I wanted to share with you this rather famous painting called “The Peaceable Kingdom.” It was created by American Artist Edward Hicks, who went on to create 62 different versions of this painting. We see the parallels between this painting and the Isaiah scripture read for us. I assume it is no coincidence, as we view this painting and we read the Isaiah scripture, that we light the candle of Peace today on this second Sunday of Advent.
We talk about peace all the time. When our kids are little we crave just a moment’s peace. When they are older our worry and concern for them doesn’t stop and so we long for peace of mind when all our cubs are home safe in the den. When we read the paper or catches glimpses of the news on our tablets or computer news feeds, it seems we never experience a time of peace – constant unrest is our norm. There was another incident at the Ohio State University campus this past week, and we’ve experienced so many of these we’re almost numb to them. As I read accounts of this attack I was reading snippets of other attacks around the country in the past year – some of which did not even cross my radar.
And yet in the midst of all this darkness shines a light of peace. This painting depicts natural enemies coexisting with the leadership of a child. In the background we have a scene of Penn’s Treaty – a peace treaty between Native Americans and Immigrants that lasted for 100 years. We are viewing a scene that seems to take us back to the Garden of Eden – a place and time of no turmoil. In a word – Paradise. This goes against everything we know of our enemies and our leaders.
Yet in our reality, unrest and chaos seem to reign supreme. But perhaps for a moment we can take heart knowing that even among the chaos of violence, unrest, and out-of-control to-do lists, we can take a beat and experience a time of peace. At some point in our lives we most likely have felt something akin to true contentment, secure in the promise of God to never leave or forsake us. The promise is assured through the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. One song of the season talks about everyone being out and about trying to ‘buy Christmas peace.’ Yet the peace of God cannot be bought. No matter what is going on around us we have the assurance of spiritual peace – a way to rejoice always.
This idea of spiritual peace seems to go against the norms of society. As a whole we tend to be anything but peaceful. Particularly during this season leading up to Christmas, sometimes the gentleness of a newborn baby is completely lost. I have seen sermon posts that note how the first Christmas was anything but a Silent Night. You have a birth in a stable, a quiet night for shepherds interrupted by a host of angels, a town bursting at the seams from an excessive number of visitors. It all seems a bit chaotic – anything but peaceful.
Yet we also hear of a new mother able to ponder things in her heart. Mary is able to set aside her anything-but-ideal circumstances and marvel – treasuring the precious moments of shepherds and angels, viewing God’s own son for the first time – all of this she ponders in her heart. Can we? We place so much emphasis on gift-giving that perhaps we miss out on some of the blessings of just being together with family and friends. It is so easy to get caught up in our personal lives we fail to reach out beyond our little microcosm. I love this little cartoon from Family Circus. You see this little guy saying his nighttime prayers. He starts with his parents, then extends to his grandparents and siblings and heads to bed. He then gets another idea and prays for the world – expanding his circle of care.
Let’s take a cue from this little guy. In essence he is a messenger of peace. He doesn’t make his prayer conditional – not that I can see. He simply prays for the world. Peace comes as we feed the hungry, give hope to those who feel hopeless, care for our neighbors in tangible ways. Mark and I made sandwiches from the leftover turkey and ham from our Open House last week. I handed these out to the AA group that meets here. As I was setting up the sanctuary for the prayer service I noticed a couple sitting outside the room eating sandwiches. They looked to be in desperate need. I don’t know their circumstances but I do know in that moment a need was met for members of our community. Is that sharing a sign of God’s peace? I believe so.
Every week we do a couple of things to remind us of God’s peace for us. First, we share signs of God’s peace through “The Passing of Peace.” You will notice we have not done that yet today but we will as part of our communion service. This Passing of Peace is related to the other reminder – our need to confess and ask forgiveness for our wrongdoings so that we in turn can forgive others. It is part of the Lord’s Prayer we faithfully recite – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When we humble come before God and confess our trespasses, perhaps then we can rest in the peace of God, knowing our sins are forgiven.
The Isaiah prophesy was written right around the time of the fall of the ten northern tribes of Israel. At one point in their history, Israel split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom had just fallen and the Southern Kingdom was in danger. Isaiah was warning Israel of their coming destruction because of their continued disobedience to God. Yet Isaiah also presents a message of hope. Even though the lineage of David was struck down (represented by the stump of Jesse, David’s father), a shoot was springing up from that base of destruction. The promise of Jesus was presented to a people in need of a message of hope.
Isaiah goes on to present an ultimate time of peace at the hand of this shoot of the stump of Jesse. Jesus will be the one to bring righteousness and justice to the poor, making all things right and peaceful. The wolf will live with the lamb and the cow and the bear will graze together. When we step forward and accept Jesus’ love for ourselves, we too are given the assurance of peace.
Today we are celebrating Holy Communion during this most blessed season of Advent. While we are waiting the coming of the Christ-child, let us examine our hearts and reprioritize our lives. We are challenged to confess our wrongdoings and we are given the reassurance of forgiveness. We will share signs of God’s peace with one another. Perhaps God is stirring a hunger in you to read God’s word and commune daily with the Almighty. A reminder that the sanctuary is open for a time of prayer every Tuesday during Advent, from 7-7:30 PM. Let us worship God with our whole selves, sharing signs of God’s peace to all people and in every way. Let us prepare our hearts to welcome the Prince of Peace. Amen.