“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because 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 1:68-79, NIV)
This beautiful psalm and prophecy came from the old priest Zechariah. It is a praise to God for the Christ about to be born; and, a prediction of Zechariah’s own son, newly born, as one who will prepare the way for Jesus. This benediction speaks of better days to come, pointing forward to peace (shalom) spiritually, politically, and relationally.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well past the childbearing years. In fact, Zechariah is portrayed earlier in Luke’s Gospel as something of a stereotypical grump. After being taken up to the temple in a golf cart because he could walk so well anymore, Zechariah was confronted by an angel and nearly lost his dentures out of fear. The angel Gabriel told him that his wife would bear a son who will prepare the way of Messiah. Zechariah then gave a sort of “Hmpff! That’s not likely, Sonny. Look at me and my wife. Are you sure you have the right couple, and the orders in heaven didn’t get screwed up?”
Gabriel was not very keen on being doubted, and it earned Zechariah losing his voice until John the Baptist was born. It was after Zechariah had nine months to think about that encounter, and experience watching a child grow in his wife’s womb that, after John’s birth, Zechariah was a changed man. He went from just one of many old priests in Israel, to being inspired by the Spirit and singing the praises of God. We can almost imagine him acting like Fred Astaire, picking up his cane and dancing with joy.
Our lives are not so different than Zechariah in this respect: We are a complex concoction of both fear and joy that could combust at any time in either direction. We sway back and forth from fear and anxiety to joy and gratitude. Certain words can swing us to one extreme or the other: finances, pandemic, politics, religion, the future. They can create in us either immediate tension or smiling happiness; tomorrow they might do just the opposite. Zechariah went from anxious to elated, fearful to joyful.
We live in a toxic world filled with polarizing opposites and entrenched stereotypes of others. We vacillate between love and hate, pursed lips of anger and dispositions of peace. So, how do we rise above the heated rhetoric that exists in our world? How are we going to deal with all the disharmony and vitriol? By possessing the peace given to us in the prophecy and promise of Jesus. Our feet need to be guided in the path of peace.
Jesus came to give peace. All the words of Zechariah’s inspiration point toward the harmonious peace of salvation, rescue, and forgiveness. The time was finally coming when there would be peace in its fullest sense – wholeness and thriving in life which was unprecedented and unthinkable before Jesus.
Martin Luther King, Jr. captured the biblical sense of the word “peace” well when he said, “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, tension or war – it is the presence of some positive force, justice, good will, brotherhood.”
We are to live the Christian life and have a ministry in the church and the world without fear. Instead, we are to focus on what we are called to be and to do. Jesus rescues and delivers so that we will have forgiveness of sins which enables us to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness, without fear.
Few good things in life just materialize out of thin air. Whether it is losing weight, getting in shape, building trust and relationships, or reaching out to make a difference, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into just about everything of importance.
Peace rarely just happens. Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus. And it must be pursued. Practices of peace must be engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level. Yes, obtaining peace is difficult. Yet, we instinctively know it is worth it.
Spiritual health comes through cultivating the peace of God in our lives. It requires avoiding chronic negativity and embracing the positive. It depends upon reconciliation and making things right with others. It necessitates pursuing Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Rather than focusing solely on problem solving, we need to reframe our situations to a fresh vision of peace, wholeness, integrity, spiritual growth, and relational health.
Zechariah, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave us a vision of a future full of peace, joy, and thriving. The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.” God has not forgotten his promises. The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression today, globally. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. And, of course, depression can lead to suicide.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in this calendar year of 2020, figures have been as high as 40% of American adults suffering from either mental health issues, substance abuse, or both. The CDC has also taken notice of the rising figures of suicide in this country, which has been growing steadily for the past thirty years. This year alone, nearly 50,000 people will die by suicide in the United States. Perhaps it goes without saying that large numbers of people lack peace in their lives.
Beginning nearly ten years ago, a new kind of study has come from a task force put together by professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines known as the World Happiness Report. Every country in the world is ranked according to criteria such as the gross domestic product, social support, healthy lifestyles, freedom to make choices, lack of corruption, and both negative and positive outlooks on life.
The United States has yet to make the top ten list on happiness. Even with our vast resources, we are, collectively speaking, a very unhappy people. I believe the most interesting finding from the World Happiness Report was their conclusion as to what makes one country happier than another. The Report consistently concludes that citizens of the happiest nations on earth continually find a steady stream of peace and joy in three sources: their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.
It will be hard to find joy in our lives through our Christianity if we are not experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ. Christian liturgical rituals and observances of seasons like Advent help remind us we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are seven practical ways we can implement the peace we have in Jesus Christ today:
- Slow down, pause, breathe, and pray.
Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)
2. Exchange fear for the presence of God.
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV)
3. Listen to music, sing, or make music yourself.
Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19, ERV)
4. Have a “go to” word, phrase, or Scripture verse. One of my tried and true verses:
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (Psalm 23:1, CEB)
5. Unplug for a time and close your eyes. Closing your eyes reduces visual distractions and allowing for better focus. Several studies have shown that closing the eyes is the simplest way to change your state of mind.
We live by what we believe, not by what we can see. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NCV)
6. Use some aromatherapy and activate your sense of smell. When you slow down to smell something, you tend to breathe more deeply which slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure. And this allows us to give off a peaceful scent.
Through us, God brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15, MSG)
7. Say “no” and set healthy boundaries.
Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So, she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There is only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, GW)
May the peace of Christ guide you into the path of peace and be with you, now and forever.