By Rev. Joan Kessler
Reading: Luke 3:1-6
We are considering Peace this second Sunday of Advent and just under three weeks until Christmas. We write of it in our Christmas cards and sing it in our favorite carols; we exercise peace in our gift-giving. American poet Maya Angelou calls this the Glad Season and the “halting of hate” time of year.
Our understanding of peace comes from assorted contexts and definitions. It is a state of tranquility and solitude, what we know as an inner kind of peace that finds roots in our spiritual place, our beliefs, and practices. We also know peace as an absence of conflict, the opposite of war; it is freedom from civil disturbances, and we uphold the intrinsic value of peace and its good order. Peace is freedom…freedom to live where one chooses in the pursuit of happiness and a hopeful future where one’s needs are met.
I have been thinking about Peace this past week…and I have wondered…do I only understand peace by its absence? That might sound like a peculiar question…let me put it another way…Do I only consider Peace by what it is not? I think I take it entirely for granted most of the time until some crisis arises. The climate-related events of atmospheric rivers, record-breaking temperatures this past week, and now an unstable snowpack and increased avalanche risk…change is all around us. The nightly newscasts take us to the ground zero of the flooding, the loss of homes and livelihoods, of livestock that perished with the arrival of too much water with nowhere to go. This is not Peace. It feels like chaos; it’s uncertainty, it’s devastation of epic proportions. And still, Christmas is coming. Peace and goodwill towards one another prevail and shine like a beacon over the darkness of our discontent.
On this second Sunday in our season of Advent, as we focus on the quality of peace, we hear familiar words from John the Baptist. He is heralding the Peace that is coming on scene. But more than just announcing the arrival of Jesus, John is calling his listeners to a change of heart and of mind…to turn over and self-examine the things they hold dear, the values they uphold and the work they do to preserve and protect them… and when this Peace comes to fruition, it will look like valleys being filled, mountains being brought low, the crooked made straight and the rough places made smooth. Working for peace means a humbling of everything that is proud and self-satisfying within us. John reminds his listeners that there is far to go in the pursuit of peace and justice and loving-kindness…this is the system Jesus was born into and made it his life’s work to reshape…and we are invited to this work of peace.
Peace is work that starts with us, in our relationships under our roofs and out in our public squares. It’s looking for those on the fringes, those who struggle to get by. This week, I went out to check on the Community Fridge and there, written on the clipboard was a message…it read, “You have changed my life with this. Thank you so much!” This is the Peace John is pursuing… sometimes it is a whisper we are not sure we heard correctly and other times it is as loud as a drum beating and thunder cracking…the world longs for this peace and so we continue on its path, smoothing and straightening as we go.
American poet Maya Angelou wrote a poem in 2005 entitled Amazing Peace. She wrote it for the occasion of the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at the White House in 2005, a time of pain and war for the American people and their allies…George W Bush was President, war was being waged against Iraq and Afghanistan, the horror of 9/11 having forever changed the sense of peace and security, not only for the US but for the world. Angelou saw the complexity of defining peace. And yet she found hope. She said,
Peace is happiness. It’s an ideal. And yet, it’s not. It’s attainable everyday. I can find peace for a moment or an hour somehow, somewhere. I can actually create peace. Maybe only for a moment. Maybe only for an hour. Somehow, somewhere. Maybe more? We can create peace. For someone. For ourselves. Maybe only for a moment. Maybe only for an hour. Somehow, somewhere. Let’s do that. If we all just do that.
I share with you now a reading of Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace, and invite you to look at the images as they are projected…they are familiar scenes I suspect, and we can all place ourselves in this prose…how do you imagine peace?
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Floodwaters await in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and gray and threatening.
We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?
We interrogate and worry God.
Are you there? Are you really there, really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope.
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor.
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps
Quietly in the corner.
Floodwaters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children.
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things.
Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloved and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait awhile with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian.
Implore you to stay awhile with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices.
To celebrate the promise of peace.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the world aloud.
Peace. WE look at each other, then into ourselves.
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:
Peace. My Brother.
Peace. My SIster.
Peace. My Soul.