A Question for Advent

This past Sunday began the season of Advent when, according to the Western Christian calendar, we begin the wait and expectation of the coming Savior, born Jesus of Nazareth.

I love this season because I love the stories of Jesus’ birth as told in scripture.  Just as with the death and resurrection of Jesus, there’s something captivating about the stories of Jesus’ birth.  They don’t grow old.  As I read the stories and listen to the great hymns that retell of this great event, my heart is stirred to praise God and I want to be a better disciple of Jesus because I know that the story being told is one that God has made me a part of too.

But I’m troubled too.  Today marks 15 years to the day when my family learned that my dad had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and would not live very much longer.  It took less than two months for cancer to complete the slaying of his body.  Since then, death has continued to become a part of my story because.  As most who know me are aware of, my wife and I had a son (Kenny) who died as an infant in 2002.  Then just a few days after Christmas of 2003, my younger brother John unexpectedly died.  So when I travel home for the holidays, as my family will do this year, there is a sadness that I carry with me.

“But” the preacher and quasi-theologian in me objects.  “Isn’t this event called Christmas for which we celebrate the coming of our Savior supposed to be a glorious event, filled with peace, moving us to sing ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come…’?”

Of course it is!  It is the same reason why the host of angels appeared, praising God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2.14, NIV ’11).

“But” the pastor in me, with my own lament, objects.  “How can their be peace when…?”  I’m sure that’s a question that many parents in Bethlehem were asking after a very jealous and corrupt King Herod ordered the unthinkable (cf. Matt 2.16-18).

This is a question I’ve wrestled with.  It seems so incongruous to speak of peace when there is so much suffering and turmoil that still exists in our world…suffering and turmoil which still causes great grief and pain.  But as I wrestle with this question, a question that Advent thrusts upon me, I am drawn back to the larger story of God.

The coming of Jesus wasn’t an event that existentially ended all pain, evil, and suffering at once.  The coming of Jesus was the event in which God became a part of our story making us a part of his story.  It was the event in which God embraced the pain, evil and suffering of our world so that we could ultimately share in the peace of God, that peace which was present at the genesis of creation and is present in the new creation in Christ.

The angels came praising God with a proclamation of his glory and peace not because everything was and is at peace but because the birth of Jesus was God at work.  In the coming of the Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, God was at work revealing his glory and peace.

The question of Advent is answered by the recognition that God is at work.  Though trouble still is, the glory of God is being revealed, his peace is among us.  It is a promise that, in the words of N.T. Wright, the world is being put to rights.  So we too can join the angels in praise, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rest.”

5 responses to “A Question for Advent

  1. I remember as a kid growing up that even a sermon about the birth of Jesus around Christmas was unheard of and almost forbidden because it was something that the “denominations” did. Sad.

    I love it that I have found a church of Christ where I live that celebrates Advent. I makes Christmas more special for the kids and family as well. Forming traditions and memories that will last a life-time. Thank you for reminding me to stress God at work.

    • Your experience is similar to mine. As a child, Christmas would have been a merely secular celebration had it not been for the fact that my mother took us to my grandmother’s Christmas Eve service at the Presbyterian Church. As for my children, I want Christmas to be a pointer to something other than just gifts and holiday cookies.

  2. Rex,

    Here’s some of my thoughts and a way I deal with this question and issue regarding the peace that Jesus coming into the world has brought. Now, what most people know about what the angels said about “peace on earth” usually comes from the most unlikely source: Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas. He does I believe accurately quote the King James Translation from Luke 2:14; “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

    Now I don’t have anything against Linus–as a matter of fact, I like Linus:)! But I don’t want Linus to be my final authority either. Yet, I think most of the modern translations get it right over the KJV’s familiar “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Both the NAS and ESV have essentially: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” That wording is just a little bit different and it gives it an important emphasis that we need not miss. The emphasis of that statement – peace is promised to those with whom God is pleased. And of course that should raise the question in people’s mind: With whom is God pleased? And of course, the answer is the peace of God is connected with Jesus.

    First, I believe the angels’ message was announcing the solution to man’s biggest problem: our sin resulting in hostility toward God. You see peace can never be separated from righteousness or holiness . And the only kind of persons in whom God takes pleasure are righteous people. Of course the good news of the gospel message centers on how while we were still estranged from Him (cf. Isa. 59:1-2; Eph. 2:1-2), Christ came to earth as Deity clothed in human flesh, and He paid the penalty for our sins by dying in our place. (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21) Indeed Christ’ blood made peace, justification and reconciliation possible. (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1-2, 5-10; Col. 1:19-22) And since the cause for our separation from Him is removed, we’re no longer His enemies but instead are His beloved sons and daughters. (cf. 1 John 3:1) I’ve told folks before at Christmas, don’t just pray ‘Peace on earth’, but Peace on earth to those in whom God is pleased. And God is pleased only with people who are righteous. These are the people who will have peace. This is the message of the angels.

    But it is true that in a secondary way, but nonetheless still important regarding the message of His coming into the world is that as a result of this peace with God that we can now through Jesus enjoy peace with one another. Christ not only reconciled us to the Father, but He also made it possible for us to enjoy harmonious relationships with others. (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22)

    And in a third way, yes, Jesus provides peace within ourselves. The peace that Jesus gives His followers is an internal calm which produces confident stability no matter what the external circumstnaces are going on around us. (cf. Phil. 4:6-7, 11-13)

    Anyway, these are the themes I try to preach during the Christmas season becasue I think too many people miss them getting all caught up in the babe in the manager. And of course, we should also recognize that the birth of Jesus was never intended by God to be a seasonal consideration of humanity. Rather God’s expressed will is for us to remember the death and resurrection, of Jesus and His second coming, upon the first day of the week in the Lord’s Supper. (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34)

    Still, I know for me, I have made my “peace” with the Christmas question years ago. It’s a date our world a long time ago began to honor our Lord and Savior for His birth. I’m always thankful anytime people are thinking about Jesus. I just hope and pray we can help them not miss the point of His coming into the world. (cf. John 3:16)

    Peace in Jesus,

    Robert Prater

    • Hence, exactly why I/we do have peace with God and look forward to that day when Christ comes again to make that complete.

      Any ways, I don’t know why but your comment was left in my spam folder. So if you comment, don’t fret if it doesn’t automatically appear.

    • By the way, the NIV ’11 and NRSV both render Luke 2.14 in the same manner as the ESV and NASB; all four represent a good translation of the actual Greek.

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