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On Faith: Advent – a time of hope, peace

'A Time of Joy'

Christmas is a time of joy

When in their hearts each girl and boy

Thinks about such earthy things

As all the toys that morning brings.

Christmas joy cannot be real

If all it is — is what we feel

When we look about and see

Mounds of presents beneath the tree.

Advent begins the church year. It remembers the preparations of the first coming of Jesus Christ that first Christmas more than 2,000 years ago. With the same certainty it looks ahead in anticipation of his second coming — not as a helpless baby destined to die, but as a king who reigns in power and majesty forever.

The four Sundays of Advent represent four virtues: hope, peace, joy and love. On Sunday, we sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". (We began a week early.)

We reflected on the hope the Jesus brought to the world — hope of change, of sins forgiven, of eternal life, of a relationship restored and of a reunion. Without hope, no one could face the future. With hope, human beings have endured great hardships, survived horrible conflicts, overcome unimaginable circumstances.

The hope that Jesus brings transforms our lives. One day, we were slaves to sin and condemned. Then he came and saved us. Through him we have been freed from our sin, our penalty paid in full. Through him, we look forward to all the joys and splendor of heaven.

This Sunday focuses on peace. "Prince of Peace" is one of the titles given to the Lord Jesus found in Isaiah 9:6. He came to bring peace with God, peace with ourselves and peace with each other. This is what the angels sang about that night: "Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward men." (Luke 2:14)

It is because we have been justified by faith that we have peace with God. The sacrificial death of Christ on the cross allows the sins of anyone (and everyone) who believe in him and his finished work to have their sins forgiven, to be declared innocent before the high court of heaven, and to be treated accordingly. He brings an end to the hostility between us and God. He brings us peace.

Once I am at peace with God, I can be at peace with myself. No longer do I have to be tormented by past failures. I can live in the full assurance of sins forgiven and in the hope of growth and change. I can and will become everything God has planned for me. I will change and he will make me more and more like himself. I will be able to sleep at night and face the future because of "the peace of God that passes all understanding." (Philippians 4:7)

When we are at peace with God and ourselves, we can be at peace with one another. Real, lasting peace can't be orchestrated by treaties or enforced by armies. It can't be achieved through education, the redistribution of wealth or access to advanced technologies. It can only become real when the prince of peace transforms our lives one by one.

Poem that began today's thoughts concludes:

Christmas joy flows from within

Because our lives are freed from sin.

We are made new and clean. Delight!

The savior lives. Our darkness — light.

Christmas is a time of joy

When in their hearts each girl and boy

Think about such heavenly things

As Jesus Christ, our Risen King!

In Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge was transformed. He went from a greedy, miserable old man to one who kept Christmas in his heart and life every day of the year. His internal transformation was displayed through his external words and actions.

May we be thus transformed by the saving power of "the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay."

Blessed Christmas to all!