The Pathway to Peace?

I feel it staring at me every time I walk past. As I open my front door and come home again, there it is taunting me, nagging at my conscience. You need to sort me out. You promised you would. You’ve got to stop pretending I’m a sight to the eyes…. you know I’m an eyesore! This weed is the nagging of my conscience, the reminder of my procrastination and my deep rooted (pun most certainly intended) frustration and dislike of gardening. 

Today was the first day of the school holidays and I took advantage of bleary eyed exhausted children to tackle a whole load of jobs, cleaning the car, scrubbing the kitchen, sorting socks. But as I sit down to write this, the monstrosity of the weed in the front garden still needs attending.  It’s not that I haven’t made the first attempt, just that the results of that half hearted, marigold gloves and body weight alone attack affirmed to me that the job would most certainly require effort, time, and tools. 

I know the effect will be better, a prettier vista for me and the neighbours, be of benefit to the soil, but I’m also painfully aware how uncomfortable it will be for me. 

Until I do it, my conscience is pricked. I’m not feeling peaceful. When I do uproot it, there will be gritted teeth, frustration,  and resistance.

The pathway to peace will not be smooth. It will feel everything but peaceful.

I could turn my eye every time I walk past my front garden. I could gloss over the mess and chaos but it would never clear, uproot, or bring peace to my nagging conscience. 
The pathway to peace is not so peaceful and God’s work in our hearts, the uprooting of those stubborn weeds, thorns and briers in our hearts are often not half hearted, quick painless work. 

The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the establishment of his peace, is not a smooth superimposing of a veneer of calm onto a chaotic and messy situation.

It can require clearing, cultivating of the land, uprooting and de-weeding before the re-cultivating of the soil of our hearts can allow a sowing of righteousness and growth of fruitful crop. Part of the reason I’m so resistant to clearing the weed is I know it won’t be the last time it’s required of me. New weeds grow and the land needs constant attention, care, weeds uprooted and soil kept as healthy earth for beautiful plants to grow. The work of the Spirit in our hearts is graciously constant, persistant.

This advent we celebrate our Heavenly Father’s sending of his Son, the gift of the Messiah, the beloved servant, the chosen one of the Lord who he promised through Isaiah, the One who is our Prince of Peace. Jesus came to rule and reign in true perfect righteousness and peace, to restore and establish peaceful relationship between God and Man. The Prince of Peace came to liberate our hearts from the corruption and enslavement of sin, by taking our sin, and giving to us, clothing us with his perfect righteousness. He came to bring captive imprisoned hearts to peaceful freedom and liberation. But his mercy continues and His work and His heart for us led Him to send us His Spirit, to guard, protect and work in our hearts passionately, relentlessly rooting out all the stubborn resistance to his peace, all the chaotic compulsion to our old lives. 

The pathway to peace is far from peaceful.

Our marriages that may require painful conversations and uncomfortable admission of hurt caused, awkward and unsettling honest evaluation and painstaking conscious change of speech, action and thought. Striving for and from self will uprooted and relaced with spirit led sacrifice and surrender. 

Thorns of pride that require the needed digging of self examination and heart searching, the necessary words of honesty from friends and family stinging like anti weed killer, but working to unearth and soften those deep entrenched roots of our stubbornness. 

Or maybe those prickly weeds in our hearts may be walls of self defence we’ve built up over time. A guardedness towards others, an arm’s length approach to church family, a quiet or tight lipped fear of sharing our struggles, fears, or desires with others. Fear of rejection, condescension or being accountable to enact those desires, rid those fears. Safer to deal, to quietly get on and self preserve, self sustain. Seeming temporary peace has yielded a harvest of thorns that entangle. True quietness, trust, peace is the promise of our gracious God. It may take the work of his Spirit, may make us feel uncomfortably exposed as every moment of sharing uproots a thorn of self preservation, every vulnerable offering of conversation over church coffee is a scream of pain wanting to get home, every ‘I need’ or ‘me too’ spoken through gritted teeth. But each moment a re cultivating of the soil for the sowing of righteousness, quietness and trust. To yield a fruit of the Spirit rather than self. To grow in knowledge and worshipful, reverent, fear of the Lord instead of isolated self affirmation and a life of being afraid. 

The peace God brings to our hearts requires painful sifting, uprooting of weeds, decluttering and clearing of waste and pollutants from the soil of our hearts. The pathway to peace is not always peaceful, but our Prince of Peace has come, and he has not left us. 

If I were a faithful, knowlegable, consistent, patient gardener, my front garden would be a beautiful sight to my neighbours and a credit to the work of my hands. As it stands, it is a weed filled true representation of my negligence.

Praise our Prince in Peace, who is working in us and for us by His Spirit to make of us a beautiful display of glory and righteousness, to make of us a vision of quietness and trust in Christ alone to the glory of God and as a witness to the world. Our Prince of Peace came for us, died for us and ascended for us, sending us His Spirit to keep the soil of our hearts yielding that peaceful fruit of righteousness until the day he welcomes us to an eternity of delighting in him, our hearts perfectly abiding and living in peace with Him forevermore. To an eternity perfectly bearing his righteousness forevermore, a beautiful sight to others, and even more wonderfully, beautiful to our perfectly righteous Prince of Peace.

The Perfect Christmas Wedding

I don’t know if you have those memories that really stick with you, that crop up at certain times of the year? For me, it’s eleven years ago tomorrow, on 12th December 2009. I was standing at the front of a packed church and still remember the impact of everyone launching into this epic chorus of ‘O Come all ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant.’ I was standing next to a rather good looking young man at the time who was sporting a suit instead of jeans for once, and I didn’t scrub up too badly either in the most expensive, stunning dress I will ever wear. 

My husband and I opened our Christmas Wedding Service with this classic carol because of its bold and beautiful claims about who Christ is. Christ, God Incarnate, the word of God made flesh, The Creator of the world assuming a created form, the sinless Saviour coming to bear the flesh of fallen humanity, The Lord of heaven enthroned above descending to be God with us, God as man. Full God. Fully Man. 

Come and behold Him, the hymn declares, born, the King of angels. There is a reason that the incarnation provokes and stirs the worship and wonder of angels, wise men, and shepherds, there is a reason we cannot but sing ‘Come let us adore him‘.

In the gift of advent, the coming of God to man as man, this gift of the incarnation surely we come and behold more of Christ to warrant the kind of love, joy, victorious and triumphant rejoicing, tears of love and words and prayers of adoration that we could never even begin to offer this side of heaven. 

Surely we do don’t we? But, if we’re honest, does the incarnation immediately cause this reaction in us? Or, is it that part of our Christian thinking, our theology that comes out at advent and then retreats again for another 11 months of the year, apart from that part in the creed we say:

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary

But the joy and wonder of advent is truly a gift for the whole year. The coming of God as man has impact for us long after the nativities are over and the decorations packed away. 
We need to linger by the manger a little longer, heed the sign of the star in the sky allowing it to direct our hearts and minds to the miraculous mystery of this baby lying in a manger.

As we read and hear of the praise of the angels in the sky, let us allow wonder and worship to fill our hearts at what God really is revealing to us both about himself and about ourselves in the incarnation. Come and behold him born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him.

In the incarnation, God became man. The eternal Son of God was born. Let us behold here a glimpse of the outrageous pure grace of God in the incarnation. God became man, for man. The Son of God came down, left his throne in heaven at the Father’s side, out of pure love for the Father and love for you. From first to last, we are passive and grateful recipients of the outrageous grace and deep mercy of God, from Bethlehem to Calvary, from the womb to the empty tomb, God alone acts for the salvation of his people for God became man. 

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing, O come let us adore Him

Only the One who was fully God, who knew and lovingly submitted to the will of God the Father, who shared perfect unity of will with the Father and Spirit in the eternal joy and loving unity of the Trinity,, could restore to us the purpose of our lives in giving glory to God, and teach us so we might live in faithful knowledge of God. 

“No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him”.
If Jesus was a mere man, he would not be able to have or teach full knowledge of God. The finite cannot contain the infinite. But as eternal Word of God made flesh, he came to bring us saving knowledge of the Father. The eternal word of God came to speak into the hearts of men the very word of God. 

On our wedding day, Ben and I made vows of commitment to one another, not only to love one another in sickness and health, to share all we had with one another, to lovingly, wisely, lead and submit, but to be one another’s. We promised to one another ‘I am yours’ and every day since and now on, we have learned the assurance, comfort and also some days the battle and pain of remembering and living with the reality that ‘You are mine’. In our stumbling, fallen, human way of loving one another, Ben and I have had seasons of, boasting in our vows, of feeling them tested, resisted, of being comforted and assured by them. Over the last eleven years, through much joy, and sickness, through times of despairing together and of one another, as we’ve born the burdens of broken bodies and minds, as we’ve joyfully, fiercely contended for one another in trials, we have not done it by our own strength, or power, only by the sheer grace of God. 

The same grace of God seen in the eternal Word made flesh. 

The same grace of God seen in the loving surrender of the Son to seek and save the lost. Seen in the all holy, eternal Son of God condescending to be born a baby. 

The same grace of God seen in the Light of the World coming towards a world entrenched in darkness, to pierce and flood the darkness of the pain and sin around us and within us with his life giving light.

The same grace of God who from the incarnation to the ascension of Jesus, from Bethlehem to Calvary, from the empty womb of Mary to the gloriously empty tomb brings us to our knees in worshipful surrender of God’s work alone to save us and sustain us. 

The outrageous grace of the incarnation that calls us to come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. 

I know I’m bias but I do love a Christmas wedding. And in the incarnation, God gives us a glimpse of his work on our helpless behalf, as He comes in all Light, truth, knowledge, power and loving surrender, all for the sake of those the Father has given him, whom he will never cast us, whom he advocates for now and sustains by his outrageous grace until the day He will welcome us as our faithful, most loving and all perfect bridegroom, delighting in us, his heart full of love as we come to the One who Came down for us, forever, clothed in the most spotless, stainless, precious dress of his righteousness, as his most beloved bride.

In the incarnation, Christ came down to seek his bride, to pledge his vows of faithfulness and love that we might hear from our eternally faithful bridegroom, Redeemer, Lord and Saviour, “I am yours, and you are mine.” 

This advent season, come and behold Him Christ the Lord, whose incarnation gives us a glimpse and foretaste of the most glorious Christmas wedding of history. 

O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord

The Triumph of his Art

Advent is the season of goodwill, peace to all men. The flooding of light to the world, indeed the Light of the World come. Advent is hope and joy and anticipation. It is confidence and celebration for our King has Come. 

So, bear with me and hear me out when I change the scene. When I repaint the Christmas card scenes and change the word hope for one of despair, the flooding of light, for a picture of utter consuming darkness….

Bear with me when I ask you….

Have you ever been in a situation that left you despairing?

Chaotic conflict spilling out in criticism.

Hearts hardening and retreating from one another. 

All endeavour and resolve to count the cost of calm and reconciliation, to grit the teeth and pursue forgiveness, a long lost pipedream. A fool’s endeavour. 

A despairing situation that leave hardened hearts battling for their own survival, gritting teeth in resolve of self will only to sink into a storm of despair. 

Bear with me for shattering the joy and hope and light of Advent. 

The light of the One who Came. The Light of the world who came to win hope peace and reconciliation for the world. For the world steeped to its very core in utter darkness. The Light of the World who came into despair. The Light of the World who came towards the hopeless hardened hearts of his children. 

At Christmas, we boldly proclaim peace, light, joy, reconciliation between men because at Christmas, we behold God become man come for man in all his despair and all the chaotic conflict. At Christmas, Christ came. 

The light of the World has come because the world of darkness was in utter despair.

He came. Fully God and fully man to redeem, restore, flood darkened hearts with light, fill our lives with purpose and call us to lives of holiness for God our Father. So what do we do when we find ourselves in those same storm filled, despairing situations? We allow the star in the sky to direct our hearts and behold in awe and wonder the baby in the manger, to come and behold Christ Incarnate and allow the gift of God himself to settle our hearts and speak to our despair.

Away despair! my gracious Lord doth heare

Though winds and waves assault my keel,

He doth preserve it: he doth steer

Ev’n when the boat seems most to reel,

Storms are the triumph of his art

……. Despair away

George Herbert, ‘The Bag’

What we could not do for ourselves, God had to come and do for us as God made man. Perfect man.

He battled against every temptation yet without sin. He faced every rejection, criticism, mocking, raised eyebrow and lashing. He knew what it means to feel weary, to have to go to his Heavenly Father in prayerful reliance to persevere in His will, to need the comfort of the Father because friends have left, slept, fled. 

There is no situation Christ does not share with you. 

The humanity of Christ Incarnate strips away all our protests that we are not understood that we are alone that we are isolated in the battle. He lived the life of man in the midst of a twisted and crooked generation. In human flesh, he battled every day against sin, evil, the devil and he conquered death and darkness in that body, flooding our hearts with light and allowing us to come joyful and triumphant to behold Him and adore Him who battles still with and for us in our fight against sin. 

There is no situation Christ does not share with you. 

No despair, no physical discomfort, family pain, relationship agony, no consequence and agony born by the sin of others impacting your life right now, this day, no grief over death that Christ does not sympathize with. He knows the grief and despair of your heart, your frustration in your marriage, your pain in your loss, your agony over unfulfilled desires. The longing you have for others to understand you better. The boat is reeling, its rocking, it feels like everything is about to be capsized into the storm. 

Yet Christ is not only with you in the boat, knowing and sharing in your suffering. 
He doth preserve. He doth steer. 

He is not only God with us, but he is Christ our forerunner, our champion, who goes before us, who has ascended and still works for us in the presence of the Father, speaking our name to the Father, advocating for us and praying for us through the storms. 

Though the winds and waves unsteady us to the point of collapse, he hears, he knows, he steers and we can trust that he is working more than we can abundantly ask or imagine through this suffering storm. 

Christ came down, assuming human flesh that we might have a great high priest who knows our every weakness, yet without sin, but he did so without diluting, leaving, or lessening any of his divine nature. The eternal Son of God became Christ incarnate, God with us as fully God and fully man. 

In suffering in storms, God is working His victorious purposes in you against darkness, sin , suffering. The Creator of the world, the One for whom and by whom all things exist, has full control over every sphere of this world, over every storm. Not one situation is outside his control. his reign. Come and behold him, Christ the Lord. 

And he is creating in and of you a beautiful image, restoring in you the image of his likeness, an image that bears to the world the radiance of the beauty and glory of God. 

You are his artwork displaying the beauties of God to the world. The artwork of the one who is the potter and clay. The storms are the triumph of his art. You are his artwork, his creation, his delight, his pride, signed belonging, made and created by him. You are his artwork, for whom he came down, and to whom he bids you still, daily, moment by moment to come still. 

Come to the one who came down for you, who came as full God and fully man to bridge the chasm, to calm the storms of the conflict, to reconcile the irreconcilable and to soften, purify and beautiful hardened hearts. For at the cross, at the storm of Jesus’ own life, we see the triumph of his work of redemption for us. His ultimate triumph against sin, the world and the devil. At the cross, at the depths of Christ’s own suffering for us, we see the triumph of his recreation, renewal, redemption of the world as he rose as Lord over all. Away Despair. 

George Herbert’s poem begins, Away Despair and calls us to set our hope on Christ who is our captain, not only with us and in full steering control of the boat in the storm, fully sovereign over your loss, your relationship conflict, your grief and loneliness, your battle against pride and anger, but he makes of the storms the very triumphs of his beautiful, heart satisfying, faith purifying, God-glorfiying art. Through this pain you’re in at this Advent time, know Christ as fully man and fully God who knows your every despair in this fallen world, who has triumphed and is your victory. 

Away despair                   

  …. Despair away

We can bid our despair gone, bid it away because our victory, our refuge, is in Christ. And wonderfully, mercifully, Christ our Captain, bids us come with all our despair, in the midst of the storm, because Christ Incarnate is God who Came down, who as fully God and fully man, the Word of God spoke the Word of God to us:

Come to Me