Damariscotta Baptist Church
Friday, July 20, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

12/10/17 Sermon - A Journey of Peace

 The Star: A Journey of Peace

This Advent season we have been on a journey of hope, love, joy and now we have reached our fourth candle the candle of peace. The star has been our guide as we’ve journeyed onward. That Star of Bethlehem briefly mentioned in Matthew’s account of the Christmas story drew those wise seekers from afar to the Savior thousands of years ago. It must have led them over rough routes and smooth ones, through easy passages and ones that appeared difficult with no way to cross. It remained before them as they undoubtedly encountered friends and fellow travelers and as they sat in the company of deceptive and powerful people like King Herod. Through all the circumstances and surprises of their journey, the star never faltered or failed. It faithfully pointed the way to Jesus. So together we continue to look for the light today as we follow the star on a journey of peace.

When I think of peace, I am often reminded of the well-known hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” The old song is loved by so many because of its message: “When peace like a river attendeth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say / It is well, it is well with my soul.”

The song portrays such strength and steadfast trust. But the song has also become famous and more revered for the story behind the words. Horatio Spafford was a businessman in Chicago in 1873. After already losing one child to pneumonia, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him on a ship to Europe. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank, and all four of Spafford’s children died. He got a message from his wife that she had survived, and he left on the next available ship to go and meet her. During his journey, near the place his daughters had died, Spafford penned the words to the song. The painful circumstances he faced make the lyrics all the more powerful.

The words were not written by someone who was enjoying an easy life but by one who found peace—deep, authentic peace—in the midst of heartache.

Yet, when we think of peace, we often think of the absence of hardship, trouble, violence, and fear. As the hymn so beautifully captures, this journey of peace is not immune from those things. In fact, they are central to the story.

On this journey we learn that

peace is not the absence of trouble

but rather

the presence of God.

What pain are you facing this season?

What struggles are weighing you down?

What anxiety and stress are stirring up chaos in your spirit?

Maybe those pressures and problems are external;

maybe they are internal battles.

Either way, they can feel just as real.

Either way, are you willing to open your heart to God’s peace even in the midst of your struggles?

This journey of peace is certainly an appropriate journey for our world today. Just as the ancient Roman world must have felt during that first Christmas, our world seems full of violence and warfare and uncertainty. And the pressures of our daily lives come at us at an unparalleled pace. Ours is a world in desperate need of peace! But it is a world where the Prince of Peace has walked and understood. He has come, and He is present. His peace is available to us today.

Let’s explore that peace together.

1. Peace in the Midst

How do you picture that night Jesus was born? So many images and songs focus on a picture of “silent night”—a peaceful moment when all was calm and bright.

But if such a moment occurred on that first Christmas, it was probably a very fleeting moment.

The city of Bethlehem was overflowing with hordes of people who had arrived after many dusty miles on rough, dangerous roads by foot and by livestock. Mary had to give birth in an animal shelter. Visitors started arriving to visit the new baby within hours of His unsanitized birth. Then King Herod was in angry pursuit. And don’t forget the company of angels rejoicing and worshiping with abandon. It’s no wonder an angel had to tell the shepherds first not to be afraid and then assure them they brought a message of peace: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13–14).

There was noise and hurt and pain and struggle and fear that first Christmas. And yet there was great joy and deep peace of the highest order.

Sound familiar? Our journey of peace this season is not one separated from the realities of life but a journey of peace in the midst of life with all its noise and chaos.

Recording artist Andrew Peterson has a song called “The Rain Keeps Falling” that beautifully illustrates this state of peace within the storms of life.

[Optional: Play or have the song performed during the service.]

The lyrics of this song contain a long and honest confession of so many struggles and interjected into and over them come the words Jesus spoke: “Peace. Be still.” The result is a powerful picture of the reality of peace in the midst of life in a fallen world. It is a message that can make you catch your breath or choke you up as the words wash over you.

Sometimes we need just such a pause.

As we journey toward Christmas, let’s acknowledge the fact that our lives are far from peaceful and the eternal peace promised at Christ’s second coming is still not realized. But as we let the words of Jesus wash over us and through us, He brings His calming message to our spirits like soothing water.

Peace. Be still.

Jesus brings peace right into the center of our hurt and frantic striving. And He brings the power to cease the noise, calm the storm, and overwhelm our hearts with His restorative sense of perfect peace. He is indeed the Prince of Peace.

2. Prince of Peace

The prophet Isaiah’s words reveal something very important about 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” (Isaiah 9:6).

Peace is not just a feeling or a state of being. Peace is a person. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Throughout Jesus’s life and teaching we see that peace comes from the person of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit—God’s presence with us. By sending His Son, God sent peace into the world. When we abide with Him, we abide with peace. And as we abide with peace, we learn to trust God with the unpeaceful parts of our lives, and we find ourselves transformed within.

In the midst of all that was happening that first Christmas, we are told that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). On the surface, Mary’s life had not become more peaceful. If anything, things got even crazier with the announcement of her miraculous pregnancy and the birth of a new baby. But Mary was learning to trust the One who was in control.

When we can surrender our control—stop worrying, stop planning, stop striving—to the Prince of Peace, we can find rest in Him.

The inner and outer chaos, anxiety, noise, and busyness of life may not change, but we can experience peace because we trust the One in control.

Where do you need to surrender and enter the journey of peace this season?

Let me encourage you to encounter the peace of Christ by taking the psalmist’s words to heart: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Such stillness can be a precious commodity in this busy holiday season, but even a short pause can allow us to breathe deeply and connect with Jesus Himself, the source of our peace.

 

That may mean pausing, even briefly, at the start of your day to read the guiding words of Scripture and to converse with God to align your day. But it may also mean pausing during your workday or in the middle of the shopping mall to breathe deeply and repeat some words from the Bible as a reminder and a realigner.

Perhaps to repeat the message “Peace; be still” and let its truth wash over your troubled or hurried mind as it tunes your attention to the speaker, the source of our peace, Jesus.

3. Peace for the World

Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, and we can abide in Him and experience peace in our souls. But we know that peace doesn’t always come to the world around us. As we look around our world and read the daily news, we realize how desperate our world is for peace. Countries are at war. Refugees are far from home. Our neighbors are hurting. There is violence in our schools.

There is anger in our families. We continue to live in the place of tension between the past, present, and future—that place in a broken world still churning and reeling until God completes His restoration.

Against that setting, our path may not look much like a journey of peace even as we look toward and near Christmas. Jesus has brought peace to the world with His arrival. He continues to fill us with peace through His Spirit, but it is not until He comes again that our world will experience complete and perfect peace.

Yet this is where the peace we experience now can shine the brightest—because it doesn’t always make sense against the surrounding circumstances. The Bible tells us God’s peace is beyond understanding. And yet we are encouraged to draw close to God and to rely on Him for His peace.

 

Philippians 4:6–7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t make sense—it transcends understanding. It is too good to be contained by the limits of this world. Its reality is even better.

When we abide in the Prince of Peace and come to Him in prayer in every situation, His peace flows over us to settle and guard our hearts and minds.

Maybe this is the paradox of prayer. So often we come to God asking Him to change our circumstances or those around us. Sometimes He does, but more often, He changes our hearts and perspectives.

 

As we pour out our hearts and connect with Him, we are able to see a little more like He does, to trust more confidently in His ability to handle things no matter what, and to settle in the peace of His goodness and faithfulness—to tap into that sense that it’s all going to be okay no matter what, one way or another, because He’s holding us.

That sense of understanding, of calm and acceptance, acts like a guard around our hearts and minds. It’s the gift of peace that Jesus promised when He left the earth.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” He told His disciples. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Those weren’t just empty words. They were rooted in reality—a deeper reality than the harsh conditions facing Jesus’s followers at the time and the ones He knew would come. Jesus knew there was a lot to fear.

From the threats of Herod, as a child, to His death by crucifixion, Jesus spent His whole life with people out to kill him. He knew there was much suffering in store for His followers. Yet He told His disciples—and us—not to be afraid. Why? Because He knows the end of the story. He knows that no matter what troubles us and causes us fear now, in the end, His peace will overcome all. It will sustain us through our difficulties, which may be great but are also momentary in the light of eternity.

As we journey toward Christmas, we can trust that promise for ourselves and for our world, and we can experience peace because we know the One we put our trust in. He is faithful and true. His peace was prophesied long before His arrival: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). As we have seen, He delivered to us His unfailing promise as the Prince of Peace. As we end our time together today, let’s pause and soak in Jesus’s words: Peace. Be still.

Let those words wash over you as you repeat them to yourself. The Prince of Peace has come, and He is coming again. And in the meantime, He gives us this message: Peace. Be still.

 Prayer: God, thank You that in the midst of the chaos and pain of our lives, You invite us into Your peace. Help us to abide with the Prince of Peace and to rest in the peace that comes from trusting in You. Give us the courage to trust You with our lives and with the situations we see in the world around us. Fill us with Your peace. Keep us in Your perfect peace. Let it continually restore us and draw us to Yourself. And let us bring Your peace into the often-chaotic world around us. Amen.

 Benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26)