Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Advent Homily on Peace


Yet another loaded word comes to us in the Advent season.

Peace on earth.  Goodwill towards men.

People use the word to describe a variety of things, most often a void...or an absence: 
  • the absence of war
  • the absence of noise
  • the absence of activity
  • the absence of life ("rest in peace")

I think of the word when I wake up before anyone else in my household.  That's peace!

I also think of it during snowstorms like we had yesterday (and today!).  I know..."storm" and "peace" don't seem like they should go together, but I always love the snow because it does bring about a sense of peace for me.  If you just step outside during the snow, especially after at least half a foot, the snow gives our surroundings quite a different sense than normal.  A fresh blanket of snow soaks up all the noise.  It makes everything look uniform for once, rather than a big fight for attention.  What usually may look rough or jagged becomes rounded and soft.  Hard ground becomes as soft as a mattress.  

In addition, snow storms are an automatic sabbath from God.  I love it!  The demands of life and society around us are forced to stop.  Schedules must be shifted (or eliminated!).  The busyness of the world comes to a stop.  It's a nature-given time of rest (yeah, yeah, I know, we have to shovel and all...).  While the news media and the majority of people portray it as a hindrance, I welcome the snow as a reminder that everything we think is important...can probably take a break for a bit.

Anyway, back to peace...

The word is the word of the day for us this year on this fourth Sunday of Advent.  

What does it mean when considering the incarnation, the coming of God into humanity?
What does it mean to call him the "Prince of Peace"?

In our Old Testament passage for today, King David is reflecting upon the fact that he has a resting place: his own dwelling, his own home in which to live.  This is obviously a time of peace for King David and for Israel (verse 1 says that he is "settled" and that he has been given "rest" from his enemies).  But King David wonders aloud about God: does God have a dwelling place?  He knows that his people, Israel, have carried the very presence of God with them where ever they've gone in the ark, in a tent.  But this was when Israel was a transient people, moving from place to place.  Now they have their own land.  King David and his mighty men have established a place of residence for the people.  He wonders aloud, "What about God though?  Doesn't God have to have a place of residence amongst us as well?".

The contrast between the response to this question here and the response in the coming years after King David is interesting.  God responds here in II Samuel that God has never had a "dwelling place," but that he's always been "moving."  But we know that after David, Solomon indeed tries to build a residence place for the presence of God - the Temple.  But what does God say here to King David?

Though we, as humans, have tried since the very beginning to wrap up God, put God in our pocket to be able to easily carry Him with us...God has always demonstrated that we are not capable of doing so without His own giving of Himself to us.  One of the images that we use of God is spirit.  "Spirit," amongst other things, is the image of something that can't be boxed up.  We can't take God and settle Him down into our own places.  We can only understand and know God as He is given and revealed to us.

So God continues in his response to King David's ponderings...and he says, "Did I ever really ask for that?  Did I ever really want the leaders of Israel, saying 'Why have you not built for me a house?'  I am going to establish you a house.  I took you from a pasture (from the sheep nonetheless).  I am the one who makes you who you are.  You do not make me who or where I am!  I've been with you wherever you go, not the other way around.

God is with us wherever we go.  We can't box God up.  We're too small, and God's too big.  

And again, God continues in his response.  God tells King David of a time and place when he will indeed establish David's people forever.  God calls it a time when they will be "disturbed no more," a time when evil shall no longer afflict the people, a time when people will be given "rest from all their enemies."

If we know God only by his revelation to us, his greatest revelation to us is himself, found in Christ Jesus the God-man.  And in his coming ("giving" of himself), we indeed have access to God at all times, in all places, wherever we go.  

What's beautiful about the Incarnation, the "story" of Christmas, is that in it we have "God come to earth," "God come to humanity."  He has given himself!

This is the peace of God, that He gives Himself to us.  For good.  Completely.

This is the "already-not yet" of Advent and of the Kingdom of God.  While we continue to live in a world hell-bent on war, fighting, positioning, and line-drawing, we already have the peace of God given to us in Christ.  So we have it, but we ignore it.  Though God's given us peace...we choose not-peace.

Many are clamoring for the US president-elect to have a "Secretary of Peace."   Wouldn't that be something!  Instead of just making sure we've got our checklist of "important" things taken care of, things that we focus on (i.e.: Secretary of War, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security), we have someone who makes sure we're focused on what's good!  That indeed would be something!

If you've heard me preach much at all during Advent, you've heard me say it so many times already...but it's so notable to me that God chose to show up in humanity as a little baby.  He could have come as a fully-grown man, right?  Just dropped in from heaven as a 30-year-old man...but he didn't.  God entered the world in the form of an innocent and peaceful baby.  I think it's quite a statement: "This is my nature for you...that you would come to people not in war/fighting/aggression...but in peace."


  1. Thank you for the 'Worship Package'. Dana, Elise, Hailey, Heidi and I (Jason) enjoyed it.