A Candle of Peace

December 6, 2015


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Dec. 6, 2015

The Candle of Peace
Isaiah 11:1-10

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe actually has an interesting story behind it. In medieval days, when knights on horses approached an enemy, they began to draw a sword and prepare for battle. The two or more knights, sitting on their horses started riding toward one another with sword drawn, to slice into or pierce the enemy. And so the struggle begins. But, if, during one of their encounters, they looked up and saw mistletoe hanging in a tree above them in the forest, they had to stop the battle and give each other an embrace of peace. In fact, if a knight was sitting under a tree with mistletoe in it, he could not even shoot an arrow from that place. This is the lore behind our modern tradition of embracing under the mistletoe. Even today, chance encounters under mistletoe bring an embrace or a kiss.

Today is Peace Sunday. It is the 2nd Sunday in Advent each year but this year it seems more poignant and significant. With the shooting in San Bernadino and the world’s focus on terrorism, peace seems more elusive than ever.

The word peace means many things in scripture. It refers to rest, ease, security, completeness, shalom, quietness, and unity. One can hold one’s peace, make peace, or follow the way of peace. Peace is something one can give or take away. Although peace is somewhat ambiguous, it is significant in scripture, appearing 325 times.

The traditional word for today from Isaiah shows us a beautiful picture of the peaceable kingdom. The text lifts up motifs from other cultures and shows us the universal nature of peace. Natural rivalries are gone; predators no longer feel the need to pursue their prey. Natural enemies live together in peace.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
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.
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.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
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.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10

Madeleine L’Engle wrote this about the subject of peace: “Peace is the center of the atom, the core of quiet within the storm. It is not a cessation, nothingness; more the lightning in reverse is what reveals the light. It is the law that binds the atom’s structure, ordering the dance of protons and electrons, and that finds within the midst of flame and wind, the glance in the still eye of the vast hurricane. Peace is not placidity; peace is the power to endure the megaton of pain with joy, the silent thunder of release, the ordering of love, peace is the atom’s start, the primal image; God within the heart.”

We may also removed and passive about our involvement in the wars going on around our globe. What can we possibly do? It doesn’t impact our daily lives. And we cannot really even relate to the suffering of the Syrian refugees or the reality of terrorist groups. We are not really at war. But, if peace is not just the absence of war, then how do we in Wichita, Kansas, find peace?

There is a story of a young girl who was working so diligently at her homework that her father became curious and asked her what she was doing. “I’m writing a report on the condition of the world and how to bring world peace,” she replied. “Isn’t that a pretty tall order for a young girl?” her father asked. “Oh no,” she answered, “and don’t worry. There are three of us in the class working on it.”

Several ministers were together this week, visiting about our sermon ideas on peace. One of the ministers is a new father. He said that peace, to him, was when his newborn daughter slept! And he admitted that those moments were infrequent. Anyone who has been around a baby for a while will agree that a sleeping baby is a peaceful sight.

Yet, there is one greater peace gift children bring: when one holds a child in their arms. This is the greatest peace – one drawn from touch, from the experience of watching the child grow, from the awe of seeing a human life so vulnerable, so real, and from the loving relationship shared. This is what peace is about – not merely the absence of something, but the sharing of love.

Like hope (last week), peace isn’t an absence of something. It is a tangible, active process that brings wholeness, harmony, integrity, and well-being.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta received the Nobel peace prize for 1979. Believe it or not, some people were unhappy that the peace prize went to her instead of going to a notable political or religious leader. Was Mother Teresa, they demanded to know, doing anything deserving of the world’s most coveted award for peacemaking?

Certainly she was not a peace activist. She was, like Francis of Assisi, after whom she patterned her life, simply a saint devoting her life to wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor. That meant educating children, washing putrid sores of the dying, caring for lepers whom society shunned, taking in street urchins, giving medication to tuberculars, and, in sum, loving the unwanted, unloved, and abandoned.

What better example of a peace-loving person? This is what Mother Teresa said of her work as a peacemaker:
“I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look only at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time.
Just one, one, one.
You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.’
She continues: So you begin… I begin.
I picked up one person – maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person I wouldn’t have picked up all the others.
The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if we don’t put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less.
Same thing for you. Same thing for your family. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin… one, one, one.”

Against Mother Teresa’s critics, I would like to suggest that she was putting her finger on the very issue that most prevents us from doing things that make for peace – focusing on the issue in macrocosm and throwing up our hands in despair. Mother Teresa threw herself into the task in microcosm, where she was in touch with the problem, and trusted God to use her small efforts. She didn’t let the apparent insignificance of what she was doing overwhelm and render her useless.

If we discover the deep-down security of God’s shalom, Teresa’s approach would direct most of us to undertake small acts. After all, most of us won’t be Jimmy Carters or U.N. Ambassadors shuttling back and forth to hot spots that threaten the world’s security. We do, however, have daily or weekly opportunities to do the Teresa-size things that are beautiful for God.

It is true that peace begins at home. It begins with each person finding an inner sense of peace and sharing it with those in his/her home. The fact that inner and family peace is the starting place, however, is not a total picture of Biblical peace. From our own soul’s peace, we discern the need for others who have no peace. As Christians, we are called to be agents of peace in the world.

Can we have an impact on the San Bernadino shooting? Yes. We cannot change that it happened. We can advocate for more peaceable laws one letter or call to a congressperson at a time.

Can we have an impact on the war on terrorism? Yes. Although we cannot stop what the terrorists are doing, we can engage in support for refugees, and policies that make terrorism less attractive to young people.

We are to be as Teresa, agents of peace and love… one person at a time.