“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
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 ancestors
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.” (New International Version)
Old Zechariah the Priest
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well past 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 couldn’t 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?”
The angel 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.
Zechariah then experienced peace. He went from just one of the 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.
The lack of peace
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, healthcare, 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, unsettled to peaceful.
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. How are we going to deal with all the disharmony and vitriol that exists in our world?
By possessing the peace given to us in the prophecy and promise of Jesus.
Jesus gives 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.
The presence of peace
“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.”Martin Luther King, Jr.
We are to live the Christian life and have a ministry in the church and the world without fear and with peace. We must focus on what we are called to be and to do. Jesus rescues and delivers so that we will have forgiveness of sins. This enables us to serve the Lord with peace and without fear.
Few good things in life simply materialize out of thin air. Whether it’s 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 – including the Christian life.
The pursuit of peace
Peace rarely just happens. Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus. And it must be pursued and 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’s worth it.
We can pursue peace by:
- Avoiding chronic negativity and embracing the positive.
- Reconciling and making things right with others.
- Pursuing Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
- Reframing our situations from only problem solving 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. The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.” God has not forgotten divine promises. We must 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.
Peace and happiness
Even with our vast resources, the United States of America, collectively speaking, is full of unhappy people. The World Happiness Report evaluates each nation on six criteria related to quality of life: gross domestic product (GDP); social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and an absence of corruption.
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. The United States currently ranks 16th in the world as the happiest country to live in. Israel is 9th and Finland is 1st.
Each of the Reports six subjects can be found with abundance in Holy Scripture. And if we are attentive to them all, the result will be a peaceful people. It will be hard to find joy and happiness 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. (Romans 5:1)
Practicing the peace of Christ
The birth of Jesus turned Zechariah’s world upside-down. Forgiveness of sins, spiritual peace, and human well-being can be found in Christ. Here are seven practical ways we can implement the peace we have in Jesus Christ today:
1. 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.
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (Psalm 23:1, CEB)
5. Close your eyes.
It reduces distractions and allows 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. Smell the peace.
Use some aromatherapy. When you slow down to smell something, you breathe more deeply; this slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It also 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.”
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. Amen.