12.07.14 Christ our Peace Luke 1:39-56 Sermon Summary
There are two different kinds of peace—one we understand, and one we don’t. This passage holds the key for experiencing the second kind.
- Peace we understand, and how we try to get it
- A crisis of faith when the ungodly have peace
- How the great upheaval leads us to the peace that transcends understanding
- Questions for discussion and reflection
Zechariah and Elizabeth were an old, childless couple in professional ministry. I wonder what must their prayers been like in this stage of their lives? Luke tells us that while serving at the Temple, Zechariah received a vision that their prayers for a child would be answered, but he did not believe. As a result, Zechariah was made mute for the next nine months.
Elizabeth does become pregnant, and goes into seclusion for five months. And in the sixth month, Mary receives a revelation that she also is pregnant. She finds out about Elizabeth, and receives some encouraging news from her older relative.
There is a peace that we understand, and for which we long, and that the Bible does promise us . . . eventually. But the Bible speaks of another peace that transcends understanding. It promises us this peace also, but not in some far off future; this peace is available to us now.
The peace we understand includes the absence of conflict—no war or no fighting. We try to achieve and maintain this peace with power. And there is the peace that is the absence of anxiety—no worries about the present or future. We try to ensure it by riches. Then there is the peace that is the absence of doubt—no spiritual unrest. We secure it by domesticating the Spirit through reason and rationality.
This is the kind of peace we understand. But though we understand it, it can also distress the faithful. Just look at Psalm 73. The author is confounded by the “prosperity of the wicked”: “They have no pain, their bodies are sound and sleek, they are not in trouble.” (vs. 3-5) These people don’t even care about God, and yet they have all this peace. So the author of Psalm 73 fears, “In vain have I kept my heart clean, and washed my hands in innocence.” (vs. 13)
This reality occasions a crisis of faith—why do the ungodly have so much peace? It is the question of Psalm 73. It might also have been Mary’s question.
When the author of Psalm 73 enters the sanctuary, he realizes another side of things. This peace, the peace we understand, the peace the ungodly have, rests on shaky ground. At any moment it can fall apart. It is like “a dream when one awakes.” (vs. 20) This peace feels so sure—until December 7, 1941; October 19, 1987; September 11, 2001; or a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. Then we have to find another peace, one that transcends understanding. That kind of peace is only found when our lives experience a great upheaval.
While the author of Psalm 73 seems old, Mary comes to the same realization although she is very young. The Psalmist went to the Sanctuary for the insight. Mary went into a different “sanctuary”—that of her womb. Talk about a great upheaval: unwed Mary had an unexpected pregnancy! When she learns about Elizabeth, she goes for a visit. Elizabeth assures her that this pregnancy is a blessing. She says to Mary, “Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” She spoke from personal experience, having known such blessing for six months.
Elizabeth testified to Mary, and together they testify to us. They tell us that the peace that transcends understanding comes from God’s Word spoken to us. It occurs in a great upheaval—when the proud are suddenly disoriented; where the powerful are brought down and the lowly are lifted up; where hungers of every kind are filled with God, and the emptiness of riches is exposed.
Paul writes about this blessed peace this way: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Do you want to experience peace this Advent—the peace that transcends understanding? Then let us follow the example of these women. Let us believe, as Elizabeth did, that there will be fulfilment. Let us magnify the Lord, as Mary did, making room in our lives for God’s Word. Then may we, like they did, rejoice in God our Savior—in the peace that transcends understanding, when the great upheaval occurs in our lives, and Christ is born again in us.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- Who’s an “Elizabeth” in your life—someone you can go to when the great upheaval occurs?
- Does your pursuit of the kinds of peace we understand—using power, riches, or reason—distract you from the peace that transcends understanding?
- How do you manage the crisis of faith when seeing ungodly people prosper in peace? Where is your “sanctuary?” Where do you listen for God’s Word?
- In what ways can you “magnify” the Lord this Advent, making a larger space for God in your soul.