by Kalyn Stralow
Joy is one of those words that if you repeat it enough times in a row, it becomes a silly sound devoid of sense. Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy. Absolutely ridiculous after a while. That happened to me as I was pondering the meaning of “Joy” as it relates to this season. (See if it happens to you after I use the word approximately 100 times in the next few paragraphs.)
Because we use it everywhere and often at Christmas. “Joy to the world!” “Tidings of comfort and joy.” If you say it enough times and in enough greetings and on enough sparkly cards featuring smiling faces, it can start to lose any real meaning – however genuine and well-intended we are when we enthusiastically embrace it.
Joy is the preeminent emotion of the season because of the hope that Jesus’ birth represents for humankind. When I think of Jesus’ life, though, even from the very beginning, many of the events certainly can’t be described as “joyful.” Murderous rage, flight, and death punctuated his earliest years. And murderous rage and death marked the nearing of the end of his time on earth. Not circumstances that would make anyone think, “wow, what a joyous time.”
And for many observing the Advent season, “joy” is also not the word they would choose to describe their circumstances as we close out 2018. Life and its challenges are hard. Death and loss are unimaginably hard. Where is joy to be found? Even if you want to choose joy, are you supposed to be summoning a warm and fuzzy feeling on command because the calendar says so?
My favorite “joy” passage is from Hebrews 12:
“1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Jesus himself chose, in the midst of incredible hardship, to set his eyes on the future joy awaiting him. It wasn’t a feeling of the moment, but expectant hope to keep hold. And the passage goes on to encourage believers, in light of Christ’s example, to take heart and lean into the promise of future joy.
And that is my prayer for you this week of Advent. May you feel encouraged and renewed by Jesus’ example and the joy that His coming represents. Don’t feel pressured to feel all the happy feels if that’s not where you are at right now. Just lean into him and know you are NOT alone in your perseverance. Jesus himself understands you EXACTLY.
by Andrew Adams
Scripture: Luke 2:13-14; Isaiah 52:7; John 14:27
We see here in Luke 2 that the angels who come and declare peace do it to some humble, industrious shepherds who are living out what they were called to do. They were doing the duties and responsibilities that they were assigned to do. They were living out their occupation and were being faithful to that. As they are committed to what they are suppose to do it is then that they receive a divine appointment from God’s angels. The angels come to give news to the shepherds and declare to them that Jesus will bring them peace. They are able to receive this message of peace because they were found faithful to what they knew they should be doing. The peace that they would experience knowing the Prince of Peace was announced to the world to those that were rewarded by God for living out their life in an honorable, God glorifying, way.
As we continue to focus on what Jesus has done for us this Christmas season and look forward to the sermon, what does it look like for us to be faithful to what God has called us to do? Are you doing your duties and responsibilities that God has given you? Are you being faithful to all that God has called you to do with your family, friends, work, and church? Have you put yourself in a position to experience the peace of God and have a divine appointment with him? Are you at peace with where you are at in your life this holiday season? Is there things that you need to change? Do you not feel at peace with what you are doing in the different aspects of your life? Do you need to change something in your life or do you need to get back to something that you have neglected in order to experience the peace that Jesus offers to you? Pray and talk to God about that.
I love the Advent season as I reflect on what God did for us by sending His Son. A perfect baby boy born in the most humble circumstances. We are so blessed in the United States that I think I forget what that means to be born in humble circumstances. And what’s more, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, CHOSE to enter the world as He did!
What does Prince of Peace really mean to me?
Mark 4:39 “Then He arose and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
Have you ever been as frightened as the disciples? Can you even imagine being in a boat that felt like it was going to sink? I can’t. The closest I have ever been to being frightened to the point of death was when landing at Heathrow in London. It was a very stormy landing in every sense of the word. Turbulence doesn’t even come close to describing this landing. As the plane was being jolted up and down the passengers were being tossed to and fro. Praise God for seatbelts! Then in one fell swoop, we were lifted out of our seats as far up as our belts would allow, all the overhead bins came open and luggage was falling out everywhere.
Needless to say, there was a lot of confusion and chaos. Three college-aged girls were sitting to my right one row behind me who were absolutely hysterical. They were screaming that we were going to die which didn’t help matters. Then all of a sudden we were on the ground taxing to our gate.
I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. As I tried to process what had happened so quickly, I realized, even in that instant, that I had a sense of peace that I couldn’t understand. The well-known and quoted verse came to mind in Philippians 4:6-7. “Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” NASB
Jesus was my peace in that instant. My muscle memory paid off at that moment.
I don’t know about you; but in this world of chaos confusion, it sure is good to understand WHO our peace is. If I had not known the Prince of Peace on that plane, I would have panicked like those three young ladies. But since I had called on the Prince of Peace many times in my life, my muscle memory took over. The Calmer of the storm and the calmer of my heart in times that I don’t understand is here for all of us. He is our peace. Here is the deal, we have to call on Him to be our peace daily. In a world where we have no idea what our next second looks like, I need to know Jesus as my peace.
Think about our Jesus during this time as YOUR peace. He is there; you only need to choose Him. He will not fail.
Seldom have I encountered a person who is truly at peace.
Biblical peace is described as a safeguard, both against the proud heart demanding its right to an answer, as in the case of Job and to the babbling soul as it comes to terms with its own sinfulness, as in the case of Adam. For both these men, peace was at the mercy of their immediate circumstance, and it is possible to argue that their demands are reasonable. Living amidst the tragedy of a fallen world can give our wrestling against flesh and blood a sense of justice, but often at the expense of acknowledging that the most important spiritual battles lay claim within the heart of man.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that it is those who make for peace, rather than those who are at peace, who are to be called the children of God. Why not the other way around? How can the Prince of Peace make such a command and later remark that He comes not to bring peace, but a sword? Perhaps the wisdom of God is kind enough to remember our humanity. What seems like a paradox is actually a call to recognize that a correct view of peace is a matter of eternal importance. Hidden in Jesus’ statement is the idea that, in order to make peace, one must be willing to observe truthfully, and that the dishonest observer makes himself an enemy of the kingdom of God. Dishonesty, in essence, is a form of resignation. It is the belief that God is insufficient to orchestrate the present and that what has been given to us in the moment could not possibly be worked for God’s glory. One decision at a time, resignation condemns the world to hell.
For some, the kingdom of heaven is reduced to a size that is more manageable, the size of the self. While still present in name, God exists as a slave. Captive to a list of rules and responsibilities, the Infinite is shackled to our subjective framework and lives as a caricature within the narrow parameters we have set. Looking at the broader context of the Christmas story, this attitude is present in Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Unable to believe in the power of God to grant him a son, Zechariah is rendered unable to speak and is forced into a position of observation. He breaks nine months of silence not only declaring the name of his son but also proclaiming to himself and his listeners that his view of God now extends beyond what he once considered possible.
For others, the kingdom of heaven retains a breadth that spares no knowledge and reaches past visible creation into the furthest realms of possibility. Choked at the hand of human questioning, everything in existence is forced to speak in terms of earthly wisdom. God’s gifts become nothing more than a tool for power, and the gift giver Himself is forced into exile. Such is the attitude of King Herod, whose earthly empire is threatened by the announcement of God’s arrival. In retaliation to this loss of control, he orders the murder of every newborn childbearing resemblance to Christ. This sadistic act of self-worship yielded nothing but suffering and left Herod to die as a victim of the very world he once sought to conquer.
So what does this mean? How can peace abide with us in this very moment? I have no answer, save that we welcome Christ as He is born in us. Growing up, my father was fond of saying that a life is best lived when it allows others to see God’s presence with you. Sometimes, this presence has come in the form of bringing a sword to my own kingdom. Sometimes it has come as I walk to get coffee on a weekday afternoon. Sometimes it is tears, the laughter of students in my physics class, or choosing to listen to someone I once considered unworthy of my time. Whatever the case, the kingdom of God has never imposed on true peace, and to stop and look for it as one who would be called a child of God is the best use of our time here on earth.
May we seek You and find You, born in us today and always.
Prince of Peace is one my favorite names of God. When I really begin to grasp that Jesus gives real peace, it makes me take a big breath and rest deep down in my soul. I’ve been asking God to teach me about peace for several years now because I’ve noticed that peace is often missing in my heart. All too often, I let my full calendar, my long to-do list, or my small daily frustrations steal the joy and peace that I want to be characterized by. I want the peace of Numbers 6: “The Lord bless and keep you…the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
God gives us peace with God when we believe that He is the answer to our sin problem. He is peace, and when Jesus came as a man and conquered death, “the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.” (Isaiah 53:6) He has already brought us peace if we’ve trusted in Him for eternal life! Romans 5:5 says, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But there’s a moment by moment peace of God that requires a choice on my part. It’s the peace that is always available yet often ignored. What I’m finding is that sometimes I know the peace of God better in my life during the valleys than in the more mundane plains. I remember feeling more peace after my husband fell from a cliff and was needing to be airlifted from a canyon than yesterday when I was homeschooling my dear children in a messy house while they kept losing essential things. It’s these moments when I know I need more of Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” What a beautiful offer from our God!
Philippians 4:4-9 is amazing because it reads almost like a step by step equation for peace.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
What I read there is rejoicing + gentleness – anxiety + prayer + thanksgiving = incomprehensible peace! Yes, please! I need peace to guard my heart and mind, and I have a choice to make lined out for me in the first part of that equation. It’s a step by step method for abiding and walking with God in each moment. However, I don’t think God wants this to feel like another to-do list to complete in this busy Christmas season. Instead, it’s an invitation to remember Him as we do the everyday items that we have to do. Applying these verses might just mean having a conversation with Him as I go throughout my day and allowing the Holy Spirit to remind me of His offer of peace. It might go something like this:
Me: “But Lord, this house is a mess!”
Jesus: “Don’t be anxious. Trust me when you’re overwhelmed.”
Me: “Lord, my daughter lost her Awana book again!”
Jesus: “Be gentle with her and ask me. I can help you.”
Me: “Lord, I don’t know how I will host all of our family for Christmas!”
Jesus: “Can you be thankful for that family and a home to host them in?”
When I listen to His voice in the midst of my bustling, I begin to experience Him as my peace. Jesus is peace, and He’s the one that gives the peace we and the rest of mankind so desperately seek: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.” (John 14:27) May we know more peace as we seek to know Him, the Prince of Peace.
Scripture: Luke 2:1; Isaiah 9:6-7
In 31 BC at the battle of Actium, the naval forces of Octavian, the young and ambitious nephew and adopted heir of Julius Caesar, had defeated his final foe in his quest for empire. His enemy, Marc Antony, fled to Egypt where he and his mistress, would commit suicide rather than endure capture. Rome which had been at war with itself for the better part of the previous hundred years was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. The gates of the war god’s temple were closed for only the third time in Rome’s long history. A new era of unprecedented peace – the Pax Romana – dawned.
As Octavian victoriously returned to Rome, he now set about establishing his government. He had his uncle officially defied within the state religion. He granted himself the title by which all the world would formally know him – Caesar Augustus – which humbly interpreted means, “Caesar, son of the divine.”
Years later, at the height of his power, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” And so it was that in the back provinces of his empire, that a carpenter named Joseph and his betrothed wife, Mary, who was with child made the journey to the village of Bethlehem, where she gave birth to a Son in a stable.
It is with no small irony that God’s only begotten Son was born during the reign of Caesar – “the divine’s” – “son;” that the Prince of Peace entered our world during the onset of the Pax Romana; that the One whose government will forever increase and be without end quietly was inaugurated by shepherds, while the mightiest monarch on earth was counting the limits of his empire from the opulence of Rome.
Caesar Augustus’ days would come to an end before the child born in Bethlehem would reach adulthood. Within the vapor of a few short centuries the so-called “Eternal City” would succumb to the Ostrogoths and its empire was no more. But the kingdom of the “Son who is given” was quietly subduing the earth, one soul at a time. For all of Rome’s might and splendor, her justice, her prosperity, her order, and her peace were as arbitrary and frail as man. But the justice and peace of God’s Kingdom are forever advancing.
This Advent, we have a choice to invest in God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness by living a life of faith that shines in the darkness; that loves our neighbors; that forgives others as we have been forgiven; that generously remembers the orphans, widows, and foreigners in our midst – or – we can continue building the sandcastles of our own kingdoms soon to be swept away.
But only one of these choices will secure a full and lasting peace.
“For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end.
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.”
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
Scripture: Matthew 4:16
The Gospel of Matthew begins to lay out who Jesus is and what he has come to do by quoting the great prophet Isaiah in chapter 9:2.
The prophet has given us a grim picture of what life was like for those living during his time. Matthew reiterates that this is what it has been like for all of humanity since the beginning. The people had been living under constant darkness in their lives. They were living in the shadow and condemnation of death. It paints a bleak picture of the hopelessness of the people of Israel.
But even from the beginning with Eve in Genesis 3:15 and Abraham in Genesis 12 and later on with the prophets, God has promised them hope that this darkness they are walking in will not be permanent. This deep shadow of death they are falling under will not be their downfall, but they could look with an eager expectation and hope that a light would dawn on them. Though they did not see the fulfillment of this in their lifetime, they trusted that God was true to his promise and they put their trust in the hope that was sure, steady, and above all unchanged through the centuries.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a sign that this light would one day dawn on the entire universe in chapter 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” God gives us the promise that this light would come in the form of a child. Meek and humble in a manger. Upon this child would rest the hope of the entire world to have new life, eternal life! It is upon Jesus that the hope of all the saints of the Old Testament rests. It is the same hope we have today.
For some of us, Christmas time seems anything but hopeful. For some, it is a time of apprehension and dread. Having to see family you don’t like, who cause pain or turmoil in your life. Dealing with ex-spouses and figuring out how to share the kids. The financial burden during this time of year. The loneliness from the empty seat that was once filled. There is also the pain of broken relationships during this time of year when everyone around you seems happy and enjoying the relationships they are in.
The good news is that the hope we celebrate and the hope the prophets looked forward to is one that encompasses something deeper than these issues that we might have at Christmas time. We can have this deep-seated hope in Christ in the midst of the seeming darkness in our lives because Jesus is the one that has come to ultimately dispel that darkness.
As well look towards Jesus coming what does it look like to hope in Jesus this season? How can you trust in the promise that God has made and has been fulfilled in Jesus this season? There are things in your life that may seem hopeless. We worship a God that specializes in changing around the dreary circumstances in our lives. We can celebrate this season because the greatest need and our most difficult circumstance of sin have been taken care of! Jesus has freed us from sin and death. That is the hope we can have in the midst of the hardness we might experience this holiday season that Jesus has saved us from the darkness that would separate us from God. We can have hope that in the end God will restore and redeem all that is broken in our lives.
So, this Christmas season, look to the hope that is found in Jesus in the midst of the broken relationships that God is the one who can restore them. To our loved ones that are no longer there, we have the hope of the One who can raise the dead. In the financial strain, we have hope that Jesus who has taken care of our most intense spiritual need will also take care of our physical needs. We celebrate at advent that Jesus has come to bring hope to the darkest and most broken parts of our life. Let’s focus on that hope this week.
Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 1:18-23; John 14:15-30
Do you think hope comes easily? I don’t. Hope blooms most brilliantly in the midst of doubt. It thrives in the lamentable.* We see this throughout the Bible.
Take a look at Isaiah, a man born during the reign of fairly successful–depending on your definition–kings. These successes were short-lived; however, and Assyrian presence and oppression fell heavily on the two kingdoms about the same time Isaiah was called to his position as a prophet of the Lord.
What a time to be called! Israel and Judah, two kingdoms once united by a powerful and all-knowing God with immense riches and supernatural military power. Now they stand in shambles due to lack of hope and obedience. Nonetheless, God is faithful and stands by His covenant with Abraham to bless his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3). In the thick of persecution, God, through Isaiah, tells His people of His plan for grace and glory:
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
The Israelites had a choice to believe and follow the God of their fathers or bow to the presence of fear and defeat. What do you think your reaction would be to the promise of a future everlasting kingdom? A promise made in the middle of the threat of Assyrian captivity?
Fast forward approximately 700 years (700 YEARS!) and the hope of the prophecy is revealed. None of the people who heard Isaiah are even close to being alive. The Israelites experienced various exiles and mistreatment with a few gaps of decent living**, yet still, there were those who hoped. The prophecies of Isaiah were alive in God’s people. “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” (Matt. 2:2) The wise men dropped what they were doing to seek out the foretold King.
Unfortunately, we also see lost hope by the scribes and Pharisees. They’ve lived by the scrolls and rules for so long they have forgotten the hope (and freedom) of a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace.” They lived by the ideology of ‘keep your head down.’ If they merely followed the law, then life was ok. Don’t rock the boat.
Would it be so simple to accept a baby as the living hope of a prophecy long ago spoken?
I, for one, am thankful God is gracious and I live beyond the resurrection.
According to the apostle John, Jesus said, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Hallelujah! We have a Helper to keep the hope of Jesus alive in us.
As Jesus prepares His followers for his departure, He assures them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…Because I live, you also will live…If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Jesus frees us from the bondage of fear. We are adopted into His family. We may live through captivity and persecution, but we can persevere with the truth and power of Christ.
The choice is yours to live in hope. Jesus has made the path clear and open. It’s not always easy, but we have a Helper. He does not promise a perfect life, but He promises an abundant and eternal one.***
May the Advent season remind you He is alive.
Here’s the question you can truthfully and honestly answer because we’re living it now:
Will you choose to put your hope in Christ in the midst of today’s world? Have you forgotten hope, joy, and love because we are constantly bombarded with unsettling politics and hate?
**Half the Old Testament
The hope of the gospel is the resurrection of Christ Jesus as He conquered death and therefore granted us pardon from the same. Through Christ, we have hope of a life beyond the grave which promises so much more than we can imagine.
The thing is, Jesus is more than just a hope of a future. He is a current hope. Jesus is our living hope. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he commends their loyalty in response to the hope of salvation. He continues saying, “Just as in the whole world the gospel is constantly bearing fruit and spreading, just as it has been doing among you ever since the day you first heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.”
Understand, the gospel doesn’t just save us; it keeps us. It continues to work in our lives from the moment we believe gifting us the power to overcome and love as He would love. Peter writes:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant and boundless mercy has caused us to be born again to an everliving hope and confident assurance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who are being protected and shielded by the power of God through your faith…”
Notice the verb tense, “who are being protected…” We have an ongoing relationship with our everliving hope. It shapes us and molds us. It protects and shields us. Presently.
The next time you slip into doubt or discouragement from the mundane, remember the life of Christ which covers you. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.” (Romans 15:13)
Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:17; Romans 8:24-25
What drives you? When you wake up in the morning what keeps you from rolling over and ignoring the tasks of the day? Maybe it’s your family, your job, the gorgeous weather, or the smell and sound of sizzling bacon. Whatever it may be, you have an expectation beyond the bed that motivates your actions. You have hope.
The unfortunate aspect of such hopes is they are wavering and temporary; therefore, easily lost. Paul writes to Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
Paul again says in Romans, “…but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Applying hope to wealth and other earthly securities only feed lust and gluttony trying to fill the emptiness only fulfilled in the love and promise of Jesus, our Savior.
The Jews battled the same issue spanning generations. We see it in the Israelites as they begged God for a king like the other nations only to be thrown into captivity following disobedience and frailty of man. (1 Sam 8, 1 Kings 18 & 25) Again, after the much prophesied Christ comes, they repeatedly call him the son of David as if simply the heir to an earthly throne.* King Herod heard of Jesus’ birth and at once was fearful of being displaced. (Matt 2:1-16) At one point, Jesus fled a crowd to avoid being forcibly placed as king. (John 6:14-15)
The Jews believed their hope of freedom to be in the government; however, Jesus was sent to free us not only from the turmoil of earthly captivity but the shackles of sin which entangles us. He came so that we may have and enjoy life. (John 10:10) He came so the hope of eternal life would drive us to see beyond the fall and live above the temptations and trials of the world.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21)
*Matt. 21:9, Matt. 22:41-46