When I was in high school, on Sunday nights after youth group, a bunch of us would hop in one, sometimes two, cars and head to Vespers at a local University. It started at 10:00 PM and went for an hour and was always packed. Not being one to ever arrive somewhere early I often snuck in with the opening song and would find a spot on the floor by the doors or in the aisle.
For one hour in a dark auditorium, the only light being the small ones attached to the music stands on stage, surrounded by people I could only hear, I learned about the peace that is found only in the presence of God.
I remember one time in particular sitting on the floor, shoulder to shoulder with strangers who were also family, crying out in need, adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to a God and Father that we all shared. The music ended and I lingered. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay on that floor in the presence of God, it was so thick and tangible in that place. His peace had melted away everything I had carried in with me that night.
I think that corporate worship like this is a taste of heaven. Not that in heaven all we will do is sing, but sitting in God’s presence? Soaking in his peace? Living in it? Oh, friends. This is what we live for.
This week the internet blew up again and hate was thrown over invisible lines drawn between a group of people who should be known for their love for each other and the unity they share. Instead, I read how people from both sides of the battlefield hurled harsh words, biting comments, sarcastic jabs like mud slinging back and forth. There was no listening to understand, or listening at all. There were no positive assumptions, no wondering about what has happened in the other’s story to make them so passionate today. No grace, and definitely no peace. God’s presence is mostly missing from the one-sided conversations his followers are having from the comfort of their couches using his name as a sword, cutting people deeply as they remind them how wrong they are.
And then, I open my Bible and read about peace. In Luke 1, Zechariah prophesies that his new baby John will be a forerunner for peace, he was to prepare the way for Jesus to “guide our feet into the way of peace and serenity(vs.79 AMP)” and in Isaiah 9:6-7 we read the great prophecy that Jesus’ birth fulfills, “ For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There shall be no end to the increase of His government and of peace…”
It is Christmas time, and everywhere on Facebook I am reading about Christmas magic. But I wonder if the magic we are all searching for is really this elusive peace, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that is found in the presence of God because he himself is peace.
I have been walking with Jesus a long time but still, and even more as I get older, I wake up daily with an anxiousness about life and all that has to be accomplished. It isn’t until I sit in worship before my Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace do I know the peace that is promised.
It is the lesson that I began learning all those years ago, peace comes from communion with God and surrender to his plan. Peace comes from the reminder that I am not in control of my life, thankfully. Peace comes in surrendering to the One who has control over all things. Peace comes from knowing I can trust him because I have spent time knowing him and walking with him.
In his book A Praying Life Paul Miller says this about the birth of Jesus;
“The wonder of the infinite-personal God is displayed, more than anywhere else, in the Incarnation…God found a parking spot, a specific place and time where his love would touch our world. Prayer is a moment of incarnation -God with us. God involved in the details of my life.”
That moment in the auditorium all those years ago where I didn’t want to leave God’s presence and his peace behind, what I have learned since then is that his peace is always available to me because his very presence lives inside me. He has made himself accessible by coming to earth as a baby, He is Emmanuel – God with us, always.
In Ephesians 6, in the list of the Armor we are to put on as believers, peace is mentioned. “For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared(15, NLT)”
What if, every day, we put on the shoes of the Gospel of Peace. Before we walked out our door, before we hopped onto Facebook, before we talked with another human, the Gospel of Peace is what prepared us to walk out into the world. What if the peace that is promised in the birth of Jesus wasn’t something we only talk about at Christmas time, but what if this sign of God with us is something that defined us who claim to follow Jesus?
Isaiah’s words about Christ and his rule are true, “His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.” God doesn’t need us to accomplish his will, the rest of Isaiah 9:7NLT says “The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen.” The question isn’t of the validity of Jesus, his presence with us, his peace that he gives us because we have access to himself.
The question is, will you and I be carriers of this peace? Will we fit our feet with the shoes of the Gospel of Peace? It isn’t the gospel of condemnation, the gospel of judgement, the gospel of hate, the gospel of self-righteousness, the gospel of pride, the gospel of I am more right than you, it isn’t even the gospel of politics. It is the gospel of peace.
The peace that passes all understanding and access to it is an invaluable piece of my life. I cannot live without the presence of the Prince of Peace ruling my heart and mind every day. Without this peace the worries, anxieties and to-do lists of life take over.
This is why Christmas is so magical, so important. Because peace became tangible, attainable. Peace came in the form of a baby. God as man, here on earth, lived, died and rose again so that I can have direct access to Peace and so that I can strap that Gospel of Peace on my feet and carry it to others.
I ask myself and I ask you too. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, what gospel are you carrying? The one of peace or one of your own making? Are you slinging weapons or building a bridge? We don’t have to agree, it is fairly certain we don’t know everything, life brings a lot of opportunities for anxiety, so today – and every day – how about we start by taking advantage of Emmanuel, God with us – our Prince of Peace and even more can we agree together to allow that Peace to define us?