December 7, 2022
To attempt to write about peace during the hectic, almost chaotic, holiday season, feels almost oxymoronic. But it is Advent, and the theme / focus of the second week is peace. And just maybe that is not an accident. Maybe it is, among other things, a seasonal reminder to slow down and not allow ourselves to get washed along in the riptide of busyness, that seems to be the hallmark of the Christmas season in America. When I think about peace, especially in the context of Advent, four verses come to mind, each with a slightly different, but related perspective on the subject of peace. The first comes from what is now a forty plus year old memory. I was part of a men's group associated with the church I was attending at the time, that held a weekend retreat each winter at a member's camp out in Johnson, Vermont. Invariably at some point during those retreats, we would find ourselves arrayed around a fire of some kind. One of our members would pull out his guitar and we would sing praise songs. Many of them were of unknown origin (at least to me). You see, we did not have hymnals, or nicely bound songbooks. What we had, were a few sheets of mimeograph paper with sets of lyrics and some hand written chords, or occasionally a lead sheet with a barely legible melody line. Most of the time the lyric was just a snippet of Scripture, to which someone had crafted a memorable tune. One of my favorites was based on Micah 4:4 and sung as a round.
Every man 'neath his vine and fig tree will live in peace and unafraid
The lesson that I invariably draw from this verse is the close coupling, or relationship, between peace and the state of being unafraid. The word picture being painted here suggests that being in a state of peace allowed the man to relax - let down his guard - and be unafraid. And that brings me to my second verse. The second one comes from the book of Judges. It is here in the sixth chapter that the angel of the Lord sat down under a different kind of tree - this time, the oak of Ophrah that belonged to Joash - and called Gideon to service. Gideon is tasked with leading an army against the Midianites. And, Gideon is understandably afraid, especially as the Lord keeps reducing the size of his army to a mere 300 men. It is no coincidence that I named my very small dog, Gideon. When we first adopted him into our family, he was afraid of almost everything that moved. He clung to me like velcro, especially when he went outside or to the vet. So, his first walks, as a young puppy, consisted of me carrying him around the neighborhood. Little by little, he got used to the sounds and smells, and came to trust in me, as his protector. For weeks, he never set foot on the ground. Then, for just a few steps, or to smell an interesting spot. And finally, after about six long months, he finally took his first walk, where he actually did the walking. I imagine the Gideon of the Bible acting in a similar fashion to my dog. He was afraid, and God had to work with him over time and in incremental stages to build up his confidence and trust, to where he could finally carry out the task, to which he was called. Gideon would commemorate his "graduation" in Judges 6:24
Judges 6:24 Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord and called it, "Jehovah shalom."
In the NIV Bible, this is translated as, "The Lord is Peace!" To Gideon, it acknowledged that the source of strength that allowed him to be in a state of peace - a state of being unafraid in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles - was God. His peace was not achieved through the removal of all sources of fear, but by the knowledge and trust, that God would provide what he needed to deal with them. Interestingly, I think of all the times that Jesus greeted the disciples, whether in an upper room, or on the water, with the words, "Be not afraid." And then when His visit was over, say, "Peace be with you" as if to say, "Remain unafraid, until we meet again." Is it any wonder that Isaiah would write,
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born ... And he will be called ... Prince of Peace.
And this brings me to my third verse.
John 14:27 (Jesus is speaking) 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.
While there is much that can be unlayered in this and the surrounding verses, I want to concentrate on just one lesson today. And that is, that Peace can be given from one to another. It is not something to hoard and keep for yourself only. It is something to spread abroad. There is a hint as to how this might be accomplished in a "companion" verse,
John 20:21-22 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Which tees up my final peace verse. This one comes from the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
For me, it seems to lay down the clear challenge, that we are called to not just experience God's peace ourselves, but also use it to BE peacemakers ourselves in the world around us. It is a theme that seems to regularly find its way woven into our Pastor's prayers and benedictions. And one I think our world desperately needs us to take seriously. Way way back when I had just reached an age of double digits, I had two friends. I was good friends with each of them separately, but for some reason I never fully understood, they despised each other. One day they announced that they had decided to battle it out on the playground, and wanted me to referee. Looking back on it with decades of hindsight, you easily realize that 10 year old boys do not normally ask to be refereed by a neutral party. So, a modern day psychologist would probably argue, that they were actually asking me to somehow talk them out of it, which I did try to do. It would turn out to be the first in a long series of times in my later life, where I found myself positioned as the neutral party between two factions of diametrically opposing views on some technical, business, or legal issue. It highlights what I think God calls each of us to be - peacemakers - unifiers, and not dividers. This Christmas season, I pray that we all be agents of peace.
I Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you brothers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another, so that there will be no divisions among you and that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Your Brother in Christ, Warren Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester