University Congregational Church
Dec. 4, 2016
Advent Inverted: Finding Peace when War is Never-Ending
We start this morning with a prophecy about peace.
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. Isaiah 11:6-8
We got our first Christmas card this week. It was a touching portrait of this Hebrew text. Wolves and lions and sheep (oh my!) were passively feeding together, being led by an innocent child unaware of the danger around him. This metaphor for peace seems unimaginable today. Yet, it has persisted for thousands of years – since Isaiah’s time. Classic treasures of art and music have fixed these metaphors in our mind and hearts, paintings to stir the eye and oratorios to tickle the ear. We gaze and listen with eagerness, with eyes moist with sentiment and with disappointment.
Today is known as Peace Sunday. It is the day when we sit in the darkness of Advent waiting and hoping for some semblance of peace in our lives and in the world. This sort of peace isn’t likely to most of us, and seemingly never will be,
• with terror stalking so many lands,
• with anger dividing peoples and nations into armed camps waiting for the least spark to set off still another conflagration of pain and death.
• In our world, wolves eat lambs and bears spit out straw to devour goats.
What sort of sentimental picture of animal peace is this? Did Isaiah’s writer have a clue that his land would still be in conflict 2500 years later?
Peace is something the world definitely needs more of this season. Peace between nations. Peace among races. Peace between political parties here in the United States. And we need peace of mind from anxieties brought on by the violence, unrest and injustice in the world. Our peace is bombarded by stories of babies stolen, mothers killed or kidnapped, young people gunned down. We yearn for that peace that passes understanding… for peace that calms cluttered and anxious minds and hearts.
You remember the story of the Grinch? There was a silent war going on between the mean old Grinch, who lived alone with his dog, high above Whoville, and the citizens of Whoville. The Grinch plotted to spoil Christmas for the people of the village. In Whoville, there was no peace, even though the place prided itself on peaceful living and peaceful holiday celebrations. Underneath all the activities, there was an undercurrent of battle – the tit-for-tat activities of the people and the Grinch. And the Grinch wasn’t the only one who was Grinch-y. People made fun of the Grinch, gossiped about the Grinch, sneered at the Grinch. All the while, the Grinch plotted against the people.
Ironically, the giant and glorious Christmas tree was being decorated in downtown Whoville and distracted people from the undercurrents of tension and pretense all around town. Let me ask you a personal question. Have your holiday preparations been a bit Who-ish? Have you been more attentive to the decorations, the cascading lights and the present buying than the real peace of the holiday? Are you caught up in the meal preparations, party invitation, Christmas letters, and the calendar instead of experiencing the peace of the season? Are we so caught up in the news of the day or the stress of the holiday that we aren’t finding much peace?
After the Grinch stole their presents and decorations, the people of Whoville proceeded with a joyous celebration nonetheless. Their gleeful singing led the Grinch to repent and to return everything he had taken. Even though he had committed such larceny and theft against the people of Whoville, they invited him to and welcomed him to join them in a celebratory meal.
“Advent is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ,” wrote Trappist monk Thomas Merton. It is the time Christians set aside for spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ celebrated at Christmas.
Christians who engage in social transformation often get discouraged. We are acutely aware of the evils of the world. At times we despair or allow our anger at injustice to be the source of energy in our lives. Sometimes we actually create despair and depression in our lives when we only fight losing battles. It is mandatory that we practice activities that generate peace.
In order to make room for Jesus to be born in us, we need to make room in our daily lives for peace. If you are longing for peace in a world too often torn apart by war and terrorism, you must start at home. The source of peace in our hearts is one we have a choice about. We have the personal and communal power to determine whether our lives are built with hope and peace at the core, or not.
Last week, I noticed three of our neighborhood children raking leaves. They had a huge pile raked up in the middle of the yard. My first thought was wondering if I could employ them to rake some of our leaves. Those dang leaves – here it is December and they continue to blow in our yard and every time I open the garage door, they track into the house! Later that afternoon, I watched the kids as the dove, over and over and over again, into that fabulous pile of leaves. My Grinch-y spirit immediately wondered what allergies they might have and I frowned a bit. But their laughter wafted across the street to my house, along with some of the leaves they collected which were blowing in the wind.
Wouldn’t you know it? That collapsed pile of leaves, now spread into a much bigger circle, is still in the yard. It never made it to trash bags or to the dump. It served its purpose – moments of joy for some children.
A small congregation with a large building in Oakland, California, cared a lot about peace. They were all too aware that their city is known for violence. Last year, they realized they could turn their building into a peace hub. Now, 12 different peace groups have office space there, and 40 organizations partner with them in addressing violence, economic injustice and more! Earlier this month, more than 400 people came to their post-election resource fair to get connected to organizations working to make the community, the country and the world more peace-filled and just.
This Advent season, especially, is an opportunity to recover from this stressful time in our lives. It is an opportunity to reorient our hearts toward peace. It may not change the war in Afghanistan or the terror attacks in Syria. But it can change us. And the ripples of peace from each of us can change our community. So here are some principles to use this season to develop more peace in your own life from ineedmotivation.com:
Accept what is
There is only so much we can affect. We tend to focus and linger on things which we have no control over. Why care about what other people think of us when we’re not even sure what it is they are actually thinking? Once you open the blinds to this fact, and start accepting what is that you cannot change, you automatically relieve yourself of a mountain of stress and anxiety. It’s like a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Taking this path is following a road towards peace.
If you do not meditate yet, you are missing out on a very important activity that can change your life. Meditating for 20 minutes daily can have an enormous impact in all areas of your life. If you have a lot on your mind and you feel like your thoughts are driving you crazy, meditation can help you find peace. Simply close everything, sit back, close your eyes, and clear your mind of every single thought. Focus on the emptiness. You will be surprised what a mere 20 minutes of meditation can do to turn things around for you.
Spend time in nature
We spend so much time confined in buildings of steel and concrete and bricks that we quickly forget where we come from. It is natural for us to be in nature, and this is why it feels so good and it is so peaceful when you take a walk in a park or bike on a trail in the forest. I enjoy walking; Paul loves to bike; I know several of you who love to run. It is something you just can’t experience in a car. If you feel overwhelmed, take a stroll outside where there are tons of trees. Be there and just enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the peace.
Learn the power of a smile
Whenever you are laughing or smiling, something interesting happens. Not only does something happen on a chemical level to make you feel better, but it also stops all stress and negativity from entering your psyche. A simple smile can make such a difference. Don’t be shy to poke fun at yourself. You will quickly realize that peace finds its way much more easily to you when you smile.
Much of the time, we are so consumed with our own problems that we can no longer see the forest from the trees. Therefore, it helps to remind ourselves how big the world is. Take a moment and read up about some other countries, cultures, and current events. It will take you beyond yourself and put your problems into perspective. Looking beyond ourselves is very important in finding peace.
Care about others
You will never find peace by being self-consumed and only worrying about your own needs and wants. When you begin to genuinely care about other people, so much goodness comes right out. This only helps into solidifying your inner peace. It can be people close to you or pure strangers, but any act of kindness and goodwill eases your way towards peace. There is great peace and wisdom in thinking and caring about other people, which we are blind to when we are too deep within our own selfish ways.
Never lose hope
Hope is something we can never afford to lose. With hope you always have a path towards peace. Whenever we get too stressed out and overwhelmed within our own lives, we forget that hope. We forget that the sun always shines after a rainy day, and that this is merely a bump in the road.
Embrace your beliefs
Whatever it is that you believe in, embrace it with your entire being. Be within your faith 100% and peace will find its way into your heart. Now, we may all disagree on each other’s beliefs but one thing we must all agree on is that having a solid, healthy faith is crucial in founding a proper conscience that helps into guiding us towards peace.
One thing that provides us with much stress in life is the fact that we always worry about not having all the answers. Just accepting that you do not know everything, and that you are open to always keep learning is a tremendous step to take towards achieving inner peace.
Live in the present moment
Most of the time, what we worry about is relating to something either in the past, or something that hasn’t happened. Living in the present moment erases all such thoughts. Why worry about something in the past that we cannot ever change? (see point #1, accept what is). Why worry about something that we are not even sure will happen or not? This is why in the present moment, you find true inner peace.
In Isaiah’s time and since; even in Whoville and now in Do-Dah, people yearn for peace. But peace is not only something that comes to us as we wait in December darkness for the Christ child to be born again. Peace is something we can develop in our own lives and peace is what we can offer to others who are hurting.