Luke chapter 3 opens with a long sentence outlining the context of Jesus’ birth, and we get the idea very clearly that there is no peace.
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Roman occupation, a Roman governor, the Herods – collaborating puppet rulers hated by their own kind, and chief priests who try to keep the peace by shutting down any voices of discontent. These characters and their institutions will appear again three years later to collectively shut down the Prince of Peace in the name of peace. That’s what Jesus was born into and the system he was crucified under.
There is no peace.
We remember that as we make room this Christmas. There is no peace. Bombs traded between Israel and Palestine. Civil War in Syria. Political unrest in Egypt. NATO restless on the Turkish border. Nothing has really changed in the political landscape. The world is still hazardous for the Prince of Peace and his followers.
Yet Jesus seemed to walk in peace. There was courageousness about his attitude. He wasn’t being silly or light, or avoiding reality – reality came at him and his family quite quickly and they fled to Egypt – and reality soon caught up with him as he embarked on his ministry that ended so horribly three years later.
No, there was about him an inner peace – a deep well of grace that he drew on. From time to time we meet people with this inner peace. Many of them are his followers. They seem to have cultivated an inner peace.
A disciple asked his master, ‘How am I to attain peace when there is so much noise around this village? Every time I try to meditate, there’s a rooster crowing or a child crying or a dog barking. I can’t concentrate on my prayers.’ The master said nothing, but took the man by the hand and led him into the forest. They walked for some time until they came across a small pool. It was a windy day, and the surface of the pond had become choppy. ‘What do you see in the pool?’ the master asked. ‘It is troubled,’ replied the disciple. His master then bid him dive into the pool, to the bottom. When he emerged from the water, his master asked him again what he saw in the pool. ‘It is still and deep,’ the man answered. ‘So then,’ said the master, ‘you must learn how to pray from the water.’
To find our peace we need to go deep. The New Zealand writer and film-maker Mike Riddell writes: “To discover peace is to know yourself held and loved in the heart of God. This is the source and secret of it; a deep and untouchable certainty which is harboured in the depth of our souls. It exists there as a great reservoir which can be tapped and drawn upon at any time and in any circumstances. Once we know where it is and how to reach it, peace is always available to us. We lose our peace when our attention gets diverted by the choppy surface of life.”
Peaceful people are grounded people. Grounded in God’s promises that all will be well and that these things that trouble us will soon pass. It is not easy to be so grounded. It takes practice, and discipline and attention. We can pray for it because one way or another we will all encounter situations when we will require a depth of inner peace in order to calm our fears.
“Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn” Mumford & Sons Below My Feet
Our prayer at Advent is that the peace of God made known so profoundly in Jesus’ life and teachings, will unfold in the world and take hold. We, of course, catch glimpses of it, and are called to live into it – even if we have fears and troubles.
We pray that our feet may be grounded in the peace of Christ.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7