As the second week of Advent begins, the light moves from hope to peace. The practice of Advent grows out of church tradition rather than anything Jesus said or did, or anything in the Bible. I don’t know the story of how the weeks became identified—hope, peace, joy, and love—or how the order was chosen, though I can see a logic in the progression. The idea behind the season is to get ready, to prepare, as Meister Eckhardt said, Christ to be born in our time and in our culture. Right now, the days in which we live don’t have much to offer when it comes to peace.
Hope may seem like an uphill climb, but even uncertain times offer the possibility of a new thing. Joy is the deep-seated surprise of the Spirit and can show up anytime. Love, as Paul wrote, endures all things. Peace, it seems, is the most fragile of our Advent gifts. This year, it feels as broken as the coffee mug I ordered for Ginger that arrived poorly-packed and in pieces. Our teenagers have never known a day in their lives when we were not at war. We have come to expect mass shootings as a normal part of American life. Our elected officials make decisions based on how to stay in power and how to do damage to the opposition rather than working to promote the common good.
We cry, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace—or so it seems.
As your children’s choir sang this morning and then lit the Peace Candle, I wondered where we would find it. My last year in seminary, I had visions of doctoral work, so I took a French class to meet one of the prerequisite requirements. I never finished the degree, but I do remember something from the class. We had to translate the Beatitudes, and the French translation of Matthew 5:9 read:
Heureux ceux qui répandent autour d’eux la paix,
which translated into English as,
Blessed are those who spread peace around them.
My heart breaks for Palestine and Israel, for Zimbabwe, for Turkey, to name just a few places where there is little peace and I feel like I have little or no way of helping the situation. The peace I can spread doesn’t reach that far. But I sat in church for ten minutes this morning listening to people voice prayer requests for friends and family who were hurting, and I know other stories of lives I can touch who don’t feel very peaceful these days. The candle the kids lit this morning is not a particularly bright light, in terms of brightening the room, but it is a start. That I am a candle and not a spotlight does not mean this little light of mine doesn’t matter. Blessed are those who spread peace around them. That’s the place to start.
Sam Baker is a singer-songwriter I had the pleasure of meeting several years ago. In 1986 he was riding a train in Peru when it was bombed and he suffered a brain injury. He had to relearn both how to play guitar and how to use words. The next record he released was in 2004. As we begin our week of peace, I will let his song, “Go In Peace,” be our benediction. It is a song that sustains me.
go in peace, go in kindness
go in faith, go in love
leave the day, the day behind us
day is done, go in grace
let us go into the dark
not afraid, not alone
let us hope by some good pleasure
safely to arrive at home