Peace Through Proper Orientation
Paul’s opening to his second letter to the church at Thessalonica could not be more relevant today as people reach and strive for peace, but often do not find it. Peace is a gift from God which is not meant to be elusive. Paul makes this point abundantly clear: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thess. 3:16).
The Christmas season has always been a celebration of the arrival of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. In 2020, as we intersect the timeless purpose and even sentimental experience of the Christmas season, many of us struggle with nagging cultural anxieties. We hope for good health for ourselves and our loved ones, we pray for the success of our local businesses, we plead to the Lord for help for those who are disenfranchised in our communities due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
No one is sticking their heads in the sand about the real effect of the pandemic this year. Yet, as a shepherd, I don’t want you to allow the darkness of fear and anxiety to take center stage in your thoughts. Instead, I long for you to turn your attention away from the anxiety and fears that swirl about like ocean waves and look up to find Peace, through a proper orientation to Jesus Christ.
How do I propose you make this shift? I want you to read further to find out.
Looking up to the Stars…and to God
This Advent season I want you to gaze upward at a clear night sky for a few minutes to let the pin-pricked veil of darkness above lead you to awe and worship of Jesus. By the light of a backyard fire or campfire, open the pages of your Bible and read the words of an ancient young wilderness wanderer. A shepherd, David, who became king of Israel and was in the genealogical line of Jesus wrote these words. They still mean as much for you now as they did to him in the desert:
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:1-4)
The Prince of Peace is not only mindful of you this Christmas season, but He is jealous for you: “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” (James 4:5). God is not jealous in the way that we are. He is jealous in that He wants your whole heart. He wants an exclusive relationship with you. He knows objectively and factually as the Creator of the universe that a relationship with Him is the best most abundant source of peace and joy that you can ever experience. So how do we get there? Look upward.
Stars Show Us the Beauty and Purpose for Jesus’ Earth-Visit
Growing up in a tiny mountain village in Colorado, I became enamored at an early age with the North Star. I remember being shown how to find the North Star: With your finger pointing at the sky, first locate the two bright stars the furthest away from the handle that form the end of the bowl. Then run your finger upward along an imaginary line connecting those two pointer stars. After traveling up the sky about five times the distance between the pointer stars, Voila! your finger will land on one of the sky’s greatest treasures, the North Star! For millennia people in the northern hemisphere have used the North Star to figure out where they were and where they were going.
Years ago, when my family was preparing to move to New Zealand, having been enamored with the North Star in the northern hemisphere, I was excited to see the Southern Cross constellation for the first time, which is the North Star’s equivalent Down Under. If you live in the southern hemisphere you cannot see the North Star. Instead, with a stroke of brilliance to provide all people with a fixed point of reference in the sky, our Creator provided another constellation called the Southern Cross. It’s a beautiful crown of jewels arranged perfectly in the shape of a cross. For navigation, you just find the longer bar in the cross and follow that pattern with your finger going downward in the heavens above. Voila! this points you to the Southern Pole in the sky. I’ll never forget sitting in a hot tub with our Kiwi friends on the first night after we arrived. It was a perfectly clear night for them to point out the Southern Cross. Our eyes weren’t trained to see it yet, so we needed someone to show us. But when we saw it, we were in utter awe of both its beauty and its utility to orient us.
Similar to that cold, clear night in New Zealand when we got tethered to a fixed point in the sky to keep us oriented, Christmas is also a season to be re-oriented to a fixed point in history. Christmas is a reference point through which we can be freshly enamored with Jesus’ beauty and purpose for visiting earth; to orient and reconcile us back to God, and to establish a real and lasting peace in our soul, regardless of the circumstances.
The Christmas Star—A Guide for All Generations
We learn from the Psalm above that David drew much of his understanding of how God guides us by looking at Creation. We can do the same. Stars are one example. Just as the North Star and the Southern Cross are fixed points of reference to get you oriented on your journey, the beautiful and bright star of the Christmas story a couple thousand years ago marked the arrival of the Prince of Peace, who would forever be the person upon which all history would hinge.
What a wilderness journey story we have in the Christmas narrative! When Jesus was born, a special star appeared in the sky and became a point of orientation for the wise men. Interpreting the meaning of the star as coinciding with the arrival of a great King, they set out on a journey to worship this long-anticipated King who would be the one to finally bring lasting Peace (see Isaiah 9:6-7). This wasn’t a kind of temporary peace which militaries or governments can achieve; this King, Jesus, would win for humanity an eternal peace. It was worth it to these wise men, however long and arduous the journey to come face to face with this King. And the same is true today. Do you believe that Jesus is the source of lasting peace? If so, then are you willing to put your full weight down on that belief and set out on an adventurous journey to worship Him?
As the star of Bethlehem rose, these wise men from the East curiously followed the star to find the King to which it pointed. These men were astronomers and must have been aware of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 which says: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” When they saw the star, they were amazed that in their lifetime they would see the prophecy fulfilled! It is interesting to note that in 4 B.C. Saturn and Jupiter crossed paths and made a great light in the sky. And in 7 B.C. Chinese astronomers also recorded a great star in the sky.
Whether or not such wonders in the sky were what these men followed to Bethlehem, what encourages me about the wise men (recorded in Mathew 2:1-12) is their whole-hearted commitment to find and worship the Prince of Peace to whom the star pointed. It is estimated that these men traveled 600-2,400 miles to go up to Bethlehem. This would have taken between 100-400 days on camels! This is a picture to me of what true worship looks like. They were not half-hearted in their worship. They committed their whole lives to this journey to find the new-born King.
Finding True Direction in Jesus
How about you? What does whole-hearted worship of Jesus, your Prince of Peace, look like for you right now? What might be holding you back from the kind of extravagant worship these ancient wise men modeled for us?
This is the journey upon which we have all been invited. We have this opportunity to lay our lives down, to bow down in worship—giving Jesus our whole hearts. Humble worship opens the eyes of our heart and brings us stability and peace just like when a disoriented wilderness traveler experiences peace when he locates the North Star or Southern Cross and knows that he is now halfway home, because he knows the Way.
May you be encouraged this Christmas season by looking up in the night to ponder that fixed point in the sky, the North Star or the Southern Cross. May it be a constant reminder to you to look to Jesus for true direction as you bow and worship Him with your whole heart and mind. May that same awe of seeing your First Love, Jesus, so clearly fill your heart with peace this Christmas.