Today is the second Sunday in Advent. Tonight at our dinner table we will light the Peace candle.
Peace is a sense of tranquility or calm. I feel peace when I am leaning on the fence watching alpacas. I feel peace when I am floating on an inflatable mattress in a large body of water - as long as there are no jet skis around (I used to call them gnats, but Jeff heard rats, which seems equally appropriate - sorry to all you jet ski enthusiasts). That peace only lasts as long as I stay in that environment, though. I can't lean on the fence forever - and I'd get bored if I tried. I don't have a large body of water close by, and sooner or later I'd have to get out and then I'd get hot again and nothing makes me less peaceful than being too hot and sweaty.
What is God's peace?
After the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they sang, "Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace among those whom he favors!" (Luke 2:13). Was this just a salutation - the first "passing of the peace" if you will? Or were the angels conveying God's promise of peace on earth?
I think it was the latter. The Bible is full of references to peace.
In the books of the prophets (I've been reading Jeremiah and Ezekiel), God seems to be at war with Judah. They have betrayed God and worshipped other idols (sound familiar? I think we are, too - see the post from September 23 ). The Jews have been cut off and sent into exile, if they survived. But in Ezekiel 37, God is relenting, and allowing God's anger to burn itself out. Ezekiel 37:25-27:
25 They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the angels' greeting - the personification, in the baby Jesus, of God's covenant of peace. That God will never again send his beloved people into exile. Instead, God sends a descendant of his servant David - Jesus.
There is another kind of peace - the absence of war. From Isaiah 55:12-13:
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Sometimes when I am feeling particularly peaceful and joyful, I think to myself, "God is in His heaven and all is well." I'm sure that came from somewhere but I don't know where I first heard or read it. This passage from Isaiah brings to my mind the image of a person walking in nature. All of nature rejoices because all is well. The ecosystems are restored, and God is in God's heaven,
Is this the kind of peace the angels meant? This promise - that we shall go out in joy and be led back in peace - seems elusive because are we not still making war? Is it God's fault that the trees of the fields aren't clapping their hands, and we have thorns and briers instead of cypress and myrtle? I don't think so. Until we do our part, of acknowledging that all of creation is God's and not ours, we continue to make war against God. God has promised peace, and we continue to fight about it. Also from Isaiah (48:22), "There is no peace," says the Lord, "for the wicked."
But at Advent, we focus on God's promise of peace. For now, for this season, can we remember that
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)
We aren't there yet, and frankly I can't imagine a world where the wolf will lie down with the lamb because the wolf deserves to eat, too - but just because I can't imagine it doesn't mean it can't happen. God's imagination is much more vast than mine - did God not imagine all of creation? But I can imagine a world where no one takes advantage of another, where everyone is satisfied with enough so everyone has enough, where everyone recognizes the value of everyone else. I can imagine a world where righteousness reigns, the poor and meek are treated with equity, and enemies shall put down their weapons. I can imagine a world where no one hurts or destroys.
I have no idea how to make that happen - no one person knows how or can do it alone. People like Martin Luther, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis, Billy Graham and so many others have brought us closer to that imagined world, but we aren't there yet.
God is, though - and we have to remember that God's time is not our time. The peace that God is imagining may not come in our lifetimes. So how can we experience the peace that the angels promised the shepherds?
Do you remember being little and being rocked by a beloved adult? Perhaps a parent or grandparent, or someone else that you knew loved you?
When Jeff and Julia were little, there were times that they would be scared or sick and there wasn't anything I could do in the moment to make it better. So I held them and rocked them and whispered, "It's OK, Mommy's here." And that always helped, at least a little.
I imagine Mary, holding and rocking Jesus and whispering, "Shhh. Mama's here."
And I think of the times when something has been too big for me and realizing that it isn't too big for God, and relaxing into the trust that some day, some how, God is going to make it right. I feel like God is rocking me and saying, "It's OK. I'm here."
And so this little baby, a tender, helpless, hopeful baby, demonstrates for us the peace that God wants us to have - to trust God, to obey God, to love God and each other. And this Advent, THIS Advent - more than any before - I am holding on to God the way Parker holds on to me sometimes, and God is whispering, "Shh. It's OK. God is here."
This morning I was privileged to bring the children's message at church - I "mailed it in" because we are meeting virtually, but I did put a lot of thought into it so I didn't mail it in in that regard. It was about peace. How does one talk to kids about peace? I think the message is a good one for grownups, too. If you would like to share an Advent message with your kids, here is the Children's Message I shared this morning at Trinity UCC in Waynesboro, PA:
Canisius, Peter and Kang, Michael David. "Peace." Wednesday, 2 December 2020 : 1st Week of Advent (Homily and Scripture Reflections) – petercanisiusmichaeldavidkang Online, accessed 12/6/2020.