For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.
The song of the Psalm is punctuated with a deep yearning for peace, a yearning for peace within the walls of Jerusalem for relatives and friends and I believe ultimately for the entire world. Seeking peace is centred on seeking the good for others.
In this sense the journey of Advent is not so much a new journey for us as God’s people but a recapitulation of an ancient message, an ancient longing: peace between God and people; peace among all peoples.
This longing sung of by the Psalmists is also a prophecy proclaimed by Isaiah:
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
As we hear these words of longing thousands of years later it could be easy to hear an edge of judgement within them because regardless of what our personal experience might be in this moment peace seems so elusive within the creation.
Looking to Jerusalem, the holy city sung of by the Psalmist, decades of tensions on the West Bank cause our hearts to cry out. Thinking beyond the peace of Jerusalem we see the images of the refugee camps surrounding Syria. China and Japan have been jockeying for power this week. Afghanistan is still coming back from the brink of turmoil. And the list goes on.
If international affairs are not your cup of tea then think of peace within our own nation and within our own lives because peace is not simply an absence of war. In our community we often see division and hatred expressed. Within our families there are often tensions. And even within our own sense of purpose and being we can find ourselves ill at ease.
This morning we have set our footprints on the pathway to peace but the reality is as much as we might desire it we know thousands years of seeking peace have not landed us squarely in a place of unity with God or each other. As well we know even the church is at war within itself divided by doctrine and denomination.
So what does it mean to reaffirm this message of peace and our commitment to it in Advent?
Advent is about our longing for the renewal of all things in and through Jesus. This vision of renewal is grounded in Jesus resurrection when he came and stood among his disciples and said, “Peace, be with you.”
So by placing our longing for peace in this context, by taking the words of Psalmist and the yearning of Isaiah into conversation with the resurrection, we are reminded that although we might be on this pathway towards peace it appears that only through the intervention of God will peace ever come in all its fullness.
It is true to say that we may catch a glimpse of that coming peace or experience moments of that peace personally but the vision presented in the scriptures is one which declares that God desires peace for all things renewed in and through Jesus Christ the true peacemaker.
As we remember these difficult truths about peace and the destination of peace remaining in God’s promised future we are also reminded that as God’s people we are drawn into Jesus life through the power of the Holy Spirit and that we can share in witnessing to the promise of this future now.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and as God’s people we are constantly called to be peacemakers; reconcilers; bridge builders; healers; mediators. Not in the sense that we can achieve what we long for but in the sense we can point to God’s promise any time we become conduits for peace entering into peoples’ lives.
In both the letter from Paul to the Romans and also in Jesus words in Matthew’s gospel the imperative to stay awake and to be attentive for the coming of God’s kingdom is not simply a call to be attentive to that moment of Jesus return. Nor is it attentiveness grounded in our ability to save ourselves. Rather I believe it is a call to serve that coming kingdom now by keeping our eyes open to the times that coming peace breaks into our current reality and declaring that as good news. And, moreover, being participants in establishing peace in our own lives and communities as well as we are able as we seek the good for others.
Ultimately, as God’s people when say 'blessed are the peacemakers' we acknowledge that Jesus himself is the one true peacemaker; the one who both establishes and declares God’s peace which always appears somewhat beyond our human grasp. Let us receive the gift of peace established in and through Christ and let us continue to long for this peace with eyes wide open to the mercy and love of our maker.