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December 3, 2018

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 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)

He was a wealthy and well-respected Chicago lawyer and an elder in his church when his substantial real estate portfolio was decimated.  His son died of scarlet fever at a young age.  Two years later, all of his remaining children—4 daughters—drowned on a holiday cruise to England.  Only his wife survived.  By most standards, he should have been an angry, embittered man—shaking his fist at the God he worshipped.  But instead, when he sailed over the part of the Atlantic where the girls died, he penned these words:

“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.”

Who can do that?  Who could write “it is well with my soul” after losing most of his wealth and five young children? A believing Christian, that’s who. A Christian whose sure hope and belief is in Jesus Christ.  His name was Horatio Spafford.  He left the practice of law and devoted himself to full-time ministry—eventually moving to Jerusalem, where he spread the gospel until the end of his life on earth.

As we discussed last week, our hope and belief that Jesus died for our sins and claimed victory over death is the basis for our faith.  Authentic faith results in a peace that Paul described as passing “all understanding”  (Philippians 4:7).  That was the peace that Spafford had.  He described an overwhelming flow of peace that “attendeth my way.” His soul was at peace in spite of the overwhelming waves of sorrow.   It was a peace that saturated his being.  He was so full of God’s living water—his love and grace– that he was able to withstand the fires that raged about him.  He had complete confidence that his children were in heaven with Jesus, and that he and his wife would be reunited with them one day. We sing  “O come, O come Emmanuel” during Advent.  Emmanuel means “God with us.” Spafford experienced God with him.  When we invite God into our lives, we take a huge step to achieving the peace that passes all understanding.

The problems that crop up in our everyday lives can become obstacles to a peaceful life.  The trials we endure often disrupt the peace in our lives.  In addition to the loss of cherished loved ones, other problems come between us and the tranquility we so yearn for—relationship conflicts, family feuds and other family problems, natural tragedies such as the fires and hurricanes that have recently ravaged our nation, job loss and disappointments, addictions of many kinds, and mental and physical health issues, to name a few.

But we will never have a completely problem or conflict-free life during our three score and ten or so years on earth.  Conflict is universal.  There has never been a time without problems or conflict since the world began. Trials and tribulations have always plagued humankind and will continue to do so.  The Bible, like any riveting book, is replete with tales of trials, disasters, and conflicts.  Luke describes one such clash when John the Baptist expressed his disapproval of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all:  He locked John up in prison” Luke 3:19-20).[1]  Of course, we know that Herodias’ hatred of John ran deep; she later tricked Herod into ordering his death.

Jesus gives us the peace of soul and mind that comes with being his follower: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 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).  God imparts his peace to us and encourages us to pass it on to others.   What is a Christian to do in the midst of conflict?  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the crowd that peacemakers will be blessed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”(Matthew 5:9).

But how do we accomplish that?  How do we go about achieving peace when we are beset by trials or are in the midst of highly charged disagreements?  How do we become a peacemaker?   Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean that you give in to every demand on you by another person.  It just means that you learn to resolve your differences amicably and encourage cooperation and understanding between warring factions.  It begins with listening to each other.

The Holy Spirit is there to help you resolve conflict—to be an instrument of peace.  The Prayer of St. Francis begins, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon.” God does not demand peace at all costs, nor is peace the absence of conflict.  Peacemakers live in the world and are in the midst of conflict from time to time.  We are simply called to make efforts to reconcile  ourselves to others and to help others reconcile with each other and with God. The psalmist wrote: “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind! . . . He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations—let not the rebellious rise up against him” (Excerpts, Psalm 66:5-7).  Be a peacemaker.

Paul reassured the church at Thessalonica that God who began a good work in them will carry it out: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6).  When you join the family of God and strive to carry out his will for you to work for peace, he will help you through the tough days, hours, and months, when reconciliation seems to be a pipe dream.

This is the season of peace and goodwill.  Many people are suffering from personal losses of property or of loved ones. Many families and others will be in conflict during the holidays.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul encouraged us to do our best: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Paul understood that reconciliation is not always possible, but as a peacemaker, you are required to do your best to resolve differences.

Peacemaking is a divine activity; it requires the involvement of the Holy Spirit.   The Prince of Peace will lead you to a peace that passes all understanding in your own life, and will be with you as you help others through the challenges of their lives.

Prayer:  Father, saturate us with the assurance of your love and grace during this Advent season and beyond, so that we are able to fend off the many things that rob us of your peace—a peace that goes beyond our comprehension.  Send your Spirit to work through us as we seek to reconcile those in conflict around us and give us an extra measure of strength during this Advent season to help others in need.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Advent are Psalm 66:1-2; Malachi 3:1-7; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3: 1-20.

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