December 11, 2018
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A second candle of the Advent Wreath: Peace  

During the season of Advent, I offer reflections on hope, peace, joy, and love as the candles of the Advent Wreath are lit.

On Sunday the second candle of the Advent Wreath was lit, symbolizing both peace and the prophets. I won’t dwell much on the latter in this column, save to note that for all their shouted warnings and dire predictions the prophets were merely trying to move the people toward a state of justice and peace.

Peace can an elusive creature. We all wish for it for ourselves, for others, and for our world, and yet it’s often slippery, sliding through our anxious grasp. Holy Scripture [1] has a great deal to say about peace, including how we can find it:

Proverbs 12:20 “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.

Psalm 34:14  “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Psalm 119:165  “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”

Isaiah 32:17  “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness, and trust forever.”

Matthew 5:9 ESV “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Romans 12:18  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

2 Corinthians 13:11  “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

From these verses, it appears that peace is something we gain not by wishing for it, but by working for it—working for reconciliation and justice with and for other people. You might say that peace and justice are braided together. One of the promises in our Baptismal Covenant underscores this “braided together” relationship: The priest asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” and the one[s] being baptized answer, “I will, with God’s help.” [BCP p.305] In interpersonal conflict, working to maintain the dignity of the other is critical to reconciliation.

We gain peace when we deliberately turn away from evil and strife and consciously work for reconciliation. We gain peace when we make an effort to obey the commandments God gave us (i.e. when we are righteous, or in right relationship with God). Martin Luther King Jr. observed that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

Even though Isaiah calls the Messiah “the Prince of Peace” [Isa 9:6], Jesus lets us know in Matthew 10 that Jesus’s earthly mission was to restore justice and that included the re-ordering of people’s loves and loyalties. In Matthew 10, at the conclusion of his instructions to the twelve disciples, as they are sent out, Jesus warns that families will be divided because some members will be unable or unwilling to place loyalty to Christ above loyalty to family [Matthew 10:34-36]. Those who love their family members more than Jesus were not considered worthy of him [vs 37-38]. These are hard words to hear, but they make clear God’s wishes for the ordering of our loves.

Scripture affirms that peace is part of the Divine Nature and is one of God’s fondest desires for us:

Isaiah 54:10  “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

John 14:27  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”

Galatians 5:22  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”

Philippians 4:7  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God’s peace springs from the divine well of compassion, and God promises it shall never be removed from the earth. Jesus reminded his friends of that when he said, “My own peace I leave with you.” Where we witness peace (and joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness) we know that the Holy Spirit has borne fruit.

As you well know, there’s inner peace—our internal freedom from anxiety—as well as peace between people and peace between entities or nations. Theologians of all times and faith traditions remind us that inner peace must precede any attempts at peacemaking with others. Thomas a Kempis, 15th-century German-Dutch author, wrote: “First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.” Over five centuries later, the Dalai Lama concurred: “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”

Jesus well knew how challenging making peace with and within ourselves can be, and he offered the assurance that—through him—our access to the peace of God is always an open channel:

John 16:33  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Jesus is well aware that the world around us can daily bring strife, discord, and anxiety, and he offers us his peace and the assurance that he has overcome all the strife in the world (with the eternal and ultimate triumph of good over evil, and of love over death). Living in the midst of that strife we may not see the final outcome Jesus promises, but we endeavor to trust that he is true to his word. Living in this “not-yet” time, we are encouraged to share our concerns with God through prayer. I have come to think that this is not so God can “fix” things for us, but so that God can help carry the burden of them for us, and can strengthen us to both bear them and to work toward whatever reconciliation or resolution may be possible.

Working for peace—be it within ourselves, between ourselves and others, or between entities or nations—is holy and necessary work. It’s the calling not of some people but of all. Our baptismal covenant makes that clear. So do great minds like Albert Einstein who said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Advent is a time when we contemplate the fact that the Prince of Peace came among us as a tiny and vulnerable infant, perhaps to remind us that there is no human being too small, too powerless, too insignificant to work for peace. Directing our thoughts, words, and actions toward peace as often as we can think to do it is an excellent start. Let our every interaction with others amplify what we say mid-service on Sundays: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” Those who plan peace have joy.

[1] Scriptures quoted are drawn from, ESV translation

[2] Quotations are drawn from