December 21, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 1:78-79 (NRSV)
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
In Advent we will often encounter the holiday wish for “Peace on Earth.” As we long for God’s peace on earth, as we hope for the time when all things will be webbed together “in justice, fulfillment, and delight,” we enter more deeply into the spirit of Advent. We look forward to the day when God’s peace will come to earth, bringing justice, healing, and fruitfulness. In the meanwhile, we commit ourselves once again to being peacemakers in this weary world, living each day in the reality of the cross of Christ.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
For reasons I won’t get into here, in many sectors of our society today there is reticence about the phrase “Merry Christmas.” Some folks get upset about this. Others aren’t too worried. The popular replacements for “Merry Christmas,” however, are rather anemic. “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” just don’t cut it, in my opinion, though I suppose I prefer them to “Happy Festivus.”
One robustly Christian Christmas greeting still gets used quite a bit. “Peace on earth” continues to be popular. Why? Well, for one thing, who would be opposed to peace on earth (besides the Devil and his minions)? You can be loyal to almost any political party and still favor peace on earth. Plus, you can say “Peace on earth” without crediting the original source – the Christmas angels in Luke 2 – and without suggesting a connection to a particular religious tradition.
Peace is central to Christian tradition, however. Moreover, peace is central to the Advent story in Luke 1 as well as the Christmas story in Luke 2. At the end of his prophecy known as the Benedictus, Zechariah said, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). Zechariah’s son John (the Baptist) would prepare the way for the light of God to shine on earth, thus guiding the feet of God’s people “into the way of peace.”
What is this “way of peace”? We who speak English tend to associate peace with two things: 1) the absence of conflict, and 2) inner tranquility. Both of these are included in the biblical notion of peace. But, in fact, peace in Scripture is far more than these two elements.
Earlier this year I was working with my De Pree Center colleagues on a definition of peace as its portrayed in the Bible. After several rounds of discussion, we came up with the following definition:
Biblical peace, what Scripture calls “shalom,” is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” It is “a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed.” Ultimately, shalom, “the way things ought to be,” is found in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and who makes peace through the cross.
So, yes, peace includes the absence of conflict and the presence of inner calm. But in biblical perspective it is indeed “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” (The words in quotation marks come from theologian Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, p. 10.)
Peace on earth, therefore, is something pervasive, something marvelous, something miraculous. True peace will come only through God’s work in Jesus Christ. We who follow Jesus are called to be peacemakers, to be sure (Matthew 5:9). But we will never be able to create “the webbing together” of all things by our own strength. We need the strength, wisdom, healing, and reconciliation of God. We need the peace about which Zechariah prophesied and the Christmas angels sang.
Notice that Zechariah didn’t say that God’s light would lead us into an experience of peace, though this is surely true. Rather, the light would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). This language suggests that peace isn’t only something to be felt. It’s also and profoundly something to be lived. We can choose each day to live according to the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15). We can let the peacemaking, reconciling death of Christ guide us, form us, and inspire us. We can, with God’s help, be people who make peace in our homes and neighborhoods, in our workplaces and churches, in our cities and countries. Yet, we acknowledge that the fulness of peace on earth won’t be a reality until Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom forever.
Thus, our thoughts about peace belong perfectly in Advent. As we long for God’s peace on earth, as we hope for the time when all things will be webbed together “in justice, fulfillment, and delight,” we enter more deeply into the spirit of Advent. We look forward to the day when God’s peace will come to earth, bringing justice, healing, and fruitfulness. In the meanwhile, we commit ourselves once again to being peacemakers in this weary world, living each day in the reality of the cross of Christ.
In what ways are you longing for peace in this season?
Where do you have the opportunity to be a peacemaker?
Ask the Lord to show you where you can be a peacemaker. Since we’re coming up on various holiday celebrations, this could be in the context of awkward family gatherings. But I don’t want to tell you what to do, other than be open to how God wants to use you.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice ! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to Thee, Israel! Amen.
A verse of the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” lyrics by John Neale and Henry Coffin. Public domain.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Waiting With Faith
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.