America is anxious. We spend $2 billion a year on anxiety medications. Almost one in five Americans suffers with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and that doesn’t mean the other four of the five aren’t anxious. Those of us with diagnosed anxiety represent the overflow of the volcano—our whole culture boils with anxiety, but we can only measure the part pouring out the top (or walking into the doctor’s office).
If you feel anxious today, you are not alone.
But listen to the song the angels sang after Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” (Luke 2:14).
Zechariah said the same thing about what God would do through the advent of Jesus: “Because of the tender mercies of our God . . . the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79).
Why are we Anxious?
Zechariah says we sit darkness. Darkness intensifies fear; when the lights go out, we can’t see what’s out there. This is also true emotionally. Under the constraint of chronological time, we can’t see beyond the illumination of this moment. What will happen tonight? Tomorrow? Next year? We don’t know. Darkness surrounds us, and anxiety fills us.
Zechariah also says we live under the shadow of death. Isaiah calls death the “covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations,” (Isaiah 25:7). The shadow of death means we and everyone we love will one day die. It means decay and decline affect everything around us—our bodies, our companies, our nations, our relationships. Though life is full of blessings and joys, loss is inevitable. No wonder we feel anxious.
The word Zechariah and the angels used for peace is the Greek word eirene (i-ray’-nay). It can mean “to set at one,” “rest,” and “quietness.”
Anxiety hurts. It clenches our bodies, frays our nerves, and exhausts our minds. Doesn’t eirene—quietness, tranquility, and rest—sound good? Don’t we long for peace?
Peace, but How?
Did you notice one of the meanings of eirene is to make one? When Zechariah sang that God would guide our feet into the path of peace, he explained how: he said God’s people would receive “the knowledge of salvation . . . in the forgiveness of their sins,” (Luke 1:77-78).
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are made one with Him (John 17:21). Paul writes, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1).
And our peace with God means we can find peace in every other way as well. Being one with Jesus means every eternal blessing is ours: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). God gives us, along with Jesus, the gift his kingdom: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” (Luke 12:32).
The sunrise has visited us from on high. Jesus’ coming means we can see beyond the darkness to a dawn of glorious light: life in God’s kingdom of perfect justice and unbroken joy awaits us.
So Jesus’ advent has transformed death from an oppressive shadow over everything to simply “the changing room for glory.”
Taking Peace to Heart
◊ Peter tells us we can cast our anxieties on God because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Take a few moments to tell God about the anxieties you have today.
◊ Paul says, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” (Phil 4:6). Interspersing your prayers with expressions of thanks, ask God for His help with the things you are anxious about. How can peace with Him, and the hope of His kingdom, give you peace today?
◊ Sometimes I choose to stay anxious because I want what I want, and I don’t know if God is going to give it to me. The path to peace sometimes involves the surrender Jesus modeled, “Not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22:42). If you can, make this your prayer, asking the Lord to give you peace that His will is good, pleasing, and perfect (Romans 12:2).
◊ You may also want to find a version of the Hymn, “It is Well” to listen to this week. It gives powerful expression to the peace we long for and can find in the midst of difficulties.
A Prayer for Peace
Sometimes anxiety doesn’t have a name; it eats at us for vague reasons. If peace eludes you this Advent, make this your daily prayer this week:
Father, I long for peace, for freedom from the painful grip of anxiety. But I can’t think myself out of it. “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people,” (Ps 85:8). Thank you for the gift of Jesus and the peace he made between me and you. Please also give me your Holy Spirit and the peace only He can give. May the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:7).