Peace. What a wonderful, powerful, and elusive word. Many of you, if you have read this blog for a little while, will realize I come from a conservative Christian background. This advent season is a first for me since I recently switched churches ... denominations, actually. I grew up Baptist, and have recently started attending a Free Methodist church in the local community, so this Advent season follows a different set of liturgical history.
Some of the reasons I switched churches had to do with this very issue of peace. Webster's Dictionary defines peace along three primary levels: no war (within a civil context), harmony within personal relationships, and freedom from oppressive thoughts.
Further definition of the word continues with tranquility or quiet. In this context, the word calm is used as a synonym such as the calm before the storm, or the sense of peace after a storm. For many of us, peace is elusive in the greater context of world events. Many call for peace, but we continue to have fighting. The 20th and 21st centuries were, and have been, times of war. Beginning with World War 1, our world has been in a constant state of restlessness.
Some talk about Jesus Christ coming to bring us peace (i.e. end of wars), but if you look at the time in which He was born, peace reigned in His world. It was called the Pax Romana because the Roman Empire controlled so much territory. Were there areas of unrest? Certainly, but all in all, it wasn't that bad of a place to grow up.
Most often, I think currently, the peace that Christ brings belongs in the second two categories of peace: personal relationships and freedom from oppressive thoughts.
Peace ImageHow do we picture peace? For some it is a location free from worries, cares, and people. It is a isolated cottage by a stream. Others might add people to the image: family, friends and a huge party, but the general image remains the same: nothing bad happens.
I have that image as well, but often, when I consider peace, I am more inclined to see a hurricane. To picture a house inside that hurricane with everything battened down and protected. Inside the house the family is together while they face out the storm. They have their stores, they have power, and they have the confidence that no matter what happens outside, they are safe. To me, peace is the confidence we have to face life's dangers. Taking the hurricane another step, there is an eye of a storm where silence and calm reigns for a short moment. At that point, people can minister to others, they can step outside to survey the damage, or they can refasten items that might have loosened in the winds.
This second image of peace is what I suspect Christ brings us (though eventually, freedom from wars will be another one as well, of course). During the Advent season, we remember His peace is the confidence we have in life's storms. We're protected, safe, and secure in Christ so when troubles do come, we can proceed forward. Peace doesn't mean we won't have trials, or that bad things will not happen to us, but it does mean we do not have to fear those troubles.
Two Types of DarknessYou see, at the church I was attending, as well as another church I visited, the first image of peace was more often portrayed: life is good, troubles may come, but they're off in the horizon, if there is darkness then it isn't God's will. In this context, darkness is always equaled with sin and misfortune. Unfortunately, those ideas aren't always truth.
The church I am currently attending viewed darkness as a necessary part of life. In the times in which we cannot see the path ahead of us, we take a step forward. The darkness isn't an oppressive danger, but a cycle we face. The difference is subtle, of course, but to someone traveling in darkness, the difference was a relief. Knowing that the darkness I faced was just a moment, not necessarily something I had done, came as a soothing balm, the calm in the storm.
All artists walk through paths filled with darkness. For some of us it is the questions concerning our abilities or our callings. For others, it is whether or not we take the initial step. For still others, it is a time period of being unproductive or blocked. On the other hand, darkness is a good thing: night time is a time of rest for most of the world. For me, when I have terrible headaches, darkness is where I retreat to heal.
To teach, or at least imply, that darkness in your life equals sin or God's judgment is at best unproductive, and at worse abusive. We need darkness even as we need light. Darkness is really only the absence or diminishment, of light. We need the time to rest, heal or focus. In a place where no light is, one light shines brighter.
Therefore, peace is being able to walk through those dark times with the calm assurance that your path is the one you follow. It is the confidence you need to work through the hard times; to minister to those who need your help. For many of us, peace is one wounded soldier helping another wounded soldier to the medics because we know help is coming.
If your road is dark right now, take heart. In this Advent season, pursue Jesus Christ to see where He brings peace. Strife and turmoil might not end, because the storm might continue to rage, but within His care, we can be assured we are safe.