It's Advent. Over the past few years, I've come to love this season more and more. Andy and I bought an Advent wreath a couple of years ago and started having Advent suppers on the Sunday nights that lead up to Christmas. We eat in the dim light of the candles from the wreath in the dining room, and then afterwards read a verse or two and sing a hymn.
This year, I'm starting something new. I'm going to write around these Advent days, as well. I don't have a plan for this. I'm just going to write what comes to my mind as I reflect on this special season.
This morning, as I sat with my cup of coffee, I thought about the Advent of the Prince of Peace. I wonder how many people, after such a tumultuous election season, are glad to see this season of peace and goodwill toward fellow man come upon us? The timing couldn't be more perfect.
The election completely aside, I'm personally ready for a little more peace. Our cross-country move and new jobs have given us plenty to work through this autumn.
So while thinking about peace, I was struck by this verse from Isaiah 53, a familiar prophecy for this season of expectation.
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. Isaiah 53:5
This oft-quoted verse struck my teacher-brain as a little out of the ordinary. Because punishment doesn't usually bring peace. I've faced a situation at my new school where I had to punish a student for using his cell phone during class. When I noticed him on it while I was speaking, I walked over to his desk and asked for his phone. He held it up and away from me and asked, "Do you pay the bills?" This type of belligerence does not make for a peaceful start to any day. But neither does the punishment that I had to dole out afterwards. In fact, after having his phone removed, according to policy, this student made life a lot worse by punishing me (and the rest of the class) by acting out for several days following this incident.
Good parents, teachers and leaders have to punish wrong behavior to maintain order and protect the others in their care. My students rely on me to act justly so that no one person's behavior robs the others from the opportunity to learn. But, punishment is uncomfortable, frustrating and difficult. I lost a lot of sleep about the situation I described above. Punishment feels bad. Whether you're the person giving it, or the person receiving it. We have an expression, we teachers, about this sort of situation. We hope that in giving out a punishment like this to one student that the others will see that you mean business and will follow the rules and not have to face punishment themselves. We call the punished student the "sacrificial lamb."
When I thought about that expression, I saw the connection between punishment and peace. Jesus Christ is our Sacrificial Lamb. The one time sacrifice that took away the sins of the world. Punishment is necessary because justice demands it. Our God is a Just and True King. He must punish sin because, if it were allowed to go unchecked, it would swallow all of us whole. There would be nothing left. Nothing worth saving.
So He intervened. By punishing. Choosing the Sacrificial Lamb. And that Lamb takes. He takes away sin. And that is the key. Peace cannot exist in a sin-soaked world. Peace, true peace, only flourishes where sin is completely absent.
So this Advent Sunday, I am celebrating the season of taking. Lots of people are shopping these days- me too- preparing to give. It's right to think of this season that way, too. But for today, I'm grateful for the taking.
Blessed Jesus, thank you for taking away my sin. Thank you for removing sin so far away from me that I can experience peace. Jesus, please help me to see that when I choose my sin, I reject your perfect peace that you have offered to me because you were punished instead of me. Help me to choose what is better. Amen.