And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:7 NRSV]
Multiple times in Scripture the name of Jesus is linked with peace. The words of Isaiah 9:7, which are well-known in this season of Advent, foretell the coming of the Messiah. He will be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In Luke 2 the angels came to the shepherds tending their flock by night to give them the good news of the birth of Jesus. They announce, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
In John 14:27 right before Jesus is taken up on the cross to be crucified, he leaves these parting words to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” After Jesus has been crucified and has been resurrected from the dead, the disciples went into hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid. Jesus miraculously appears before them. And what are his first words to them in John 20:19? “Peace be with you.” And what were his second words to them in John 20:21? “Peace be with you.” Wherever Jesus goes, he brings peace.
The theme for the fourth Sunday of Advent is Peace. It seems that peace is something that is in short supply in our day and age—something we desire so deeply. Not only does it appear that peace is absent in our world today, but that even during the season of Advent we cannot seem to find peace. We have turned the Christmas season into a stressful time of the year with multiple activities and events happening simultaneously for which we do not have enough hours in the day to get them all done. So, we are tired and depressed. We need peace and we need it now.
Many see peace as being an absence of conflict. When nations are no longer warring, we say that they are at peace. Many historians will argue that the longest period of peace, (meaning no wars) was known as Pax Romana, the Peace of Roman. It started around 31 B.C. and lasted nearly 200 years. Why was there peace in the world? Well, Rome had pretty much conquered every nation of people that existed in the Western world. You could say that there was no one left to go to war with. We could look at this period of peace as brought upon by military conquest.
The peace that is the peace of Christ is not the same. It is not the absence of conflict but attaining a state of being “whole.” The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. It is a greater peace than we can fathom here on earth. As the Philippians passage says, it is a peace that comes from God that “surpasses all understanding.” This peace is a peace that is hard to describe, for it is way beyond anything that our human experience can fathom. It is a peace that finds its advent not in mighty warriors but through a helpless infant, as the theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes. “It is not the pride and strength of the grown man, which are proclaimed on the threshold of the kingdom, but the defenselessness and the hope of a child. The kingdom of peace comes through a child.” It is a peace that we cannot produce or generate on our own— a peace that can only come from God, through the gift of a baby in manger. It is a peace that grows not in the soil of self-reliance but in the soil of surrender. A peace that surpasses all understanding. That came as a gift to us all, many years ago when God came to be with us and be one of us. That silent and holy night, the babe in the manger, sleeping in heavenly peace.