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Advent and Jesus’ Upside-Down Kingdom Peace

Advent and Jesus’ Upside-Down Kingdom Peace December 21, 2021

Rembrandt, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1634 {{US-PD-expired}}.

This week many churches lit the Angel’s Candle on the Advent Wreath. The Angel’s Candle symbolizes peace in keeping with the angelic host’s declaration: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14; NIV).

Luke’s Gospel connects peace with Jesus’ presence and God’s glory. We find a similar statement in Luke 19. At the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ crowd of disciples rather than the angelic host cries out: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38; NIV)

Not everyone associated peace with Jesus’ coming. While the angels and the disciples connected peace with Jesus’ arrival on earth and in Jerusalem, the canonical gospels like Matthew and Luke also reveal that the political and religious authorities were troubled at Jesus’ appearance. Herod sought to kill the infant or toddler Jesus (Matthew 2:3, 13) and the religious authorities sought to silence the people’s praise (Luke 19:39). These reactions signify that they saw Jesus as a threat to the dominant systems in place. Jesus’ peace involves his glorious upside-down kingdom reign that destabilizes power structures that benefit the high and mighty and discount the lowly.

The most pronounced contrast may be between Jesus’ peace and Rome’s peace, which ruled the known world in Jesus’ day. Herod and the religious establishment were subject to Roman rule. The Pax Christi or peace of Christ stands opposed to the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace. Jesus did not/does not operate according to its standards, or any other empire’s peace through the ages.

What was the Roman Peace in Jesus’ time? Yale University Press’s description of Adrian Goldsworthy’s book titled Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World provides a succinct and helpful answer: the Roman Peace was “the famous peace and prosperity brought by the Roman Empire at its height in the first and second centuries AD. Yet the Romans were conquerors, imperialists who took by force a vast empire stretching from the Euphrates to the Atlantic coast. Ruthless, Romans won peace not through coexistence but through dominance; millions died and were enslaved during the creation of their empire.”

In contrast to the Romans, who ruled by violence and retribution and who kept the masses down, Jesus elevates the meek (Matthew 5:5) and peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). The meek control or bridle their strength. They know that left to themselves, they will only bring destruction. They hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, mourning their souls’ impoverished condition as those who are spiritually bankrupt (See Matthew 5:3-6). No wonder the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:3). There would be nothing left of the earth if the violent and retributive Romans were ultimately to inherit it. The meek are peacemakers, not backbreakers who ruthlessly enforce their rule until they consume everything in their path. Contrary to Caesar who was hailed as a god, the peacemakers will be called children of the most-high God (Matthew 5:9). They can rest content, knowing that God will make all things right in the end.

What kind of peace do we long for? What kind of peace or rule do we pursue? The kind that crosses land and sea to take people captive by force, that cuts people off on the road during rush hour, or cuts in line during the holiday rush, or cuts people down in the attempt to get ahead? Such rule only brings fleeting peace. It never quells or subdues a restless spirit.

Jesus’ peace is not like the world’s peace. Jesus comforts his disciples as he prepares them for his arrest, trial, horrific beating, and unbearable death on a Roman cross with these words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27; NIV). Jesus’ peace is so counter-intuitive, so upside down, so wild, that it is calming. No wonder the power brokers had to try and take him down. His peace filled them to the brim with anxiety. There was no way his rule could co-exist with their own. But they could not keep Jesus down or eradicate his peace, which quiets the troubled heart.

Consider Jesus’ appearance to his followers shortly after he rose from the dead. He found them hiding behind locked doors in fear of the authorities. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20; NIV).

I find great comfort in reflecting on Jesus’ peace this advent season. I find it so mysterious and unbelievable in the face of all the turbulence I am experiencing. It is now eleven months to the day since my cherished son endured a traumatic brain injury. I have endured the emotional equivalent of neuro-storming on countless occasions in advocating for him, his precious wife, and adorable daughter on a great many fronts, while also fearing for his life. The COVID outbreak at his facility also adds to the drama for everyone there, including my family. While I can cover my face with a medical grade face mask and face shield, I struggle to cover the upheaval in my heart.

And yet, I find peace and rest at my son’s bedside. Even as I break out in a sweat under the plastic medical gown in moving his sometimes-stiff limbs for range of motion activities, God lubricates my heart. My son’s room may be the most prayed over space in the world. No wonder a respiratory therapist shared with me that Christopher’s room is so peaceful. God is quieting my soul more frequently these days, as we cope with agonizing waits in so many arenas. That is no small feat, except for God. I am not a restful soul by nature. Anyone who knows me can tell you that. But Jesus is at work in my heart.

You and I do not have to cross the earth to conquer foreign lands and peoples, like the Romans did, in the attempt to find rest. We do not have to cut people off or cut in line or cut them down to get ahead. When we do so, we will only fall further behind in the pursuit of peace. I am finding that the less I clutch and grasp, but rather open my heart to the one whose glorious nail-pierced hands holds my son’s future, I will discover more and more peace. This realization does not mean I will advocate less for my son, only better. Peace gives birth to poise in dealing with crisis situations.

My prayer for you and myself this Christmas season is that we would rest in the knowledge of God’s favor: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14; NIV).

For all the various posts on my family’s unfathomable journey on life support these past eleven months, please click on this link. Thank you for your prayers.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University and Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including Beatitudes, Not Platitudes: Jesus' Invitation to the Good Life as well as Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse. You can read more about the author here.
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