Text: Philippians 4;4-7
Theme: Only when we are “anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful in much” does the “peace of God” settle over our hearts and minds.
A lot of people like to wander through antique and collectible stores. My wife loved to do that and therefore I spent a lot of time in antique stores. There was a certain feeling of nostalgia, I’ll admit, as I saw things that I remembered when I was young and recognized them as familiar. It sort of made me long for the “good old days” when life seemed simpler and better. One of the things I often saw was an old kerosene lantern. It made me think of the days when my Dad and I would light the lantern early in the morning and follow its glow to the barn, hang it on a post in the barn, and get to work on milking the cows. It made me long for those days! I treasured those times with my Dad. Many people look back on their lives with longing, feeling that something precious has been lost or taken from them. They want a missing treasure restored!
But what I lost cannot be restored by a visit to an antique store or by the purchase of an old lantern, can it? As we struggle through our daily lives, we often stumble and fall, hurt ourselves and others, crash into obstacles and leave a trail of debris behind us. We long many times for a lantern that will light our path, a beacon to guide us and lead us home. And so we light a candle—an advent candle. This is done on the first Sunday of the Advent season, and again on the second, third and fourth Sunday.
Each Sunday we light another candle and say, “Restore us, O God”. Restore our hope. Restore our peace. Restore our joy. Restore your love.
Last week we focused on the restoration of hope that we find in a relationship with God. Today we will focus on the restoration of Peace.
When I say “Peace” I am not talking about peace as the absence of conflict. During Jesus time on earth the word “peace” was often linked to Rome. The time is referred to by historians as the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace. This was a peace that was kept by the power of the sword of the Roman Army. While there was an absence of conflict it was because of the overwhelming force of the Roman armies scattered throughout the world to keep the peace by the sword.
The “Peace” I am referring to is the “Pax Christos”—the peace of Christ. It is the Peace that comes not by the power of the sword but by the power of Love.
It is the “Peace” is reflected in the Hebrew word for “Peace” which is “Shalom”. English translations often translate “shalom” as “peace”, but in reality the meaning of the word is much more complex. As Sharon Watkins says in her book Whole: A Call to unity in a Fractured World , Shalom “comes from a root word that means “whole”, as in “complete” or “safe”, either personally or within society. Shalom does not indicate a passive harmony or mere absence of conflict, as the word “peace” sometimes does. Shalom evokes a situation that is actively good, where the circumstances offer opportunities for inidividuals and communities to flourish….A good translation for “shalom” is “wholeness”. (p. 48)
Many people in our world long for this kind of shalom peace and wholeness in their lives. They feel an emptiness that remains deep within them. Only God can fill this emptiness. Long ago Augustine of Hippo, one of the great leaders of the early church, expressed it this way in his writing called “The Confessions”: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you!”
And so God’s peace will escape us until our restless hearts begin to rest in God. This peace will come as a gift from God, who is the source of shalom or wholeness that we seek! Paul writes of this shalom Peace in his letter to the church he founded at Philippi. And he gives a way that we can to seek that peace. Listen to what he writes:
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
A more literal translation of this that gets right to the point is: “Be anxious in nothing, prayerful in everything, thankful in anything…then the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s look more closely at this way of attaining God’s peace in our lives.
First, Be Anxious in Nothing:
Frances Willard, the great temperance movement leader, once remarked that “anxiety is atheistic”! What she was saying is that to be constantly anxious suggests that somehow we don’t trust God.
Some of us may remember our teenagers coming in just seconds before they were due home and finding us up and waiting for them. They’d ask: “What’s wrong, don’t you trust me?”
What we don’t trust, what makes us anxious, whether it be our teenager’s curfew, our spouse’s health, or our own career—is when we feel we no longer have complete control over the situations we are facing. No matter how many precautions we might take, or how well we think we have fortified ourselves against sneak attacks, down deep in our hearts we know that the much of the influences on our lives are out of our control. Kids grow up; illnesses attack without warning; companies down-scale and lay off workers, an economy goes sour. Life happens and we can’t control it!
But if we let our anxieties over these uncontrollable factors in our lives rule us, we will never experience the “peace” of God. If we can’t trust God to be in control of our lives regardless of what happens, then we will always be anxious. That’s why we need to trust God and be anxious in nothing because God is God: today, tomorrow, and always. God will be there for us, no matter what happens. We must trust in that to have “Shalom Peace”
Secondly, “Be Prayerful in Everything” Paul advises.
The reason we can “be anxious in nothing” and rejoice in God, is that God is powerfully present for us in prayer, always. Paul recognizes that a good percentage of our prayers are more correctly “supplications” and “requests”. Sometimes when we are spiritually strong our souls turn toward God and seek nothing but God’s presence—-but most of the time we approach God on our knees (if not literally, figuratively) and come to God as supplicants who are admitting our own inadequacies and recognizing God as the source of our wholeness and strength. Often our specific requests must seem childish and simple to God—-like the cartoon of two little boys who in early September donned all their mittens, coats and hats, perched themselves on their sled on the top of a hill and requested of God, “We’re ready….let ‘er rip!” But other times our supplications and requests are deeply serious as we cry out… “Help me!” “Heal her!” “Hear me!” “Please, God, help me get through this!”
Jesus told us that God wants our prayers and supplications and requests. God wants to be vitally present in our lives and prayer is the way God can do that! No wonder Paul advised his churches to “Pray without ceasing!”
Third, Be Thankful in All Things!
Being thankful for all things does not mean putting on an “act” of being cheery come what may! But being thankful in anything does mean believing that the guiding hand of God is constantly present in our lives. It means our awareness that we are never “abandoned children” and that the love of God through Christ remains steadfastly by our side no matter what we face.
That is the reason we can be thankful in anything. Our thankfulness is not a matter of “surface smiles” but is based in the confidence that whatever comes our way, God is there for us and will give us strength and wisdom to cope with our lives.
If we truly practice the above three admonitions, then the “peace of God which passes understanding” that Paul writes of is ours. God will guard our hearts and our minds and will give us Joy in Living. And we’ll talk about that “Joy” next week as “Joy” is the Third Candle of Advent.
Let me close with a story that touched my heart when I read it and revealed how we find peace with God:
This story dates back to 1994—that was the year my wife and I visited our daughter Lisa and son-in-law Brian in Novisibursk, Siberia, in Russia. They were there at the invitation of the Russian Department of Education to teach teachers how to teach morals and ethics to their students. Another team in a different place for the same purpose told this story about a visit to a Russian orphanage:
At the orphanage the team told the traditional story of Christmas to the children who had been abandoned, abused, and left in care of the government-run program at the orphanage. It was the first time the children, and many of the staff had heard the Christmas story and they sat in amazement at hearing it told.
The writers wrote: “We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, and finding no room in the inn they went to a stable where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored papers was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.
The orphans were busily assembling their mangers as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat—he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger!
Quickly I called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the Christmas story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had heard the Christmas story only once, he related the happenings very accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said: “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much that I thought and thought and decided that maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always!”
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him—for always.
We call Jesus by the name “IMMANUEL”, which means “GOD WITH US”. In this Advent season we need to discover, like the orphan Misha, that the God who came in Jesus Christ will never abandon or abuse us, but will stay with us—for always.
God will be with us:
When the cancer biopsy comes back positive, instead of negative.
When the final exam is marked with an “F” rather than an “A”.
When the spouse of 15 years stomps out the door and doesn’t return.
When the dream of success in business is once again downsized and diminished.
When the late-night long-distance call communicates a death, not a birth.
When the longing for family harmony is shattered by a shouting match.
When the desire for companionship is drained by another lonely holiday season.
And we will have the “Shalom” Peace that we seek. It is ours, a free gift from a loving God as we:
Are anxious in nothing!
Are prayerful in everything!
Are thankful for all things!