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Welcoming the Prince of Peace in a World of War

December 18, 2015 No Comment

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by Harold Ristau

In light of public response to recent terrorist activity in Europe and elsewhere, we see how powerful fear can be. Although “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), our Christian walk is often characterized not by love but instead by doubt. Terrorism is the warfare of those who lack courage, integrity and the resources to significantly alter global affairs. They themselves are driven by terror. Nevertheless, terrorism works. Thugs scare us.

To make matters worse, just as love bears healthy fruits, fear breeds poisonous feelings of racism, hatred, xenophobia, anger, and—worst of all—doubt in God’s promised presence with us (Luke 17:21). Terrorism makes us question our temporal identity, as citizens of a safe and non-violent country. When fear overtakes us and fosters its toxic fruits, it can also cause us to question our identity as Christians, citizens of an eternal country. It doesn’t take much to instill terror in people. The evil one is accustomed to playing on our fears and insecurities, our hopes and dreams. Death itself is the ultimate terrorist and enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The general perception in the Western world is that, with terrorism on the rise, the world is a worse place than in days gone by. But is there actually an increase in global violence? It’s hard to tell, since terrorism is radically different from the kinds of wars we are used to reading about. In an asymmetric war, it is never clear who and where your enemy is. Fear of the unknown—How many terrorists are there?—adds to the stress.

The element of surprise only makes it worse. In the trenches, you knew when you would be attacked. Today, you never know when a strike may occur, and the targets are not usually soldiers but civilians. Moreover, as digital and social media continue to increase exponentially, a crime 6,000 km away is brought into your living room, leaving you feeling like the threat is next door.

Throughout history people have often thought their generation was the worst, and the last. Nevertheless, the threats, no matter how small, are real. Fear is real. Many people died in Paris (Lord, have mercy on us). Jesus promises that war, suffering, and national violence will be with us until the end. But He also tells us not to be afraid (Matthew 24:6). When seized with fear, our Lord speaks to us from the lectern and the pulpit with words like, “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). Of course we all know that the Prince of peace is coming one day, but recognizing that He comes right now, through hungry mouths with balm for anxious hearts; through open ears with a perfect love that penetrates our terrified souls and chases away all fear, doesn’t come naturally. Despite our doubts, His Kingdom still comes.

So even if things gets worse, God is with us. Even then we have a reason to rejoice (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Have you ever noticed how it is during the moments when you encounter the deepest of fears, that you most appreciate the depth of the comfort offered by the Prince of peace? It is a shockingly beautiful circle. For the deeper we look and the darker things get, the sweeter and more wonderful the presence of Christ and our identity in Him as His baptized children become. Evil around us may attempt to darken the situation, but for the Christian, it only further reinforces the brightness of God’s light. From the manger of the altar, in the barn of the church, all the terrible darkness of sin and death are overcome with glorious light.

The deeper we look and the darker things get, the sweeter and more wonderful the presence of Christ and our identity in Him as His baptized children become.

And so, the devil never wins. His strategies always backfire. We always end up on top, with more faith, not less. The birds-eye view is best when you observe the world around you from the mount of Golgotha, fastened to the cross—or rather, held in the arms of Him who was fastened there for you. From there, we discover how the process of repentance enables us to better make sense of the world around us. After all, the violence we see outside originates in human hearts like our own.

Given the “right” circumstances, we are all capable of terrible things. The bombs we drop are the unedifying words we speak. The bullets we shoot are the self-centered attitudes that we treasure. A terrorism of the soul winds through our lives, families, and communities. The weeds and the wheat will remain until the final harvest, both in ourselves and in the world. Although “deweeding” is a necessary tactic (both through repentance, and, in terms of national security, through military forces), as long as the roots remain in our hearts, they will continue to be expressed in the world.

Even so, we take confidence in Him who saves us from this evil. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-16).

Remember the disciples panicking in the storm (Luke 8:23-25)? Despite their fears and the dangerous situation around them, it didn’t change the fact that the Prince of peace sailed with them: already afloat under the shadow of the cross and the terrifying storm of Calvary, where the terrors of our souls, the heinous guilt of our sins, would be drowned in the blood bath of our Lord’s baptism, forever.

So it is in our storms. The terrors of hell shriek at the sight of the One who sails silently below deck, fighting for us with His tongue and Spirit. For the evil hosts, it is a lost battle. Certainly these rebels forces like to pretend that they have the upper hand. And we often believe them. Yet before the army of Christ and the kingdom of heaven, they are a weak, frightened minority, as the legitimate armies of the heavenly hosts watch over us, guard us, and assure us that we will arrive safely to our true home and country (Philippians 3:20). We are indeed refugees, awaiting our stable homeland, citizens of heaven longing for refuge, while afloat in the terrorizing sea of the world. Yet we have the ever-present certainty that our fellow citizens await us, for He has prepared for us a place with Him and among them (John 24:2). With God on our side, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?

Now fear is seldom rational. Knowing Jesus was with them didn’t soothe the frightened disciples. God has given us brains to think through problems, coupled with hearts to pray through them, but instead of seeing problems as opportunities, we interpret challenges as threats. So when we hear about the influx of thousands of refugees we certainly may have some justifiable concerns (so we pray weekly for wisdom for our leaders). But at the same time let us remember how Christ responded when the poor, hungry, and homeless came to Him seeking both physical and spiritual aid? He stretched out His arms wide in love. Welcoming the stranger may not result in more affluent voting members, but the Lord of life seems to be less concerned about that than we are. He was more concerned about dying for others than living for self. Remembering your homeland, surviving in fear in your wanderings, will help you appreciate their wanderings, those without a home or without a saviour, in prayer and with deeds of charity.

“Come Lord Jesus.” And He does still come, to you and through you, with peace.

“As Your coming was in peace, quiet, full of gentleness,
Let the same mind dwell in me which is Yours eternally.” (LSB 352:4).

———————

Rev. Dr. (Maj.) Harold Ristau is a Lutheran Church–Canada chaplain with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Banner image artwork: Peace on Earth (2012) by Andrew Davis.

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