What you long for above all else is Peace:
such as the world cannot give, and you cannot get for yourself.
All of your past regrets, all of your present resolves, and all of your future hopes revolve around a longing desire for peace. There is this deep hunger in you, which will not be satisfied until it is satisfied in peace; a restlessness that will not be calmed and quieted until you rest in peace.
Death is not the answer or solution, if perhaps you have contemplated that possibility. Suicide is not a means of grace, but a grave sin of despair. Dying of old age, illness or accident will not bring you the peace you long for, either; leastwise not in itself; not if you lack peace in your lifetime.
You want your burdens to be lifted, but peace is not found in retirement, nor in a day off, a long weekend, or even an extended vacation. A sabbatical from work brings no real rest, not without peace; whereas true peace is able to rest and rejoice even while working long hours and hard days.
You want your enemies to give up and go away. You want your foes to stop fighting you. You want your persecutors to stop picking on you. But there is no genuine peace in such a cease fire, stalemate or truce. World peace may be measured by moments without any wars, but the peace that you long for and need is more than avoiding confrontation and managing to make it through your day without conflict.
You want comfort and confidence, safety and security. There is no peace without those things. But none of this is found in the temporary institutions and investments of this life on earth. Money will not buy you true or lasting peace. Your house and home cannot keep you safe and secure against the real enemies of peace, which lurk within and without. All the creature comforts in the world will not comfort you in the face of death. Family and friends are no more helpful than earthborn mortal princes in protecting you from the grave and preserving your life. Then again, simply to go on living provides no peace or rest, either, no matter whether you keep yourself busy and stay active, or find yourself bedridden, comatose, or driven to extremes.
The Law has the appearance of an answer, because the Law of God is good and wise. It seems to offer a solution to your search for peace: Simply do those things that God commands, and avoid those things that He forbids, and you’ll have it made. Keep you nose clean and stay out of trouble, and surely you’ll have nothing to fear.
So you mind your p’s and q’s, you keep your checklist of good deeds, and you dutifully make your resolutions to try harder and do better than you have so far. You can, and you should, discipline yourself to live according to the outward demands of the Law. You can, and you should, train yourself in such outward righteousness. You can stay your hand from hurting and extend your hand to help, and your neighbor’s life on earth is better for it; so is yours, for that matter. That’s a good thing, but it still isn’t peace. It does not satisfy the Law, nor can the Law satisfy your heart.
The Law demands perfection, and there is no such perfection in your fallen flesh. Despite your best of intentions and firm resolutions, you are weak, and you fail. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make up for your past mistakes; you can’t undo all the wrongs you’ve done; and you can’t pay back all the debts and obligations that you’ve racked up over the years. And what good is the outward keeping of the Law, when you’re heart remains anxious and afraid?
The Law demands the perfect life of God in you; in all your thoughts, words, and deeds; in all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But what you still keep finding in yourself, if you are honest, is laziness and selfishness, a battle between pride and despair, sickness unto death, disease and decay. Not only in your mortal flesh with all its flaws and blemishes, but in the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you really want to speak and act, even if you manage to restrain yourself.
Religious rites and ceremonies are not the answer, either, whether they be sparse and simple or grand and formal. They are neither the problem nor the solution in themselves, though they may indeed be beautiful and meet, right, and salutary as vehicles for the Word of God and prayer. In so far as they are human works, they cannot purchase the peace that you are looking for. In other words, your own piety and religiosity will not save you from the war that rages in your members, the conflict in your heart, and the restlessness of your thoughts.
Not even the God-given Covenant of Circumcision could save anyone apart from the fulfillment of that promise in Christ Jesus.
He is what the Law demands — and He is what the Gospel now gives to you. For He has come to save you, by His grace, which is the good and acceptable will of God and His great glory.
Here is the perfect life of God in the one true perfect Man, in flesh and blood exactly like your own, only without sin. Even from the womb, from childbirth and infancy, here is God made Man. He even has private parts, which He exposes to the knife and to the Law — and, in time, upon the Cross in humility and public shame.
Not only has He become true Man of flesh and blood, a part of His own good creation, but He has voluntarily assumed the circumstances of fallen man, the curse and consequences of sin and death. Though He has no sins of His own, He assumes the sins of the world and takes them upon Himself, into His own flesh, into all His members. He owns them as though they were His own faults and failings. Therefore, He is condemned by God and man as a lawbreaker, and crucified as a criminal.
Because He does so as true God and true Man, perfectly united in His one Person, and within His relationship of perfect faith and love with the Father — because He goes to the Cross voluntarily, in righteousness and holiness, innocence and blessedness — His sacrificial death is the perfect satisfaction and fulfillment of the Law. In Him, in His Person and good work, all of its demands are kept and satisfied. At the same time, in His death and in the shedding of His blood, all of the punishments of the Law are completed, and all its debts are paid in full. Nothing is lacking.
It is for this reason that He now preaches Peace to His people, and He speaks tenderly to the heart of Jerusalem, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.
And so it is that He speaks Peace to you, as well; and with His speaking — in and with His Name — He gives to you this blessed divine Peace, which the world cannot give.
Not only has He taken your place and resolved all that was amiss, but He has done so in order to give you His place and all that is His: His Name; His Sonship and inheritance; His Father and His Spirit; and His Life everlasting in the neverending “Eighth Day” of His bodily Resurrection.
This Resurrection of the Body of Christ, which was circumcised and crucified for you and for all people — this Resurrection of His Body is your Peace with God in body and soul, and on earth as it is in heaven. It is the Peace which is preached and given to you in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in which you have the forgiveness of all your sins (instead of guilt and shame), and reconciliation with God (instead of enmity and alienation).
This is the true Peace of contentment, in and with Jesus, your Savior. It is safety and security, even in the face of death; because the Resurrection of the Body of Christ is the pledge and guarantee of your own resurrection from the dead. There is nothing that anyone can do to rob you of that life.
Indeed, His Cross and Resurrection, and His Life everlasting in body and soul, all of these things are already given and bestowed upon you — by and with His Holy Name — in the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism. For in that Sacrament, “the circumcision made without hands,” the Holy Triune God has put His Name upon you and blessed you with Himself.
The same Covenant of divine, eternal Life in Christ, in which God has pledged and given Himself to you, and bound Himself to you, is also now realized for you, and it is sealed and renewed in you, in the Holy Communion of Christ: His Body given for you to eat, and His Blood poured out for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins. For in this Sacrament of the Altar, all the fruits and benefits of the Cross and Resurrection are given into your body, into your frail mortal flesh, in such a way that you are perfectly united with the Holy Triune God in the Body of Christ Jesus; wherefore death shall not be able to claim or keep your body forever, but it shall be raised in glory.
These Holy Sacraments are the rites and ceremonies of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, by His Word and Holy Spirit, save you from this present evil age for the divine eternity of Paradise with God. These means of grace are not your work, but His. They are not a purchase, but His free gift to you.
Throughout the Divine Service, year out and year in, the Church on earth prays repeatedly for the Peace of the Lord, which surpasses all human understanding. So do we pray, for so has He taught us to pray; and while we are yet speaking, He is already answering and acting. For the Liturgy of His Gospel, of His Holy Word and Sacrament, grants you that Peace which the world cannot give. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. For the Peace of the Lord is with you, here and now, and forever and always. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.