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The One Who Brings Peace

by Jesse Nickel, Biblical Studies Faculty

When Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is able to speak again after months of silence, the first thing he does is worship God. Zechariah bursts into song, rejoicing in the mighty act of salvation God has set in motion (see Luke 1:68–75). The miraculous conceptions of both John and Jesus had been but the inaugural steps of God’s deliverance, which was at long last about to take place.

Zechariah’s song reaches its crescendo with his description of the “tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78–79 NIV). Peace, the final word, is left ringing in the reader’s ears as the definitive descriptor of the life that will result from what God is about to do. Through Zechariah’s words, Luke encourages us to encounter Jesus as the one who will lead God’s people onto this “path of peace.”

Sure enough, as we enter into Luke’s story, it becomes clear that peace is a central theme. When heavenly hosts appear to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, their proclamation of the birth of Jesus the Messiah is followed by their declaration of “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests!”(2:14) When Jesus arrives outside Jerusalem, he sums up his entire ministry as “the things that make for peace” (19:42). When, years later, the apostle Peter tells the Roman centurion Cornelius about what God did in and through Jesus, he describes this as “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). For Luke, it is clear, peace is at the very heart of the story he is telling, the story of Jesus’s proclamation and inauguration of God’s kingdom of peace.

For most people in most times and places, peace is and has been a desirable objective. The problem is that no matter how much time passes, no matter how many advances in technology and science, no matter how refined our philosophical rationalization or judicial systems, humanity has shown its inability to bring about any kind of true peace. The peace of the world makes a mockery of the term: at its best, it lasts only as long as everyone is willing to play by the rules; at its worst, it is peace for some bought with the lives of others.

During Advent we look forward to the coming of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. The peace that Jesus brought and still brings is not the peace of diplomatically-negotiated ceasefires and hostage exchanges. Not that such peace is bad in and of itself. But it is not final; it is not what we put our hope in. Jesus’s peace is the peace that results from God’s work of reconciliation, restoration, and renewal. It is peace made through the shedding of Jesus’s blood on the cross (Col. 1:20). It is peace that lasts, because it is the shalom-peace that is at the heart of God’s eternal reign. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus says, “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). Our hope, and indeed the hope of the whole world, is in the one who made shalom-peace, and who offers shalom-peace to all who will receive it.