On this second week of Advent, we light the peace candle. When you look up the definition of peace in the English language, there are several definitions often referring to a tranquil state, an end to war, harmony among a group of people or persons, etc. And yet, I bet many of you reading this can think of many situations where peace has felt absent according to the definitions above, especially this year.
Peace is something that I would often find myself fighting to own. Over the years I have found ways here and there to combat chaos and stress but never fully felt peace. One year, probably one of the hardest seasons in my life, I went for a walk to clear my head. It was cold and I was home in Kentucky for the holidays. I found myself walking to an old park that I grew up playing at as a child. So much of that park had changed but as I kept walking, I followed the path that led to a bridge over a creek. And there, at the end of that bridge, was a tiny red bench. Sitting on that bench in dead winter, I felt like I could finally hear. I felt peace and the only sounds around me were the rushing of the water and the wind blowing through the trees.
I had no idea how bad I needed that bench until I sat down on it. I realized that my life had become very loud, the demands and stress of my job were not lessening and I was just starting to cave. I remember being so discouraged by some devastating situations going on around me that I could not change and just the general feeling of being overwhelmed.
But as I sat at that bench, alone in silence, I could hear my own heartbeat. It had been a long time since I had experienced that kind of quiet. And on this day, I realized that the version of peace that Jesus promised in John 14:27 was not my definition of peace. Yes, the silence was beautiful and necessary for the moment but it was a moment and it was not my every day.
I tend to think peace is a quiet day where everything goes right, or my house is clean or my phone is not constantly lighting up with new messages, or a completed task list or a day without people needing something from me. I used to measure peace according to how high or low my stress level would be. However, Jesus used that bench to remind me of my own disconnect with him, with myself, and with the true meaning of peace.
I think about Jesus’ parting words to the disciples on the night before he would be arrested. It was customary and still is in that culture to wish someone peace when you leave them. But often, a simple formality or just another way to say goodbye. When Jesus says it to the disciples, these parting words held a deeper meaning and he even clarifies by stating:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
It is his last full night with the disciples. Men he had done everyday life with and built friendships. As he is sitting down to his last meal with them, he is sharing with them the importance of his departure. He shares how he will send the Holy Spirit to guide them. And then he says, he will leave his peace. Peace was his parting gift. And it was not just for the disciples alone. Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit and His Peace.
I don’t know about you but I can forget that second part and focus on the first. Jesus saw them both as two important gifts, first, a helper and guide but then the second, his peace. He left behind His Spirit and His Peace. Just like the Holy Spirit, peace is not something that can be earned or bought, it is a gift that is to be received.
I have come to learn and understand the incredible privilege of the gift of his peace. It’s a peace that runs deep, it’s a gift and a peace that lasts, if we let it. The peace that Jesus gives is a state of the heart that brings a steadfastness and calm even if everything around us may not be calm. His peace feels better than that moment on my little red bench and lasts much longer.
“Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.” Sheila Walsh
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
God, thank you for the peace you give that is never ending. Grant us the deeper understanding of your peace and help us to truly accept it as the incredible gift it is.