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Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent 4: Peace that passes all understanding

Advent reaches its completion in gathered worship today. Here at Meadow Way our Advent journey has taken us through the candles, the Light, of hope, then love, last week joy and finally this week, Peace. And I hope that the light of hope, love, joy and peace is shining a little brighter (or much brighter) onto and into the darkness of your and my areas of hopelessness, lovelessness, joylessness and unpeace. You see, the repeated celebration of Christmas only really makes sense and takes on meaning if you and I realise, recognise, confess, that we are the people walking in darkness who have seen a great light, we are the ones living in a land of deep darkness on whom a light has dawned.


The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned (Is 9:2)

Notice a light has dawned. Any of you who have been to sunnier climates will know that if you want the sun (the light) to do its work on you, tanning your skin, you need to not just let the light dawn on, but you need to stay in the light (now this metaphor is not the best, because too much sunlight is very harmful ... but please bear with me). For a good tan you need to stay in the sun, you need to turn different parts of yourself to the sun ... a tan all on the front and not on the back is ridiculous, but quite possible. And of course we choose how much of ourselves to reveal to the sun. If you spend most of the day with big sunglasses on, when you go home and take them off, you'll have this browned face with two big, white owl eyes ... again, quite ridiculous.

All of this has spiritual connotations, some of which have, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, dawned on you over the last few minutes. Unless we have reached and are living in a state of spiritual perfection ... we still have our areas of darkness, but we are at least walking in the light, or perhaps, walking in the light again, and revealing more and more of ourselves to His glorious Light.

To continue with my not very good metaphor: We are meant to have good, all over, inside and outside "tans" which have us looking, speaking, acting, behaving more and more like Jesus.

How's that going in you?

Amy Carmichael, missionary, author and poet, wrote:
A pilgrim looked at the reflection of a mountain in
still water. It was the reflection that first caught his 
attention.
But presently he raised his eyes to the mountain.
Reflect Me, said his Father to him, then others will
look at you. Then they will look up, and see Me. And
the stiller the water the more perfect the reflection.

How's that going in you and in me?
Remember, Jesus, somewhat surprisingly, looked at people like you and me, and said:

You are the light of the world (Mt 5:14)

How's that going?

If we let Advent do its work in us, then on this Sunday we stand, with Mary, pregnant with the age to come. And, in the mystery that is the Kingdom of God on earth, NOW, some of the coming age is already here, some still in development, some awaits a further revealing. However, as with Joy last week, so with Peace this week, hear this:

God's desire for you, for me is that we would have peace in the midst of all the unpeace around us.

And this is very good news, this is gospel: peace in the midst of unpeaceful relationships, peace in the midst of unpeaceful financial times, peace in the midst of persecution and suffering, peace in the midst of life threatening disease, and so on. Peace, in the words of Paul, which passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).

In case the message hasn't sunk in yet, here are a few Biblical references to this peace:

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. Psalm 29:11
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14
Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace. Psalm 37:37
I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints-- but let them not return to folly. Psalm 85:8
Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. Isaiah 26:12
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:17-0
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-0

I said earlier that if we let Advent do its work in us, then on this Sunday we stand, with Mary, pregnant with the age to come, waiting to give birth to these things, or, in His power and by His grace, actually giving birth, birthing these things into the world around us ... birthing hope, bringing love into the world around us, manifesting joy and peace. In other words, as Jesus prophesied, you and I being light of the world.

To have the light, we need the light. To bring and share peace, we need peace. So Jesus says:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. 

Notice the grace: I do not give to you as the world gives. How does the world give? Sometimes resentfully, sometimes with strings attached, sometimes just out of a sense of duty. And of course if we say we don't want that, the world will take it back.

How does Jesus give? Freely, lovingly and out of a deep desire for us to have in our difficult lives what He had in His difficult life ... if you don't want it now or don't think you need it, I leave it with you in any case, so that it's there when you do want/need it. Pure grace!

Do you have peace ... do you need peace ... do you desire peace?

Let us pray
Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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