Midweek Musing. Preparing for peace.

This week we celebrated the second week of Advent and its call towards peace. We heard from the gospel of Luke Jesus' cousin John calling to the people to prepare. We heard Paul's prayer for peace for his friends in Philippi. And I mused on the notion that we are none of us at peace until we are all at peace.

Emma Lazarus, 19th century American poet, most famous for the lines of her sonnet which appear on the Statue of Liberty, wrote on another occasion, these words to her fellow Jews – ‘we have not sufficient solidarity to perceive that when the life and property of a Jew in the uttermost provinces of the Caucasus are attacked, the dignity of a Jew in free America is humiliated. Until we are all free, we are none of us free.’

Today, this Advent 2 when we are invited to consider the theme of peace, I want to think about freedom in terms of peace; that living liberated is living in, with, at, peace. So that we might say, Until we all know peace, we none of us know peace.

Beyond the absence of war, let us also consider peace as having enough – safety, health, education, resources, food, clean water. Living at peace as living with enough for our wellbeing, our fullness of humanity.

The systems in and under which we live in this world create an apparent liberty, abundance, peace, for a relatively few humans. These systems predominantly seek to preserve that freedom and peace for the few. In order to do that, our systems rob the vast majority of humans, and much of the rest of the created world, of the freedom to thrive, of the peace of wellbeing. And we the few carry on oblivious to the reality, which is that while we do this to our neighbours, we, too, are enslaved and trapped within the systems we have created, and if we, not to mention our neighbours, are to know peace, we need to wake up, and be ready for it.

and so we hear from the gospels this week, the cry of John the baptizer

Wild one, cry 
The voice cries out,
the voice of one, wild
crying out of the wild -
Wake up! Prepare yourselves!
Messiah is on the way.
See the valleys no longer
steep, the hills no longer high;
crooked roads now made straight,
rough terrain smooth and clear.
Wake up! Prepare! Earth itself
knows Messiah is here. All
that lives shall see - shall see -
liberation come from God!
[Sarah Agnew, Pray the Story]

John, and Jesus both actually call humanity to wake up, to remove the scales from our vision and see the way we are living, see it clearly and honestly. To see the ways in which we are not free, are not at peace, because we are not all free, not all at peace. John and Jesus call us to prepare our selves in heart and mind, in soul and body, for a change, to be ready for the Divine peace to transform us, disturb us with the unrest of incomplete peace.

These thoughts come from John van de Laar in South Africa – I have used his prayers a bit in the latter half of this year. ‘In a world where measurement happens on a quarterly basis, effective preparation is often sacrificed on the altar of expediency and immediacy. In areas from economics to climate change, poverty, AIDS and conflict we too easily seek “quick fix” solutions that either fail to address the massive systemic issues that really need to be changed, or that work in the short term, but cause other problems in the long term. It is hard to take a long view, to make sure that we get all the information we need, and to do the slow, consistent work of transformation, especially when things so often seem to get worse before they get better. It is hard to prepare carefully and thoroughly when we are constantly bombarded with information, opinions, and alternatives. It is tough to commit to long term solutions when we are suffering and want relief now.’ [I want to add, it’s tough to be a politician, up here on the hill, with their short term goals of re-election, to engage in tough, long term progress towards peace in the countries from which people are compelled to seek asylum, for example] … van de Laar continues: ‘our need for immediate gratification does not help us or our planet. We need time to understand the systems we have created and to learn how to change them. And then, we need time to implement the changes. In this work of preparation, God’s people are called to be both the ones who are being prepared, and the ones who call others to preparedness. We are to be committed to work for God’s justice, but also recognise that this will take time, wisdom, and trust that God, who begins the work in us and our world, is the only one who can really bring it to completion.’ [sacredise.com]

Now, lest we feel overwhelmed by the call to systemic change and give up because, what can I do, little me, let’s bring it home to what we can do.

The preparation van de Laar speaks of and to which the gospels call us today might be considered a spiritual discipline. A spiritual practice with benefits not only for ourselves, but for our relationships with others. Heal ourselves, find peace, and then the completion of this process is in seeking the healing of our relationships, finding peace between us. Let there be peace, and let it begin with me.

It’s not either/or (me or you, us or our neighbours), but both/and. Human being is both/and. The commandments that underpin all others are both/and - love and honour God and love and honour each other; love and honour your neighbour and love and honour yourself. Wholeness, healing, restoration, peace, relies on both/and. Both the movement between us and God, and the movement between us and each other. Both peace within and peace between.

And, it’s a process. It takes preparation. We need to prepare the way for peace to come into our lives. The waiting of Advent is a season of reminder of the preparation we must always undertake in order to be able to participate in healing, restoration, peace.

Peace is a constant movement back into the heart of the Divine. It takes commitment and dedication to the process. It is hard work. The process is never finished. Yes, Jesus was born, and yes Jesus brought the promise of peace. And yes, Jesus died and lived again for peace. This peace is experienced within the disturbed world that still longs for peace, however; is here and not yet here; needs to be born again and again, like the story of Jesus’ birth needs to be told again and again, so that we will remember, continue with that movement of return, to the process of restoration of peace.

Advent waiting. The waiting is not a passive waiting, it is active, preparing, attending, stilling the heart so as to welcome peace within, so as to participate in peace growing between us. It begins with each one of us. We must find the source of peace within the heart of the Divine again and again, because we turn from it again and again.

But, again and again, peace begins in the story of the birth of Jesus, the promise of peace sung by angels among shepherds in fields with their sheep, the call of John from the wild. Again and again, it begins - and does not end, with each one of us.

For the peace I find is only the beginning of peace. For peace, true, holy peace, will disturb us, leave us uneasy unless we seek to bring to reality peace for our neighbour. We must, as Paul does in the letter to the Philippians, pray for the peace of our neighbour; we must encourage their preparation for and movement towards peace, if our peace is to mean anything at all. We are not free until all are free. We are not fully human without each other. This reality of our being is something that the incarnation of God in Jesus reinforces, reiterates, restores.

This reality of our fullness and wellbeing as intertwined in the fullness and wellbeing of each other, is something that we, as the body of Christ, the continuing embodiment, incarnation, of the divine in the world, we, with God, reinforce, reiterate, and restore for the world.

This is why we come to the table, why we enter this meal, this promise to prepare for peace. We come here to be comforted, yes, and also disturbed: we come to remember that the peace we find is incomplete while our neighbours still yearn for it – our neighbours within this congregation, within our Canberra community, within our country, and beyond it. We come here seeking peace for ourselves so that we may seek peace with and for our neighbours: that is the call of the baptizer, the gospel, the Christ. May we become what we will eat in this holy meal, the body of Christ, a body of and for, peace on earth. Amen.


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