Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Rejoice in Surpassing Peace. . .

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, preached on Sunday, December 12, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4).
    Many pastors in our church body close their sermons with the same words every Sunday: “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  These words come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  But what do they mean?  What kind of peace are we talking about?  Because if we’re being honest, there’s not a whole lot of peace in our world; or in our lives.  
    The Christmas season always brings with it the idea of peace.  As you drive through neighborhoods, you’ll not only see homes decorated with lights and inflatables Santa Clauses, but you’ll also see some with the word “peace” on windows and yard signs.  We associate peace with Christmas.  That’s probably because that’s what the angels sang when they visited the shepherds that first Christmas night.  That heavenly chorus sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Lk 2:14 NKJV).  Everyone seems to know these words, even non-Christians, so we think about peace on at Christmas.
    It’s ironic though, because ever since Christ’s birth, there hasn’t been peace on earth.  A quick look at history proves that.  Not even the holidays are a guarantee of a short time of peace.  Just 5 days ago, our nation remembered Pearl Harbor Day.  There was no peace then, on December 7, 1941.  And if you’ve been listening to the news, it seems like Russia and the Ukraine may be getting ready for a fight.  There’s no peace now.  The victims of the recent tornadoes aren’t experiencing peace either.  So what kind of peace did the angels sing about?
    Maybe it’s not world peace that they sang about, but peace in the lives of Christ’s followers?  Maybe that song of peace was just for God’s saints?  Maybe it was a promise of a perfectly calm and quiet life?     Many people think that’s the case.  Many think, and we even wish, that since we’re Christians, we’ll have easy lives.  Since we’re baptized children of God, that means He’s going to give us a peaceful life: a life free from trouble and pain and sorrow.  That’s the kind of peace that we want.  
The peace that we want is a calm and quiet life.  We want the peace of a happy home, where we always get along with our husband or wife, where the children always do what they’re told, where no one yells, and the dishes are always done.  We want the peace of a secure job and great economy, where our paycheck pays for all our bills and all our toys.  We want the peace of a happy community, agreement in politics, and no crime.  We want the peace of a healthy body that never gets sick, and if by chance we do fall ill, we want the doctors to quickly heal us.  This is the peace we want…but it’s not the peace we get.  
This wasn’t the peace that John the Baptist got.  Doing everything the Lord sent him to do didn’t get him peace.  Instead, it got him thrown in prison and eventually, got his head cut off.  And the same thing can be said about Paul.  His life definitely didn’t get more peaceful after his conversion.  Right away, his life was threatened by martyrdom.  In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about all that he suffered: multiple imprisonments, beatings, receiving 39 lashes five different times, being stoned, being shipwrecked; and that doesn’t include the normal hardships of missionary life on the road, being cold and hungry and tired; or that unknown thorn in his side that he asked the Lord three times to remove, but He didn’t.  If we think the peace of God is a perfectly calm and quiet life, then we’re greatly mistaken.  
    The peace that Christ brings is a peace like no other.  It’s not the peace of a harmonious world.  It’s not the peace of economic security or a body free of illness.  It’s not even the peace of emotional happiness.  The peace that Christ brings is the peace that endures all trials, tribulations, and suffering.  It’s the peace that comes from Him overcoming all sin and death.  It’s the peace that looks to Christ for salvation alone, trusting in His forgiveness and promised life and salvation.  It’s the peace that brings us back into a right relationship with God, making you at one with Him because of Christ’s atonement.  
    This peace may not look like much from the outside, but it’s the very thing that sustains you during all the unpeaceful times.  Knowing your Savior has overcome everything, that He’s overcome the world, that He’s overcome sin and death, that He’s overcome Satan, for you, that peace enables you to endure.  That peace carries you through.  That peace makes you stand up straight in the unpeaceful times and says, “I know my Savior has come.   I know my salvation has come.  I know my life is secure in Him.  And nothing can steal that away.”  And because of that peace, you can rejoice at all times.
    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4).  This is what Paul encouraged the Philippians, and all of us to do.  And this is what we do.  We do rejoice at all times.  We have joy at all times.  This joy isn’t always expressed with leaping and jumping, laughs and smiles, but it’s still always there; even at times when joy seems to be completely absent: like John the Baptist's imprisonment, Paul’s sufferings, or at the funerals of loved ones.  
    We don’t think there can be much joy at funerals.  That’s one of the reasons why many have stopped having funerals and instead want a celebration of life.  But even in the midst of mourning and sadness at funerals, there’s also joy.  The very last words of a funeral are joy.  Right before the Benediction, the pastor says: Alleluia! Christ is risen; and the congregation responds with: He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  These are joyful words.  These are peaceful words.  Because our Lord has come, died, and risen, you have a joyful peace.  You rejoice in Him and the salvation He gives.  
    If we’re being honest with ourselves, we all want the peace of a perfectly calm and quiet life.  That’s the kind of peace that the world thinks about this time of year.  But this peace is nothing compared to the peace we have in the face of sin and death.  We don’t have peace with sin and death.  We don’t come to terms with it.  Sin and death, Satan, they’re still our enemies.  But the peace we have is in spite of sin and death, because our Savior has come and overcome our enemies.  It’s with this peace that we rejoice at all times.  We rejoice in our Savior coming.  We rejoice in the salvation He gives.  
    This is why pastors end sermons saying: “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Having heard what your Savior has done for you gives you a peace like no other, a peace that endures all things.  May the Lord always give you this peace, and may you always rejoice in it.  In Jesus’ name…Amen.  


Timothy Carter said...

"But the peace we have is in spite of sin and death, because our Savior has come and overcome our enemies. It’s with this peace that we rejoice at all times. We rejoice in our Savior coming. We rejoice in the salvation He gives." Excellent, comforting words for Gaudete Sunday... "Rejoice" Sunday".
My isolation has weighed heavily on me these last weeks and "rejoice" is the last thing on my mind. After Sunday's Liturgy and Tuesday's reading of your blog I feel much better. Through the Holy Spirit and the church, I can rejoice in what God has done for me and for all believers.
Thank you, Pastors Peters and Becker for your comforting, true words in this dark world. Confessional writing does have a way of comforting and pointing out what is truly important.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon, Kingsport, TN.

Timothy Carter said...

.... and thank Pastor Ulrich.
Timothy Carter. simple country Deacon, Kingsport, TN.