Heavenly Peace

Dear Friends,
 
We are in the midst of our Advent mid-week worship series entitled, “Calm and Bright: Celebrating 200 Years of Silent Night.” All are invited to join us for worship on Wednesdays in Advent at 6:00 p.m. in the Chapel for a half-hour quiet worship service. Come early at 5:00 p.m. for supper.
 
Here is my first reflection of the series based on the scriptures, Micah 4:1-5 and Micah 5:2-5a.
 
“Heavenly Peace”
 
The year was 1914 and soldiers on both sides of the battlefield somewhere in France were enduring a dark and frozen Christmas Eve night. World War I – the Great War, as it was called – eventually took the lives of more than 10 million people. But without a doubt the young men on that Christmas Eve were contemplating much more beyond their longings for home and warmth and family. When soldiers on the German line placed candles on small Christmas trees and raised them above their trenches it touched the hearts of their enemies. These men – thousands of them on both sides – spontaneously began to sing the carols of Christmas. What began in those moments became the legendary Christmas truce. Weapons were put down, men ventured from their fortifications and gathered in No Man’s Land to make note of the season together. They exchanged small gifts after agreeing to a truce so that all could celebrate the season. And so for a short period of time, no shots were fired. The following day, men who only hours before fought fiercely now stood side by side and buried their dead. Together, with heads uncovered, they held a service to memorialize their fallen comrades. Before departing for another frozen night in the trenches, a solitary voice began to sing Silent Night, in French. He was joined by another voice – this one singing in German – the words of a hymn known and beloved by all. Together they contemplated ‘heavenly peace’. –From ‘The True Story of Silent Night’ by B. Francis Morlan
 
The book of Micah is an important book. It prophesied the coming Savior who would bring about a world of peace. And yet, when we look at the world since Jesus came, I have a hard time seeing the peace that was prophesied. Nation rises up against nation and battles it out. But even when nations are not attacking nations we see that our world does not have peace in it. When we look around us on any given day we see neighbors out to do each other in, we see broken families separated by hate and pain and loss, we see everything around us but peace.
 
Something I love about winter is how the snow covers the ugly dry grass and brush. A good snowstorm might bring with it 10-12 inches of snow. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as a blanket of heavy snow covering the not-so-attractive landscape this time of year. After a fresh snowfall it is no longer ugly. It actually looks pretty. The white snow covers all the ugliness of our yards and fields. This is sometimes how we define or experience peace. We hide the anger and the warfare and put something over it so it doesn’t show up. But the ugliness is still there and as soon as the snow melts it will be back. This is what possibly, probably, happened that Christmas night in 1914. War stopped one night in some battlefields so that people could think of and experience some form of peace before they got back to war the next day. This kind of peace is good. It helps people to stop and take a break and see a glimpse of what it is that we have to look forward to. But it is only temporary – it is not heavenly peace.
 
Micah 4 isn’t talking about a Christmas truce. What Micah 4 is talking about is a Christmas, the coming of a Savior, that will bring everlasting peace to all people and all places. What Micah is talking about is heavenly peace that is brought by the Prince of peace. The peace Micah is talking about has not come yet. It is not something we have missed. It is not like Jesus brought about peace with his birth or with his life and since that time we somehow lost it or messed it up. No, the peace that Jesus is to bring has not come yet. The Prince of peace came to this world and the world didn’t want him and his parents had to flee with him just to keep him alive. Heavenly peace often finds itself in this situation. It finds itself having to flee because the world is just not interested in peace.
 
Because of this, Christmas truly is a bittersweet holiday. It is a celebration of something amazing and wonderful and miraculous that happened. But it is also an acknowledgement that we still have something to look forward to. Thus, the purpose of Advent. Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies to completion during his life on this earth. Which means there is something more coming, there is something to look forward to. We are Advent people. We are looking forward to something in our world, in our lives, that hasn’t yet come. This truly is a a bittersweet and conflicted season. On the one hand we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our faith: the birth of our God as a baby in a stable 2000 years ago. There truly is magic in the Christmas story and in the celebration of it. In it we catch a glimpse of the heavenly peace that Micah promises. While on the other hand Christmas isn’t the celebration of the end of the story. Neither is Easter. Jesus, in his incarnation at Christmas, in his life and teaching, in his death and resurrection at Easter, was all just the beginning his work in this world. We trust, we believe, that we have something great to look forward to. Jesus is going to bring true, heavenly peace to this world! Christ is going to bring an end to the pain and suffering of this world as we know it!
 
As Advent people we don’t just spend this season looking back at what has happened, trying to catch and honor the traditions of our parents and grandparents that we remember so well from our childhood. No, as Advent people we look forward to what is ahead. We definitely remember and celebrate the past, but we look forward to what God has promised. We live with expectation, with excited anticipation, with bated breath because we know that the first act was great but the finale will be truly glorious. The hope that we celebrate this advent season is that we will know peace. The peace will not be an earthly peace but a heavenly one. It won’t be a peace, like a freshly fallen blanket of snow, that hides our differences and pretends everything is fine even though it is not. It will be a true peace, it will be an end to warfare between nations and between people. This is worth celebrating. This is worth trusting in. This is worth waiting for.
 
I hope and pray you and your family are able to experience a glimpse of God’s Heavenly Peace this Advent/Christmas season – and beyond.
 
Thanks be to God! Amen!
 
Pr. Dale