arms.
On various occasions when the prophets of the Old Testament announced the “Coming Day of the Lord,” they announced God’s judgment mingled with promises of renewal and restoration (Zech. 14:1-11; Joel 2, 3) And when the prophets announced the coming of God’s Messiah, they also spoke of it in the form of promises mingled with words of judgment (Is. 61). The way Jesus introduced his ministry is so interesting, even when he used the Old Testament words to do so. When Jesus quoted Isaiah 62, to announce his mission: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and so forth, he deliberately stopped where Isaiah says, “To proclaim the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2). Jesus’ manifest purpose of coming into the world was that of the Incarnate God coming in terms of peace. Jesus defined his ministry as one reaching out to touch, to heal, to set free, and to reconcile. Through him God was reaching out to humanity, reconciling it with himself. In Christ, God was reaching out to the world with open arms, not closed fists. In Christ, God was bridging the chasm that separated mankind from him. In Christ, God set to seek us in person, by taking human form. Paul describes God’s peace-making attempt through his Son in the beautiful words: “He is our peace.” (Eph. 2:14.) And by calling Jesus’ message, “the gospel of peace,” and his mission as “preaching peace to those far and preaching peace to those nearby (Eph. 2:17). But the way of peace, as demonstrated in the life of Jesus, is a difficult path to walk. Peace is not compatible with the world’s way of dealing with one another or when dealing with conflict. As Jesus’ life demonstrated, preaching the gospel of peace, and being himself our peace led him to the cross on Calvary. But it was there where the greatest symbol of God’s way of peace was demonstrated. The arms of Jesus were flung opened and nailed to the cross. His desire to embrace the world, even at his expense, was demonstrated as Jesus opened his arms to be crucified. The Prince of peace became our peace.
On the night Jesus was born the angels were singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” As you and I know, God’s favor or grace rests on us; therefore, God’s peace is in us. But what kind of peace are we talking about, here? You see, very often we limit the scope of God’s peace. We so often limit the meaning of peace to simply being able to stay calm in times of difficulty, which is indeed a sign of God’s peace in us. But that is not all there is to it. We are called to live in peace with one another. We are called to seek peace and to pursue it. We are called to make every effort to do what leads to peace. Paul wrote: “As far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.
I cannot begin to imagine the enormous challenge it was for Paul’s and Peter’s Christian communities to live in peace with their surroundings. The Christian communities in those early days of the church were just a speck of light in a dark and violent world. These peace-loving followers of the Prince of peace suffered persecution, dispossession, imprisonment, and death. Having a peaceable or a humble spirit was considered being a coward in Paul’s Roman and Greek worlds. Roman or Greek citizens were expected to be fighters, stoics, or at least self-reliant. But in the letters of Paul, Peter, and James we read the constant command to live in peace, to pursue peace, and to sow seeds of peace.
Here is one of the many stories of those Christians during the second century. This is about Polycarp. Some young men were capture by the authorities and they gave the police the location where Polycarp could be found.
The police and horsemen came with the young man at
suppertime on that Friday with their usual weapons, as if
coming out against a robber. That evening, they found
him lying down in the upper room of a cottage. He could
have escaped but he refused saying, “God’s will be done.”
When he heard that they had come, he went down and
spoke with them. They were amazed at his age and
steadfastness, and some of them said. “Why did we go to
so much trouble to capture a man like this?” Immediately
he called for food and drink for them, and asked for an hour
to pray uninterrupted. They agreed, and he stood and
prayed, so full of the grace of God, that he could not
stop for two hours. The men were astounded and many
of them regretted coming to arrest such a godly and
venerable an old man.
When Polycarp was asked to curse Christ, he answered, “For 86 years I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and savior?”
On Saturday, February 23, 155, Polycarp was tied to the stake and burned alive. He was 86 years old.
My dear brothers and sisters, we are followers of Jesus, the Prince of peace. Therefore, it should not surprise us when Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5). It’s no secret that we live in a “dog-eat-dog world,” as people say. But Jesus calls us not only to be peace-loving people, which is easier, but to be peace making people. We are called to live in peace with one another and with everyone up to where it depends on us. We are called to pursue peace. It saddens the heart of God when sometimes even inside the church people have difficulty living in peace with one another.
The words of the Apostle Peter capture the essence of Jesus’ way of peace, to which Peter also called the church to follow. Peter writes about Jesus: When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1Peter 2:23).
And then he called on the Christian community to follow on the footsteps of Jesus when he wrote: Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it (1Peter 3:8-11).
Let us extend the hand of peace to everyone. Let us open not only our arms to welcome one another, but also our hearts to share with one another the burdens, concerns, joys and hopes. Let us speak the peace of Christ to one another. Let us seek to heal, to unite, and to encourage one another.
May the Lord’s peace be each of your and with us all. Amen.