Advent: Peace Philippians 4:4-7
12/29/2018 5:46:29 AM
December 23, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Philippians 4:4-7
What is Christmas like for you? Is it busy? Maybe chaotic? I remember one time when I was visiting my family in Chicago for Christmas. My 3 nieces and nephew must have been aged 4-11 or so. I knew it was going to be loud and chaotic Christmas morning. I brought ear plugs!
When you think of the Christmas season, the way we celebrate it, do you think of it as peaceful? The malls? Family celebrations? Christmas parties? Etc.
Amy and I love the movie “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.” We saw the scene today when their families arrive: the chaos, the moaning, the complaining of grandparents arriving to stay for a week at the holidays! I can totally identify with Clark Griswold and his desire to “disappear outside” for a few hours… or the season.
Given the chaos of shopping malls, the turmoil of visiting families, the noise of a Christmas morning with young children, it is legitimate to ask, “What does Peace have to do with Christmas? How is peace linked to this particular holiday?”
Part of the problem is the way we use the word “peace” in the first place. What do we mean when we say it? “Detached from its New Testament context, the word peace is a sort of spiritual marshmallow. It is full of softness and sweetness but without much actual substance.” [JA Motyer, The Richness of Christ, p. 168] We’ve made peace something quiet, serene, slow. It is sweet and soft, but lacks any substance.
Don’t get me wrong! We want peace. We are desperately in need of peace. But not this kind of substance-less peace. We are in need and have a deep desire for Biblical peace. But what is that?
In Hebrew, “Shalom” or “peace” means everything that contributes to ones wellbeing. “Peace be with you” is a common Hebrew greeting. It is not a wish for silence or solitude, for quiet or tranquility. That is an “eastern” idea of peace and spirituality- to be emptied and silent. Rather, wishing someone “shalom” a wish for everything he or she needs for his or her wellbeing!
Throughout the Bible, God is known as “the God of peace.” What does that mean? It is God who provides everything needed for our well-being! When you have everything you need for your wellbeing, there is an inner tranquility, an inner quiet and peace that transcends your circumstances!
Part of our problem in the West is that we don’t know what we really need for our wellbeing. We are tying to fill our need with material things, with buying gadgets and conveniences. We are lost in materialism thinking that money can buy what will make us truly happy, what leads to living life well. So we have multiple problems, from what peace means to what we really need for our wellbeing! But that’s ok, because as Christians we have a God who is the God of peace and his peace can and will guard our hearts and minds. Let’s take a look and see how.
Paul is writing to the Philippian Christians. Philippi was a Roman city far away from Rome. They had been granted special status as a Roman colony after an important battle there around 42 BC. Residents of Philippi were Roman citizens. Caesar was their Lord! They were living out the life of Rome as an outpost surrounded by “barbarian” culture.
This whole section is a call to Christian piety or devotion. It draws on lots of vocabulary from the Psalms- the OT book of worship music and prayer.
Our first verse contains the command “rejoice” twice! As you may recall, last week we looked at joy and specifically the joy of God’s salvation. This is the action form of joy. We are to rejoice in the Lord! We are to find and express joy in Jesus.
Remember, “Lord” had political overtones in the Roman empire, esp. Roman colonies like Philippi!
Jesus is Lord and in him we find joy, not Caesar.
Gentleness means reasonableness, not being unduly rigorous about unimportant things. This word is a different word than the one in the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. This word was rare in Classical Gk and Paul may have coined it himself! [James Boice, Phil, p. 271] It’s a relationship word- it’s about making sure important things stay important and other things do not cause you to be overly strict.
It is out of our joy in Christ that we get our priorities straight. Rejoicing in the Lord, in our salvation, in our reconciliation to God allows us to let other things slide, or to allow other people to disagree with us, not majoring on the minors. We are to keep our priorities straight, remembering people are the most important part of creation, precisely because the Lord is near! What does that mean? Jesus is with us in Spirit. Jesus is coming back, his victory is at hand! We have a profound experience of intimacy with God through Jesus, mediated to us by the Holy Spirit. This is our source of joy, and keeping an even keel.
Because the Lord is near, we need not be anxious. The nearness of Jesus is our source of hope and joy. His victory has been achieved and will be absolute. What should worry us? So if we are worried, what do we do to be reminded of the nearness of Jesus? Pray, ask humbly and give thanks. Paul says to pray “in anything and everything.” Jesus said from the Kingdom of God coming to our daily bread we are to pray for it daily.
Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude and dependence on God for his goodness and generosity. People often ask why we have to pray if God already knows our needs. We need to express gratitude and our dependence! Verbalize it! That way, when God answers our prayers and provides for our needs (our wellbeing!) we know it is him, give him praise, trust him more, etc.
When we do this regularly, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Guard is a military word. It means to garrison or leave a regiment of soldiers to protect something. Philippi was settled by many retired soldiers after that important battle I mentioned. More retired soldiers settled there over the years. They understood the idea of garrisoning a place to keep it safe!
What are the soldiers in this garrison around our heart and mind? God’s peace, rooted in our prayer, our gratitude and dependence upon God. Think of these as soldiers manning the walls, patrolling, keeping a look out, staying alert to danger and threat from the enemy!
“God’s peace transcends the merely human, unbelieving mind which is full of anxiety because it cannot think higher than itself.” [Gordon Fee, Phil, p. 410]
What It Means
What does it all mean? Peace is about everything we need for our wellbeing. God is the God of peace. He provides everything we need for our wellbeing! What is our greatest need? A solution to the problem of sin- to be reconciled to God. How did God provide that? In Jesus Christ! So peace comes from God through Christ Jesus. Having solved our biggest problem, it make sense we can go to God with our other problems, because none of them are as big as the problem of sin.
So why do we worry? Well, there are a number of reasons. Ingratitude is one of them. Ingratitude is the first step towards idolatry! When we stop giving thanks to God, when we lose our gratitude to God, we stop remembering how dependent we are upon him. Our relationship starts to weaken. Why? Because when we lack gratitude to God we start to think we are the cause and source of all the good in our life. We become self-centred. This is the very heart of sin! Garden of Eden- autonomy, self-centredness, taking upon ourselves the role of God!
What’s the antidote? Rejoice in the Lord and give thanks in all things, great and small. Stop thinking you’re so great. Stop thinking you’re so independent and self-sufficient. Rejoice in the Lord and give thanks to him for all things, including seemingly mundane things you think you’re handling on your own!
We do this in prayer. Prayer is an expression of trust. When we come to God in prayer in all things, thanking him in all things, it is an expression of trust in God and gratitude to God for his provision. Petition is humble asking. We are to humbly ask God to provide for us what we think we need, contrary to the “name it and claim it” prideful asking so common in some circles. That kind of prayer is trying to exercise power over God as if his promises could be used to coerce things from him! Instead, humbly ask that God provide what he knows you really need. And be forewarned- what God thinks you really need and what you think you really need may not be the same!
A habit of thankful, humble prayer leads to peace in our hearts and minds. When we habitually, regularly come to God in prayer, humbling asking for what we need and thanking God for all he has already provided, it sets our priorities straight. It exercises our muscle of dependence upon God. It regularly reminds us we are creature and he is our creator, we are children, he is our adopted royal father!
This leads to peace of mind, peace of heart- everything that makes up our character! But let’s not get a wrong idea about peace! God’s peace includes salvation, power and victory all in one. The God of peace makes peace between us and himself. Jesus says “Peace be with you” after the resurrection and then shows his nail-scarred hands to his disciples! (Jn 20:19, 21) The God of peace brought back from the dead Jesus! (Heb 13:20) The God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet. (Rom 16:20) God’s peace includes salvation, victory and power! Because peace is about everything we need for our wellbeing- not just sweetness, tranquility and quiet- not a spiritual marshmallow! Our wellbeing requires being set free from slavery, a debt being paid and victory over sin and death.
The directions to rejoice, let our gentleness show, to pray and be thankful are all plural. à You all= “y’all” The whole church in community is to rejoice together, to be gentle together, to pray together, to give thanks together! And the peace of God will guard all the community in Christ Jesus! This is a fellowship, relationship concept.
This is why being part of a church is important! We need support and encouragement in our anxiety. We need fellow believers to remind us of God’s provision, we need to see the way God has already provided for others to strengthen our trust- more guards in the garrison!
What the individual experiences is demonstrated in community, which reinforces the individual experience. God has created this cycle and relationship of mutual encouragement and challenge to rejoice, to pray, to ask, to thank, to be reminded that the Lord is near and victory is his! We experience this personally in our relationship with God, we express it in community. But that community expression then strengthens our personal experience of it and the cycle continues.
This is a great reminder of the importance of Christian fellowship- of being part of a Christian community beyond our friends. Sometimes you just don’t feel like rejoicing. Sometimes circumstances and burdens are too heavy to rejoice. This is when it’s especially important to go to a worship service! Why? Because you can be lifted up by the joy of those around you. You can be raised up by the prayers of your brothers and sisters around you. You can be encouraged, strengthened and challenged by other believers and be reminded of how God has worked in their lives in the past, when it’s too hard to see how he can work in your life in the present.
Peace and love both have to do with the wellbeing of people. à It is in the community of agape love (the church) that we best experience the peace of God. Agape love means making the well-being of others our primary concern. Peace means having everything for your wellbeing provided. God chooses to use the community of believers to do that! Remember peace includes salvation, power and victory. God’s salvation, power and victory are best witnessed in the church- in the motley crew of redeemed sinners God is transforming to be like his Son!
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. His arrival on earth changed everything. Some of you have noticed that I’m not very sentimental about Advent. Some have noticed my Advent series is not very Christmas-y. No mention of mangers, wise men, shepherds or stars. Why is that? Because I don’t really like what we’ve done to the holiday. On the one hand, it has been commercialized and people gorge themselves on materialism. That’s not what Christmas is about!
On the other hand, in the name of “keeping Christ in Christmas” people have fallen into a different trap- the trap of sentimentalism. They’ve domesticated Jesus, reducing him to a sentimental, non-threatening baby. There’s a really funny movie “Talladega Nights” about Nascar drivers. It’s not a Christmas movie, but the main character prays “Dear baby Jesus, dear 8 lb 6 oz little baby Jesus doesn’t even know a word….” His wife interrupts him, “You know Jesus grew up, right?” But he prefers to pray to the baby Jesus!
Why is this funny? It’s funny because nobody actually prays that way. But at Christmas, we often reduce Jesus to a baby in our celebration of his arrival as a baby. Why? Because the little baby in the manger who doesn’t cry doesn’t threaten or challenge us. He doesn’t challenge us on our materialism and spending. He
doesn’t call us to account on our strained relationships with parents or family. He doesn’t threaten our way of life. We sentimentalize Christmas and Jesus at Christmas to avoid the really uncomfortable consequences of his arrival on earth!
Christmas should be about the arrival of the King. King Herod was threatened by his arrival! We should be too in a way. Christmas should be about self-giving. Jesus gave up his glory in heaven to be here! Then he gave up his life to rescue us. This should be challenging! Christmas should never be reduced to an unwed teenage mother giving birth in a stable, “Aw, isn’t it sweet? Isn’t it serene?” (There was no stable! Giving birth is never quiet or serene!)
Christmas was the beginning of God’s endgame in his battle against sin. Christmas was the bold move God made to destroy Satan and rescue us from slavery! The hope, love, joy and peace of Christmas are found in Christ, not family, giving, friends or the “holiday spirit.”
As we come to the final days before Jesus’ birthday, I want to ask you if you have peace in your heart? Is your mind at peace? Over the next 3 days, are you going to be anxious? Or grateful? Or gentle?
We face many trials with family and friends- will you not be overly rigorous about unimportant matters (gentle)? These are very hard, unless you rejoice in the Lord! Unless you remember that the Lord is near!
In the challenge of the holidays, remember to rejoice in the Lord, be gentle, pray humbly and be thankful to God. He already solved your biggest problem!
Keep Christ in Christmas by finding your joy in him, by thanking him, by making him the highest priority and demonstrating the fruit of your relationship with him in your relationships with others. As you get anxious (“My parents are coming!” or “The Potatoes aren’t done!”), when you impatient (“I can’t believe he just said that!), frustrated (“Really? You had to drop that on the white carpet?”) or tired (“Can’t we please just go home?”), bring these things to him in prayer. As you get excited about your gifts, or the gifts you are giving, bring these things to him in prayer! There may not be much quiet or tranquility, but there can still be the peace of God guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen and Merry Christmas.
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