Tag Archive: Light


My sermon from Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday, preached at Community Lutheran Church

I love mountains.  You could probably even say it’s in my blood since my maiden name is actually Peake!  On my dad’s side are Scots and English folk who settled in the mountains of western North Carolina, probably because it reminded them a bit of the old country.  Almost every year growing up, we’d travel to western North Carolina to visit the land grandparents and great-grandparents called home.  It’s on the side of Roan Mountain where there’s a wonderful Rhododendron festival every year.  I love that land.  I love hiking around it.  And I love the connection to the past I feel there.

It also holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my Grandpa is buried.  And it was at his funeral that I first really heard the Gospel and tried to mumble along as best I could with the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  On a sunny day, on a mountainside in North Carolina, I encountered Christ and had my own mountaintop moment.

My family's land in North Carolina

My family’s land in North Carolina

The festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord comes at the end of the season of Epiphany.  It comes at the end of the season of light as we’ve been hearing about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry to Jews and Gentiles alike.  The season where Jesus has been revealed through not only his words, but in his actions.  And now, we find ourselves on a high mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John.

They’re just hanging out and all of a sudden, Jesus is transformed before their eyes, shining in dazzling white clothing – clothes so white, no one on earth could bleach them that white.  This is not only an Oxyclean moment, rather the Gospel is getting at the fact that Jesus was divinely transformed, what we call the Transfiguration.  He’s shining brilliantly in glory and not only that, but Moses and Elijah, two figures who represent the law and the prophets are chatting with him.  Looking at Moses and Elijah, people thought to come before the Messiah, the disciples are terrified.  And poor Peter, in his shock and terror, stammers out, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He’s trying to be productive and helpful, but he’s missing the point.  Jesus is revealed in divine light and radiance and Peter wants to start a construction project.

Then, suddenly, a cloud overshadows them and a voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!”  And before they know it, Peter, James and John are alone again with Jesus on a high mountain.  They’re confused and wondering about what they’ve just experienced when Jesus tells them not to say a word about this until he’s risen from the dead.  Well, that should help clarify things! If we keep reading, we’d find that the next verse says, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”  These poor guys have just seen something crazy and wonderful and now they’re baffled about what rising from the dead means.

In Mark’s Gospel, there are three major events that occur: Jesus’ baptism, his transfiguration and the crucifixion.  At each of these moments, Jesus is identified as the Son of God.  In between, Jesus keeps telling people and unclean spirits to be quiet about his identity.  However, at the Transfiguration, Jesus is transformed so that the disciples can catch even a fleeting glimpse of him in glory – a preview of the resurrected and victorious Christ.  They don’t understand what it means at the moment, but after the resurrection, they will.

Maybe you’ve had a moment when you’ve encountered a glimpse of the glory of God.  Maybe it was very clear that it was God at work.  Or maybe it was baffling and confusing and you found yourself questioning what happened.  Maybe you wanted to share it, but didn’t know how.  Maybe you can’t think of a time when you’ve had such an encounter.

Whatever the case may be, mountaintop experiences can be beautiful, terrifying, inspiring and confusing.  But we are doing ourselves a grave disservice if we live searching for these experiences.  The reading for today shows that as quickly as this amazing event happened, it was over, and it was time to go back down into the valleys and wildernesses of everyday life.

I know that I have had some mountaintop encounters in my life and I long to experience those things again.  But as wonderful as those moments are, I know that the more important question is how do I live in the every day? The struggle is, how do I continue to be faithful in the meantime when things aren’t so clear? The Transfiguration shows us that Jesus walks with us in the valleys of our lives, too, and not just on the mountaintops.  Jesus does not abandon the disciples for glory or to keep chatting with Moses and Elijah, but comes down off of the mountain to live with them in the difficulties of the world.  He descends in order to go all the way to the cross – the place where the love of God and the brutality of the world collide.  While glory is alluring, the way of God is a downward path – it’s not the climb up the mountain, but the one down to which we should pay attention.  In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “When I was sinking down, Beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul.”  Christ lays aside his crown, comes down off of the mountain, and walks with us.

Peter says, “it is good for us to be here.”   And it is good for us to be here in worship and in the church, but how do we come down from the worship high of Sunday morning and go back to living in the mundane and weary world?  The disciples hear the voice of God speaking from within the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!”  This command to listen has the sense of, “keep on listening” or “continue listening.”  It’s as if God is saying, as you go down into the valleys, away from the brilliant glory you’ve experienced on this mountaintop, keep on listening for Jesus’ voice.  Don’t stop listening.  Remember what you’ve experienced and keep on listening.

So how do we listen in the middle of our overflowing days and weeks? One way of listening for God is keeping Sabbath or finding ways “live Sabbathly” throughout the day.  Our Lenten series this year will look at what it means to observe and keep the Sabbath, especially in the middle of our jam-packed lives.  What does it mean to slow down and to spend time simply delighting in God? Peter, rather than taking in the glory of God and rejoicing in the moment, tried to capture it – to spend time building dwellings.  Part of living Sabbathly is not trying to commoditize everything, but to appreciate work and play, rest and delight in the goodness of God.

Another way to keep listening is to be mindful of the ways that God’s light is shining around us, even in the most difficult of situations.  I will be the first to admit that it’s sometimes really hard to see God’s light while navigating crowded roadways with crazy drivers, or dealing with bureaucracy, or in difficult relationships.  But I am often surprised and amazed at where and how I encounter Christ.  In a child reaching out for bread at Communion.  In my dog as she reminds me to slow down and take in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.  In laughter and teasing over a family meal.  And, often, in pain and suffering.

In moments when I’ve felt most isolated and troubled in my own life, I have experienced more clearly Christ’s comfort and love.  And I’ve encountered this in others as well.  Once, I saw it in the beautiful way a man in hospice looked at his death and trusted heaven to be the most incredible and unimaginable surprise.  Lately, I’ve been reading about Christ present in the lives of every day Rwandans who, after the horrific genocide, practiced unfathomable forgiveness and reconciliation.

And this week, I see Christ’s light shining through the life of twenty-six year-old Kayla Mueller, captured by ISIS while trying to assist refugees escaping the war in Syria.  While it is still unclear how she died, it is clear that even in captivity, in the valley of the shadow of death, she reflected the light of Christ.  In a letter to her family, she wrote, “And by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.  I have been shown in darkness, light and have learned that even in prison, one can be free.  I am grateful.”  In another letter, she wrote, “I find God in suffering.  I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”  She also explained how she was even trying to teach the guards how to make origami peace cranes.

We may have wonderful mountaintop experiences that move us, confuse us, and cause us to reflect.  But our Gospel reading reminds us that we always come down from the mountain, and more importantly, that Christ comes with us.  We are never left to fend for ourselves in the difficult, messy and sticky parts of our lives.  No, Christ is always there.  And along the way, we catch glimpses of his glory in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  We are recipients of Christ’s glorious light as it shines through others, but we are also called to reflect and shine God’s resplendent light in our lives.  And in this process, we, too, are transformed and transfigured.  As we go out into the world, may we continue listening for God in our lives and paying attention to the way we encounter Christ, not only on the mountaintops, but in the highways, valleys and wildernesses of our lives.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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The Christmas Eve sermon I preached on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20] at Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA

A few weeks ago, my husband Jeff and I were decorating our Christmas tree and I began to think about the ornaments. We’ve got some I made when I was a child and are now looking a little rough after many years. Some are gifts given by family, neighbors, and friends. Some from Tar-jay… that’s Target in case you didn’t know! And some from Christmas markets in Germany. Each of them has a story and a memory attached to it. And as we pulled out the ornaments and hung them, one by one on the tree, I was reminded of all the stories we share and hear at Christmas.

During this season we gather with family and friends, telling stories of Christmases past. We watch movies and laugh or cry over stories and quotes we all can repeat in our sleep, whether it’s, “God bless us, every one,”or “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” or, “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” The last line is from my favorite Christmas movie!

And tonight we gather together to worship and hear once more the story at the heart of it all. The story of a God who loved the world so much, he became a human, taking on the form of a tiny, helpless baby – growing, teaching, healing, preaching and dying among us, so we could know that love.

The story of Jesus’ birth is miraculous, dramatic and joyous. And what struck me meditating on this story again were the timing and the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Jesus is not only born in a humble stable during the rule of the oppressive Roman Empire, but the reading tells us he was born under the reign of the Emperor Augustus. This was a man known in imperial decrees as “Son of God” and the “savior of the whole world,” the one who was rumored to bring peace.

But that’s not the way the Gospel writer sees it. Instead, Luke’s Gospel, through the proclamation of the angel of the Lord, declares to the Empire that this little, vulnerable baby born in a stable is the true Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. That flies in the face of everything people knew and were accustomed to. Besides that, the angel and the angel host, or army, don’t show up to the powerful or the esteemed. No, they show up to some shepherds, who, like baby Jesus, have no place to lay their heads since they live in the fields.

In that time, shepherds had a pretty bad reputation. Since they worked in the fields, they didn’t practice Sabbath observances or worship in the Temple, and most likely, they smelled pretty bad. They were also seen as dishonest since they sometimes grazed their flocks on others’ land. According to teachings of the time, this made them ineligible to act as witnesses in court. Ironically, these are the people God chooses to become the first witnesses to the Messiah’s birth!

2,000 years ago, in a time of occupation, oppression, poverty and darkness, Jesus was born in dingy, dangerous, and stressful conditions and placed in a feed trough. Then angels appeared to stinky outcasts and God’s glory shone all around them. Out in rocky, rolling fields under a dark sky, God’s glory washed over people who were looked down upon. While God’s glory was born to a poor couple from the backwoods of Israel, a messenger of the Most High God shows up to some rough shepherds with good news of great joy for all people – even the outsiders – and proclaims peace in a brutal and tense time.

In January, I was lucky enough to travel to the Holy Land and visit Bethlehem. There, I visited the Church of the Nativity and the land where the shepherds must have been grazing their sheep. But I wasn’t as moved by the landmarks themselves, as I was by a quote that I saw in the courtyard of the church. On a simple stone in English and German, there was a quote that read: “When dark is the world today, This Child brings the world light.”

From the Courtyard of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

From the Courtyard of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

We pick up the newspaper or flip on the news and we hear all too often of the darkness of the world. We receive bad news from family and friends. We worry about our loved ones, our schoolwork, our jobs, our health, our finances… Fear, anxiety, disappointment, low self-esteem, painful relationships, and the shadows of our past mistakes and sins haunt us and weigh us down.

But the story of Christmas tells us that Almighty God, out of a love we can only begin to fathom, took on frail human flesh in order to forgive us and restore our broken relationships with God and one another. That God, creator of the universe, became a tender, gurgling infant in order to show us the depth and breadth of God’s love. Christmas shows us the ridiculous lengths to which God is willing to go to reach out to us and touch us with God’s grace, love and forgiveness. This is a God who doesn’t look upon us from a distance, but was born into the heart of the struggle of what it is to be human.It’s the beginning of the wonderful news the Gospels will continue to proclaim. The news that God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is for all people: rich and poor, powerful and weak, proud and humble, the religious and the impious, the saints and sinners, the outcast and the admired. The good news that whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you’ve done, or whatever you’re facing, God loves you and welcomes you.

The real miracle of Christmas is that Jesus is not only the light born in the darkness of a night long ago, but that he is the light shining brightly in our darkness, here and now. In the words of Isaiah, Christ breaks the yoke of our burdens and snaps in half the rod of all that holds us back, freeing us to let our lights shine into a dark world.

Take the shepherds, for example. They were so overjoyed by the vision and the message they heard out in the fields that they ran to find the little child they had heard about. And once they reached him, they were so filled with awe, they bubbled over telling Mary and Joseph about what they had experienced and then bolted out to tell others. In spite of their social status, they knew they had been transformed by what they had experienced and they wanted to share the precious news with everyone they met. If God showed up to, transformed and embolden shepherds seen as sinners and outsiders, what might God be doing through each of us?

Christ is our light, our hope and our joy. In the middle of the darkness of the world, there is a little child born to lead us into the way of the kingdom of God – the way of love, mercy and peace for all people. As Christine Sine writes, “How many fathers would give their son for us. How many mothers would pour their love into a child for us. How many kings
would leave their thrones for us. Only God in the birth of a child, in the birth of a kingdom, in the birth of a new world, would give up everything for us.” This Christmas, may you know the depth of God’s unfailing love for you and for all people. And may your lights shine brightly as you follow the light of the world. Thanks be to God and Merry Christmas! Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

This was this morning’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church!

 

 

Today is a big day here at Community!  We’re celebrating 15 young peoples’ First Communion, and we’ve got two baptisms happening.  It’s a day full of joy! We’re welcoming people into the body of Christ in the waters of baptism and celebrating how we continue to grow and live out those baptisms through receiving God’s holy meal time and time again.

And we also have this wonderful passage about salt and light, cities on a hill and what it means to live out our faith.  This passage always makes me think of the musical Godspell:

You are the light of the world!
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
It’s lost something kind of crucial
You got to stay bright to be the light of the world

You are the salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost its flavor
It ain’t got much in its favor
You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth!

I love musicals and this song makes remembering Jesus’ words catchy and jazzy!

However, I think when we hear this passage, our tendency is to think, “what do I have to do to be salt?” or “what do I have to do to be light?”  I think we hear Jesus’ words in the second part of the passage and they put us on edge: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Gulp.  Well, I’m out!  Good luck, right? To give you an idea, the rabbis, the descendants of the Pharisees, name 613 commandments or mitzvot to follow.  If we’re honest, it’s hard to even follow the 10 commandments, right? So how can we possibly reach such an incredibly high bar?! We can’t.  We all fall short. And thankfully, God knew this and took on humanity to do what we couldn’t do – to fulfill the law and the prophets.  And so we’ve been made righteous through Christ, our savior.  In God’s eyes, Christ has made us righteous – right before God – through his self-giving life and death on the cross.

We know this.  We are reminded of it week after week.  We remember it when we enter the church and see the font – the waters in which we were forgiven and welcomed as children of God.  We remember it when we are graciously invited to the feast and we hear those words, “‘Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me.’” “‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.  Do this for the remembrance of me.’”

We know this incredibly good news and, yet, sometimes we lose sight of it.  Sometimes it remains in our heads and doesn’t quite connect with us in our hearts.  And so I hear in Jesus’ words in the Gospel today words of amazing promise: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You all know by this point that I love grammar.  So here goes!  “You all” – plural – meaning all ya’ll.  “Are” – present tense meaning right now, at this very instant!  Each and every one of you is salt and light! Great, you may be thinking, but what on earth does that mean?!

In the ancient world, both salt and light were precious.  Salt was a valuable trade commodity, a symbol of purity and wisdom in Mesopotamian thought, and was used in sacrifice.  It was, and is, a seasoning and a preservative, helping food last longer, and was also used as a cleansing agent.  Light was precious because people were dependent on the sun or lamps to see – remember, they didn’t have fluorescent bulbs in every building to making working or shopping easy! It was also a common metaphor of God and God’s salvation.

So what is Jesus saying when he says that we are salt and light? I think he’s saying, “You are a precious commodity, seasoning the lives of others around you.  You are a sign of God and you help others to see God’s salvation.”  What amazing words.  What empowerment.  What abundant grace.

Jesus doesn’t say that we will be salt and light if only we do this, that or the other thing.  Instead, he says you are already salt and light because you have been made bright and well seasoned! We have already been illuminated by the current of God’s love and grace running through our lives.

And Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Rather, he says that it is important to remain salty and illuminated! We do so by staying plugged in to God, as well as by letting our lights shine forth into the world. Jesus says that we aren’t to hide or misuse the gifts and the calling we have as children of God, but rather to put them to good use.  It’s even a part of the sacrament of baptism – the newly baptized receive a candle and hear, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Through the leading and strength of the Holy Spirit, we are to seek after and do our best to follow God, humbly serving and pointing to God.  We will make mistakes and mess up, and we will never be perfect, as much as this recovering perfectionist would love that! But just because we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we can’t let our lights shine brightly or that we can’t make a difference.  Remember, God has made us light and salt and we have something to share with the world.  And no matter how often we fall short, God forgives us and frees us to go back out into the world – to make a difference by following Jesus, the Light of the world.

I’ve been thinking about being light and salt for a while now and trying to keep my eyes open to see where people are salty and bright.  And I’ve experienced some wonderful things! I’ve witnessed people listening to one another and comforting each other at the Compassionate Friends grief group.  I’ve seen people step up to shovel and salt the church sidewalks – more of a literal use of salt, I suppose! I’ve heard of the life-changing work that LINK is doing in our community.  And I’ve been reminded by so many of you in conversations, e-mails and phone calls the things you do day in and day out not only for this church, but for your jobs, schools, other non-profit groups and the larger community.

Those things may seem small or to go unnoticed, but those are the little things that help to season others’ lives – to have an impact on them.  As Catholic nun, Sister Jean, put it in a trailer for the upcoming documentary, Radical Grace, “In every encounter, something sacred is at stake.”  Even a smile, a kind word, or a simple action can shed light on God and reflect God’s light into someone’s life.

Being salt and light for the world means working for the kingdom of God.  It means calling for an end to injustice and standing with those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  It means comforting those who mourn and having compassion on the suffering.  It means speaking out against persecution and bullying, and caring for the hungry and the poor.  It’s a big job!

But we have been called and welcomed into this kingdom work in our baptisms.  We’ve been made part of a community – sisters and brothers all called to work together to make the world a bit brighter.  And we continue to be strengthened to do this work every time we receive bread and wine – the promise of Christ for us and with us.  We welcome others, grow in grace and share Christ’s love.

So as we celebrate with these young people being baptized and receiving communion for the first time today, may we hear the promises of God anew.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

And in the words of Godspell:

So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine.

Amen.

Beeswax Candles Burn Brightly by Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Photo taken by Annabelle Markey in January 2014)

Beeswax Candles Burn Brightly by Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Photo taken by Annabelle Markey in January 2014)

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

 

 

The Peace of God

This was my humble and much wrestled with attempt to speak to the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.  May we continue to pray for God’s peace for the families and community affected, as well as for all people and nations.  And may we be peacemakers, sharing the love we have experienced in Christ Jesus with all those we encounter in both our words and our actions.

Today is Gaudate or Joy Sunday.  And the readings we’ve just heard are bursting with praise and joy.  But to be honest, I don’t really feel a whole lot like rejoicing.  I’m still thinking about the horrible shootings of the past week – two in one week.  I’m sad and wondering how this could have happened.  I’m frustrated and I’m angry that once again there have been shootings in our country.

I guess when I think about it more, I’m just tired.  I’m tired of turning on the news and hearing about continuing bloodshed in Syria, or more trouble in Israel and Palestine.  I’m tired of hearing about tragedies happening in movie theaters, temples, malls and in schools.  I’m tired of all the bad news.

And so it seems that these texts for today are horribly out of place given what’s been going on in our world.  But I think just the opposite is true – these texts have a lot to say to us this morning, particularly the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I really love this letter to the Philippians.  It’s positive and upbeat, it includes the Christ Hymn in the second chapter, and it’s full of these wonderfully written sentences and phrases that I have found incredibly valuable in my own spiritual life.  Not to mention, it’s short and that makes it seem a little bit easier to handle!

But there’s a lot more depth to these four chapters than we might think at first glance.  The Philippians were living in what is now northern Greece along one of the major Roman trade roads of the day – the Via Egnatia.  In addition, the city of Philippi, once a backwater town, had become a sort of retirement community for Roman military personnel who had fought previously with Marc Antony and Octavian against Brutus and Cassius – yes, “Et tu, Brute?”  So the city had a Roman vibe.

Then, in around 50 CE, this guy named Paul had founded a tiny church – the first on European soil.  As a follow-up, Paul writes to the Philippians to share what he’s been up to, to encourage them to stay united in Christ, and to continue in the faith despite opposition.  And he’s not just writing this letter from his cushy home office, he’s sitting in a prison cell, knowing that his life could seriously be in danger.  Prisons in Paul’s day were not places for punishment or reform, but rather places where people would be held until a verdict could be reached.  Paul was waiting to see what would happen.

It is with all this in mind that we hear four verses of Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi.  We hear about rejoicing, about not worrying, and the peace of God.

How on earth is Paul able to write, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice?”  If I were sitting in a dark, dank prison cell, pondering the possibility of my death, as much as I’d like to, I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to write that.  And yet, Paul is not the only prisoner I know who has had this attitude.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII for various charges, the gist of which was that he wasn’t following the Nazi party line as he should have been.  During Christmas of 1943, sitting in prison, away from his family, friends and fiancée, Bonhoeffer wrote a Morning Prayer included in a collection of “Prayers for Those Also Imprisoned.”  The prayer is rather long, but here’s a portion of it that echoes Paul’s words:

“In me it is dark,
but with you, there is light;
I am lonely, but you don’t leave me;
I am faint-hearted, but with you there is help;
I am disquieted, but with you there is peace;
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I don’t understand your ways, but
You know the way for me…

Lord Jesus Christ
You were poor
And wretched, and imprisoned and abandoned like me.
You know the affliction of all people,
You stay with me,
Even when no person stands with me.
You don’t forget me and you search me out.
You desire that I recognize you,
And that I turn myself towards you.

Lord, I hear your call and follow.
Help me!”

These words help to clarify for me some of what Paul was talking about.

All of the things Paul talks about in these four verses – rejoicing, not being worried, receiving the peace of God – all of these things only happen in the context of what God has done first.  We are able rejoice, but we rejoice “in the Lord.”  We are not concerned or worried about the things we face, because in all things, we can always bring our prayers, requests, and questions before God.  And we receive the peace of God that guards our hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus.”  In God, come down to earth in a fragile, vulnerable baby, we rejoice, we pray, and we know God’s peace.

What is peace? How do we define it? There are two KFC commercials right now that feature the tagline: “find some peace this holiday.”  One shows a man using chicken to quiet two women, who are laughing and gabbing, while the other shows this same man pacifying his fighting children with chicken and chocolate chip cookies.  Is that what peace is?  Quieting down the noise with fried chicken?!

When we say we long for peace or that we’re praying for peace, what is it that we’re actually saying? Are we hoping that people will stop being physically harmful to one another?  Or are we hoping that conflicts will cease?  What does peace mean to you?  What does peace look like and feel like to you?

I think we often have a more limited view of peace.  I think our idea of peace sometimes looks like something that you’d hear in a beauty pageant – “I wish for world peace and for everyone to have a puppy!”  Both awesome things, but a little limited.

God’s peace is far greater than that.  God’s peace is  “shalom” – completeness, soundness, safety, health, prosperity and wholeness.  God’s peace is nothing short of the complete healing and wholeness of an aching world.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine it.  Wars cease.  Painful conflicts end.  Bitterness between politicians disappears.  Words of love and joy flow from peoples’ lips.  Sharp and hurtful remarks are gone.  Relationships are healed and restored.  People feel and are safe and secure because this peace from God is permanent – it is not temporary or confined like human peace.

This is the peace that Paul and Bonhoeffer knew.  It was in the hope of this peace that they lived and died.  It was in this peace that they waited for Christ’s return, just as we do today.  And it’s not that their lives were free from the pains, tragedies and sufferings we experience.  No – just the opposite!  They had more than enough trials and ordeals.  But they knew that the Lord was near.

They knew that God had come into a violent, worrisome world as a vulnerable child to live life among us.  They knew that God, the holy One of Israel, had lived life as a poor peasant – an outcast.  They knew that this same God, had faced the injustice and violence of the world head on, and had been crucified.  They knew that this God – the God who worked through weakness and the unexpected – was raised from the dead conquering sin and death once and for all.  And they knew that this God had done all of this out of love for God’s beloved children.

They knew that they could take all of their struggles, worries, problems, fears, doubts, questions and joys to God in prayer and supplication.  They knew to give thanks for the good things and to let their requests – all of them, even the most mundane – be made known to God.  Knowing all of this, they lived with the peace of God guarding their hearts and minds.  They were able to rejoice in the goodness and the promises of God even in the midst of persecution, violence and injustice.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.”

We catch glimpses of or experience this peace from time to time.  We may feel God’s peace surround us when praying or being prayed for.  We may witness courageous souls stand up against violence and hate in favor of love.  We may see it in little children who go caroling through the neighborhood, lifting a neighbor’s spirits.  God’s peace – God’s kingdom – is breaking in, despite all that we have seen to the contrary.  It has always been this way.

The peace of God is found in expectant hope.  We see the horrors of the world around us and yet we know what God has done for us in Christ.  We watch the news and we pray, knowing that God hears us and is at work, even if we cannot perceive how.  We wait and hope for that day when God’s peace will reign.  We wait and hope for Christ’s coming, knowing that all things will be made right at last.

It will take time to grieve the losses we have experienced this week.  Even if we were not in that Oregon mall or at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we are all grieving.  We are all wondering what the next steps will be.  But God is also grieving.  God is grieved anytime there is suffering in this world.  And God knows the unbearable pain of losing a child.  But God also knows that death does not have the last word.  There is light that the darkness can never overcome.  There is peace that no violence can take away.  There is life that comes forth from death.

I’ll close with the last verse of the hymn we are about to sing: “O God, whose heart compassionate bears ev’ry human pain, redeem this violent, wounding world till gentleness shall reign.  O God of mercy, hear our prayer: bring peace to earth again.”  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The Lights of Advent

We light one candle.
We wait in expectant hope.

We light two candles.
We pray and work for peace.

We light three candles.
We rejoice for Christ draws near.

We light four candles.
We love and rest in love.

We light candles
And the light of the world
Rekindles us to new life in him.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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