Prince of Peace


I have a longstanding tradition of picking a Christmas song that defined my advent season and framing my Christmas reflection around that. This year, I was stuck between two songs: O Come All Ye Unfaithful by Sovereign Grace Music and Here Comes Heaven from Elevation Worship. As I tested each of them, the Spirit sat quite silent. I thought there must be something else I’m supposed to do. In keeping attentive to what the Spirit might be leading towards, I realized one of Jesus’ title as foretold in Isaiah 9 kept sticking out to me: Prince of Peace.

The more I thought about this title, the more it made sense. We are a people desperately in need of peace. Our advent series, Weary World, touched on this topic: We are weary of the pious and need a sense of peace in the Church and a deepening of Shalom between our siblings. We are deeply desperate for peace in our need for control. We need to facilitate peace in how we love, and we need to cultivate peace amid difficult callings for our life. Focusing a Christmas reflection on our need for peace was easy and needed. But even this didn’t feel quite right.

We are a people who do need peace, and yet just saying this falls a little flat. All people need peace and, as a researcher who studies coping, all people are capable of finding and making peace. There’s nothing inherently Christian about peace itself. We might be able to argue that Jesus is the one that brings true, deep, and lasting peace, but to say that he is the only source of any peace would be inauthentic. I realized this even more so when getting coffee with a friend recently who had recounted her own journey for peace, utilizing what I would call both discernment and repentance, though not through a theological lens.

What, then, is special about Jesus as the Prince of Peace?  

Jesus as the authority on peace is quite interesting given the trajectory of his life.

Before he is born, Jesus’ arrival is a disruption into Mary and Joseph’s life. Pregnancy with Jesus may have marked Mary with favor from God, but it burned her with shame in her community. Her marriage to Joseph began with an extraordinary leap of faith in something beyond them. The pregnancy itself and the eventual labor, particularly in a dirty stable at a time before pain pills, was excruciating and uncomfortable and horrific. Jesus’ story did not start with peace.

After his birth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus flee the genocide of King Herod. Refugees of authoritarian governments, the Holy Family hardly knows peace in their early years. The only glimpse of Jesus’ early life finds Mary frantically trying to find him after losing him in the temple. Being the mother of God incarnate is exceptionally chaotic.

As Jesus begins and expands his ministry, he brings peace to the marginalized and stigmatized, but only a few of them. His miracles are impactful yet few, his preaching deep but regionally limited. Jesus changed the lives of the people he met, but he only met a fraction of who was alive at the time. Jesus brings peace, but not a lot of it. At every step, the religious leaders and politicians of his day try to trip him up, begin plotting his death.

And then, even as we begin the Christmastide season, it is an inescapable truth that Christ has only really been born to die. Ash Wednesday and Lent are coming. Jesus gets no peaceful rest. He is beaten, bloody, and stained with human waste when he dies.

Jesus is an odd choice as the authority on peace.


As we begin Christmastide, and celebrate the birth of the Christ child, consider what it might mean to trust your life to the Prince of Peace, who is wholly and deeply acquainted with its opposite. “Peace” in Jesus’ title does not simply mean what our Western eyes read it as – an absence of war or strife. Peace, or Shalom, in the Bible refers to a restoration of oneness with God and each other, not present on earth since the origin myth of Adam and Eve in the garden. The peace that Jesus resides over is a deep and a lasting peace, yes, but it is also wholeness. It is the restoration of a broken marriage and the wiping of the widow’s tears. This peace is a shining beacon in a desolate, suffocating darkness. It is beyond our comprehension.

Jesus’ life of isolation and suffering proves, not negates, his authority. He came so that he might experience the mundane of our dusty existence. He came so that he might know the depths of war and disease in order to bring about real and genuine peace. He suffered at the hands of division so that he could appreciate the depths of unity.

If I’m honest, entrusting my life to the Prince of Peace is my perpetual Mark 9:24 moment. I believe that Jesus is capable of peace. I believe that he came to bring it. I believe that I have accepted the gift of it in my salvation. I believe in entrusting my life and my world and my future to the Prince of Peace.

And I believe also in the deep cuts of war. I have bled from the illnesses in my family and been pierced by deep fear of the future. I am shackled to the weight of my past and amputated by the depths of my iniquity. I have witnessed my entire life the evils of the Church and of humanity. Oh, the depths of my unbelief.

In the tech booth of a Christmas Eve service rehearsal, I heard the Spirit whisper again, “Come and see what God has done.” In the midst of the hustle and bustle, despite the anxiety and the addictions and the relational brokenness, God extends us this Christmastide invitation: Come and See.

Just come and see.

Come and meet God in a body your brain can comprehend. See the blood-soaked manger. Come and see what the Prince of Peace has to offer you. No need to make a decision right now. No need to leave the future in those tiny, adorable baby hands. Just come. Just see. Marvel for a minute at what the Lord has done.

Merry Christmas, my dear friends. The Prince of Peace that Passes All Understanding has come.

Hallelujah again and again and again.   

Come and see what the Lord has done.

See the places he has destroyed on the earth.

He makes wars stop from one end of the earth to the other.

He breaks every bow. He snaps every spear.

He burns every shield with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be honored among the nations.

I will be honored in the earth.”

11The Lord who rules over all is with us.

The God of Jacob is like a fort to us.

Psalm 46:8-11 NIRV

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.


City on a Landslide

Weary World: Advent 2022

I’m in a bar and everyone around me is drunk when a friend of a friend at the table next to me says, “Church? Man, fuck Jesus.” The mutual friend shoots her a look and she apologizes, which is kind but unnecessary. I always appreciate authenticity, and inebriation is good at authenticity because it makes us forget our filters. Besides that, she’s doing holy work, I think, cursing out Jesus in a too-loud sports bar. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus himself reminds us that salt that loses its saltiness is worthless. It should be walked over and thrown out. This friend of a friend is simply looking around, seeing a busted-out light on a distant hill and calling it darkness.


Today marks the arrival of a new season in the Christian calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, marking our transition from Ordinary Time to the prepatory time for Christmastide. For Christians, this is a time of waiting with expectation for the coming of the Christ child. Advent is a season in which we as Christians heighten our relationship with generosity, joy, gratitude, hope, and love. It is a time for cheerful and eager expectation. for that hope our souls deeply long for, and a time for contemplation as we make ready the world for Christ’s arrival. On the first Sunday, in churches around the world, clergy light the hope candle and reflect on God’s people as beacons of light in the world.

As illustrated in the story above, I’m not sure how well we as a people have done in being lights unto the world, quietly pointing towards the coming hope of the savior. Many of us have given into the temptation of Nationalism. Our sanctuaries have turned from reverent to commercial. We’ve become too interested in laws over relationships. And the weary world, desperate to make sense of the senseless, to find joy amidst the suffering, to find somewhere to belong, has taken notice. The light of the world is missing because we are being a faithless people.

And yet, as I write to you, my friends, on this first day of the Advent season, I am still full of hope for God’s people. I am still hopeful on behalf of the weary world. The problems we are facing as a Body are not new. In Jesus’ life, the main adversaries to his ministry were not atheists; they were the religious. These leaders prioritized legalism over love, rightness over relationship, political power over humble suffering. Jesus’ birth, his life, and his eventual death, are completely wrapped up in the struggle for and against God’s own people. We cannot have a discussion about Christmas without having a discussion about the failures of God’s people.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary and Joseph had promised to get married. But before they started to live together, it became clear that she was going to have a baby. She became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph was faithful to the law. But he did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly.

But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That’s because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, “The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name Immanuel means “God with us.”

Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. But he did not sleep with her until she gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 NIRV

In Matthew’s account of the time leading up to Jesus’ birth, we see Joseph caught up in a legalistic scandal. The woman he is supposed to marry has been both unfaithful and impure. She’s pregnant and there’s no way it could be his. Even in the midst of the legalistic requirement to leave her, Joseph tries his best to be kind. He plans to “divorce her quietly” so as to not “put her to shame in public.” We don’t get reactions to Mary’s pregnancy from many others in the gospel accounts, but if Joseph’s initial reaction is any indication, I think we can imagine the horror Mary faced from the faithful around her. She’s the epitome of everything the traditional religious person hates. Today, we might think about Mary as a gay, drug-addicted, immigrant woman on her way out from an abortion clinic. She’s who preachers are talking about when they speak of the corrupted culture of today’s youth. She’s the failure of all her community’s dreams.

Obviously, as Joseph comes to learn, Mary has been called by God. This is a holy woman, not an impure one.

This is similar to how we experience life today. We don’t often get to see behind the curtains of someone’s life. We don’t see how God has called them, or how God is working in their life. All that we see is their behavior. We see the things they’ve committed, the people they’re surrounded by, the places they’ve ended up. And we compare that to the scriptures, to a right way of living, to the things we claim to believe but rarely practice for ourselves.

I have to wonder, in reading this account of an almost divorce, how wrong have I been about what I perceived was happening in my neighbor’s life? What assumptions did I use to guide my judgements on another person?

I am hopeful about the state of God’s people amidst all the grief they have caused me, my community, my friends and the people they love. I am hopeful because despite our ragged, assuming humanity, God is bringing a child to save the world. All that we need to do is love our wife, despite our failure to understand.

As you move through this first week of advent, consider how your own assumptions and behaviors have dimmed your light and have impacted your ability to represent Jesus to the least of these. Consider how you can feed the hungry simply because you have an extra loaf of bread and not because you are the self-righteous coming to redeem the starved. Reflect on how you might facilitate the passing of God’s love rather than enforcing the consequences of God’s laws. Ask God to intercede in your life and in your faith community to be people that get others curious about God’s redemptive mercy, not cursing out the son in a bar because Christians have been so unkind.

Have hope in your redemption, Church, but have the active kind of hope that moves.

Prayer: Deliver to us, the many-times-great-grandson of the sex worker Rahab, Lord, that we might learn to see you in unexpected places. Break us of our communal fears, that you might speak to us and reveal your plans. Make me a person of light, Lord, that I might die to myself to shine to your humble and simplistic reign.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

The Merry Limits of Knowledge

Editor’s Note: Every year, Bryce chooses a song to explore what the Christmas season can and should mean to us this year. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at Team BVV!

Each Christmas season, several things are assured: A minimum of one present will not arrive on time, a Christmas feast will be had, and Mark Lowry’s Mary, Did You Know? will be scrutinized on every corner of the internet. The argument against the Christmas classic can be summarized as this: Of course Mary knew! She was told in Luke 1 that she would be with child despite her virginity, that that child would be called Jesus, that he would be in the lineage of David, and that he would be God’s son, appointed to oversee the world. Of course Mary knew.

Thirty some years and twenty-one chapters later, a man sits at a table with his best friends. It should be a feast but there’s a clear tension in the air. The leader of the pack is being hunted in backrooms by the government. The man’s name is Peter and he suckles on the tautness in the air like oxygen. No matter what happens, he will be with his friend, his brother, even if it means his own death. The hunted man, Jesus, looks into his eyes and tells him no, he will do no such thing. It isn’t a noble decree, some Hollywood script to manipulate your heartstrings into silent contemplations on ethical sacrifice and the limits of brotherhood; it is a prophesy: Peter will not just refuse to die for his friend, he will deny to know him not once, not twice, but thrice. The spoken word becomes flesh. Peter denies knowing the friend he swore he could die for.

Knowledge is insufficient.

One chapter after an angel visits her, giving her the guidebook to being the Son of God’s mother, Mary walks a day into the desert before realizing Jesus is not with her – the original Home Alone moment. She is angry when she finds him like any mother would be. Our anger is often repurposed grief, recycled fear. He responds to her worried question of where were you with where did you think I was? I’ve been in my Father’s house. Pay attention to verse fifty – they did not understand what he meant by that. Mary knew that Jesus was the Son of God but, twelve years later, lacked the understanding of what that would mean, how consequential his existence would be. Twenty-one years later, she would watch her boy suck in his last breath nailed to a wooden slab, blood dripping down his naked chest as every citizen gathered around cheering his demise, cursing his existence.

Knowledge is insufficient.


I don’t think we have to look far in our own lives to feel how deeply insufficient knowledge is. The best parallel is of course to those who are parents. You have nine-ish months of knowledge. Nine-ish months of tangible evidence of a growing human being expanding your flesh or the flesh of your partner. How did that knowledge compare to the first moment their skin touched yours? How did that experience compare to every parent before you who told you that nothing in your life would rival the love you felt in that moment? Did knowing prepare you? Did knowing enlighten you? Or did the knowledge come up woefully short of what it felt like in your own flesh and bone in that moment?

I’m not a parent so I conceptually get the above paragraph, but I need a better moment to sink my teeth into. I’m picturing Diego from the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy (use whoever you wish) time-traveling to me in January 2020 and saying “Hey, man, there’s gonna be a huge global pandemic over the next couple of years and it’s going to really impact your life.” Even with that foretelling, I’m not sure I would understand.

I don’t think I would understand what those first few months of fear would look and feel like, when I slipped on gloves and a mask and stood outside my grandmother’s garage with her trying to fix her phone so she could stay in contact with us, knowing I was putting her at risk by not being there and letting her lifeline to the outside world not work, and also by being there. That I could literally kill her by standing next to her. No amount of knowledge could prepare me for what that would feel like.

Knowledge is insufficient.

The beauty of the coming Christ is that he comes not as a sibling to Caesar Augustus, poised from privilege to overthrow, but as a baby born to starving parents lying in a filthy, feces-stained manger. Then, he comes as an infant fleeing with his parents to a different country as politically exiled immigrants. Then, he comes as a prophet who spends more time with whores than pastors and finally the savior of the world comes as a criminal sentenced to death row for inhabiting his own flesh and saying his own name. To know that is a great first step but it is not enough.

We, like those in the internet echo chambers debating the extent of Mary and the angel, can convince ourselves that hearing a fact is the same thing as embodying knowledge. That to know something excuses us from the experience of living it. This Christmas, as we head into a third year of the pandemic, grapple with climate change, stare the injustices of Christian Nationalism in the face, it is not enough to read the Christmas story, to hum the hymns with our arms raised, to pass the cup and light the candle. The knowledge of the angels and the virgin and the crucified can live among us all they want but until we embody the knowledge, seek for the mourners among the cheerers on Calvary, flip the tables in our temples, seek out the meek and the powerless, the knowledge of Christmas is insufficient.

Emmanuel has come and hallelujah for that. But now that I know that, what’s next? And what mysteries of God might I be ignoring by writing the living God off as someone I already know?

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Goodreads.

I Believe That My Season Will Come

Photo by Jeremy Gallman on Unsplash

Christmas 2019

Every year I pick a song.

A few years ago, I made a Spotify playlist of Christmas songs I listen to, and add to, every year. But each year, one song stands out from the rest. I play it on repeat and sing at the top of my lungs each time. Three years ago it was I Celebrate the Day by Relient K. Two year ago, Gloria by Michael W. Smith, last year – Mistletoe by Tenth Avenue North.

This year, it turned out to be a two-year-old song by Hillsong.

Normally, the song is picked just because it’s catchy. And Seasons isn’t very catchy. I don’t know how it managed its way on to my playlist: I skipped it every time in 2017 and 2018.

2019 was a year. I graduated. I worked three jobs to stay afloat. Ate off the discount rack at the grocery store. I couldn’t find anywhere to live. Listened a little too long to voices telling me I was too young, too inexperienced, too stupid, too crazy and difficult to live with. I left the Church. Used up and left behind, bewildered about its devotion to ungodly presidents masquerading as saviors, angry about its insistence on perfection from staff members and congregants, horrified at its behavior on my life and those around me. I applied to graduate school and have no idea where I’ll be living, what I’ll be studying, or what I’ll be doing in less than a year. I broke down multiple times. My family and friends struggled against invisible demons. Husbands cheated on wives and people lost jobs and children.


If I have been taught anything this year, it’s the nature of patience. If I have uttered anything loudly and silently, whispered and screamed, it’s I Believe That My Season Will Come. I have not learned how to be patient, how to quiet the anxiety of what comes next, how to cease the heartbreak of closed doors and dissipated dreams.

But I have learned something: There is so much beauty in the waiting, friends. There is grief and worry. Heartbreak and chaos. Unparalleled beauty. Promises fulfilled.

The birth of Jesus was a prophecy that demanded patience from the Jews. Patience was a familiar call for them. 40 years of walking, a Biblical lifetime, before they were allowed into the Promised Land. Three days of marching around some walls. 700 years of waiting for the Messiah to appear.

This was familiar to me, and unhelpful. 40 years of journeying to a Promised Land is nothing I’ll experience. I won’t be asked to march around a city. I’m not important enough to be mentioned in a 700 year old story. What I love about Seasons is how it pairs the nature of patience with the story of Jesus in a way I hadn’t encountered before.

You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child

There are so many reasons to send Jesus as a child. The unexpectedness. The humility. The example of humanity. But what if another motivation was the patience of waiting for a child to not only arrive, but survive long enough to die? Another period of forced patience.

Maybe this is your winter and you’re banging your fists on the ice waiting for it to break the sunlight back in. I believe that your season will come. A season out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. A season that walls crumble and you storm the place that your enemies used to torment you. A season of new life that even the darkest night cannot stomp out.

Merry Christmas, my dear friends. A new season is coming. We might just have to wait for it.


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