Peace Has Come! The Rt. Rev. Jay Van Lieshout, OPI
Blessings and peace to you my brothers and sisters on this most auspicious solemnity of the nativity of our Lord! It is amazing how swiftly the seasons have flown; last Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, Kingdom Tide, then Advent and now we once again rejoice in the birth of our Savior. As I sit and reflect on God’s message given us through these seasons, I am drawn to the promise of each Sunday in Advent: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. I am especially inspired by the Sunday set right at the cusp of Christmas tide, the promise of Peace (I would like to mention in some traditions the 4th Sunday in Advent is Love; though seemingly different, Peace and Love are sides of the same coin, for how can you have Love without Peace, and without Peace how can Love exist?)
Isaiah (9:6) promises the Messiah would come as a Son of Man, God’s son, given to us and all authority in heaven and earth will rest upon His shoulders and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. How wonderful a gift to have a Lord who brings to the world not extravagance and glitz, but the simple gift of Peace. As I reflect on this gift, I consider the biblical concept of Peace (in Hebrew salom) and its four equally glorious aspects. Peace reflects wholeness in body and health, harmony in relationship with each other and with the Creator, prosperity and fulfillment in spiritual and worldly life and the absence of conflict, war and strife. When greet one another or extend our farewells and extend our wish for Peace in their lives, what better blessing can there be? What better way to show agape love than through extending our wish for Peace! And from where does all Peace emanate but from our Heavenly Father and Creator, who so loves us His children as to send down the ultimate emissary and vessel of everlasting Peace, His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Peace came down from heaven in the form of this precious child, the world was seemingly devoid of Peace. It was a nation occupied by foreign forces, civil rulers fighting over power, spiritual leaders fighting for control, and all three suppressing the people so as to procure and maintain wealth and power. Turmoil predominated, the people (especially the poor and weak) were just expendable pawns in the political, social and religious power plays. The tree of Jesse was seemingly extirpated by evil, and yet out of this darkness, it brought forth a shoot, a Son was given, a child who’s light would bring about change, validate all people, disburse the wicked and topple corrupt governments through acts of Love and the gift of heavenly Peace. Rejoice, Alleluia!
Brothers and Sisters, today I look around and hang my head. For even as the church bells chime commemorating the Savior’s birth and its ancient promise of Peace and good will, just as in the old familiar carol, I say “There is no peace on earth… for hate is strong and mocks the song of Peace on earth”. We too live in trouble times, reminiscent of a time when a small child was born two millennia ago. The weak are persecuted, people are marginalized, civic and religious leaders fight for money, power and control. Lies are the new truth, animosity is norm and self-righteousness is the new Gospel. Just the other day I saw a post where a christian religious leader bought an expensive car and lavish gifts for his wife (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars) and people defended this extravagant display of wealth born from the hard labor of his parishioners even though members of the community go hungry or homeless. Similarly, a bishop publicly posted on social media animosity towards gay priests, even though his fellow priests who have been supportive of him through the years happened to be gay. How disheartening it is to see such things cloud the light, the good work, the Good News of God’s church.
Life is dynamic, yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, just in times past, children of God are wandering through life like sheep lost in desert looking for their shepherd to bring them home to peace and safety. We as the Church, must stand up and be this shepherd for Christ, gathering up these lost sheep, feeding and caring for them both body and soul. Like St. Peter, we are called to be the rocks on which Christ’s Church is built, a church which is strong, resilient and steadfast against the temporal tempests which blow through life. Our lives and corporal acts of worship must be steadfast beacons of Peace, Love, Hope and Joy which guide the lost sheep to the verdant pastures of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Let us rejoice in the rituals and traditions handed down to us from our church fathers and mothers. It is time to once again live the solemnities, feasts, celebrations and religious ceremonies which are the life blood of His church throughout the year. We must eschew the trappings of populous spirituality rich in its entertainment value and poor in substance, instead focusing worship being the promises of the advent season upon which the word of God is inscribed and from which the Light of Christ shines forth: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.
Brothers and Sisters, the world needs the promise of our Lord’s nativity now more than ever; not just on December 25th, but each and every day throughout the year. We must carry the Peace and Love which comes from the Christ child in our hearts and offer salom to every person we meet and to all whom we bid farewell. We must remember, WE are the Church, we are the bearers of Peace and Love in the world, shepherds to God’s lost sheep and each time we open our salom to those we meet, especially the poor, the weak, the ostracized and those different from us, we pay homage to the Christ Child Himself, born of Mary, swaddled and laid in a manger.
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