Advent Blog: Peace… in our time?
"Peace is not the absence of conflict"... (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
As we find ourselves in the season of Advent – the time before Christmas where we reflect on Jesus’ first coming and prepare ourselves for his second, this week’s focus is on Peace. Yet, peace has seemed an elusive entity throughout history.
Take, for example, the famous statement made by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938, who waved a white paper to the crowd as he stepped down from the aircraft, believing that he had secured “peace in our time” by having Adolph Hitler sign a piece of paper agreeing to no further territorial claims, but that turned out to be only about as valuable as the piece paper itself.
Still, those who can deliver it have been hailed as heroes. In the famous passage from chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel, the writer tells us that it was Caesar Augustus who made the census decree that would bring Mary and Joseph to their family city of Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born. It is perhaps ironic, if not intentional, that Luke gives us this detail since Augustus had come to be held in incredible esteem by the citizens of the Roman Empire. Having secured its borders and subdued its internal enemies, he was hailed by many as Savior. He initiated what has been called the Pax Romana (Roman peace), called by some a Golden Age of the Roman Empire. According to Roman imperial propaganda, Caesar Augustus was the savior who would proclaim the good news of peace.
For non-Romans, however, it was nothing like a peaceful time. It was enforced by an iron hand, and underlying the oppressive rule of the Romans was the ever-growing longing to overthrow the shackles of their invaders and live free once again. How poignant, then, that Luke also informs us through the angelic message that the Good News of Jesus birth would be ‘for all the people’ – not just the Romans. Was it because they would finally have a ruler that would bring political freedom? He goes further, though, and in perhaps a mockery of the false title that Augustus was known by, tells us that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke is declaring that “Jesus is the real “Savior” (v. 11) who will proclaim the “good news” (v. 10) of “peace” (v. 14).” Moreover, they were promised, “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”. Perhaps Luke understood that those who promise peace in the human will only ever fail in their efforts.
Instead, there is a peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7), one that endures in the midst of uncertain circumstances and earthly trials. Jesus explained this to his Disciples, telling them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”, (John 14:27).
What we have come to realize through the teaching of Christ and the Apostles is that peace is not the absence of conflict; it is a state of heart that allows one to endure through all circumstances. Why? It was Paul who assured us that real peace is peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1) - a peace that stills the violent heart and brings us humbly kneeling at the feet the one born in the manger that distant evening in Bethlehem. THIS is the peace that has strengthened and guided Christ-followers for 2000 years – and represents to us “peace in our time!”
And it is also the source of the hope that this peace will finally and perfectly come when the Prince of Peace returns to reign – not a pretender who cannot deliver what we all long for. So, when we read the words of Isaiah, prophesying the birth and even the final advent of Christ, his words can take on new meaning.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).
Isaiah and Luke knew there was a ruler to come who would be able to deliver on his promises. Let us watch and wait for his appearing! Let us seek his face while he may be found (Is. 55:6), and in the meantime, “let every heart prepare him room”.
 See D. A. Carson, “The Gospels and Acts,” in NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 1824.  Carson, 1824.  All references are taken from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible.  From “Joy To The World” by Isaac Watts; 1719, Public Domain.