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The Way of Peace

December 8, 2018

In what seems like a lifetime ago, we took a quick trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a brief respite. This is a statue of St Francis and the Wolf in the Cathedral square. The Way of Peace is often associated with St Francis of Assisi and the prayer attributed to him. As we wandered the streets of the city I truly did feel a sense of peace in my own heart and soul. It was a time of refreshment that we both needed.

My Mom had died the previous November and Denise had pretty much been her constant companion and hospice nurse in addition to caring for my Dad. We had also come off of an incredibly intense time of ministry walking with so many parishioners and friends through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We had hoped that the break in Santa Fe would be healing and that we would see a turn for the better, personally and professionally. Sadly, this was not to be… less than a month later, Denise’s Mom died and once again, Denise was the constant companion and caretaker for her Mom and for her Dad. In the midst of it all, I continued to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with parishioners and traversed the country as ministry called.

This past week, I was fortunate to be on a Presbyterian CREDO retreat for pastors who are approaching the transition to retirement. I was definitely on the young end of the spectrum, but we all had our stories about walking with parents, parishioners, and family members through the difficulties of life and aging. For many of us, it felt weird to be away from our congregations for the First Sunday of Advent. Yet in our worship, fellowship, study, reflection, and prayer we found ourselves on the Advent journey with colleagues who would become dear friends by the end of the week together.

This Advent journey, like so many before has its sense of familiarity as the old stories are heard once more. It also has the familiarity which we have come to be all too aware of in terms of the Valley of the Shadows. I buried a stranger today after a brunch fellowship at our church. As I talked with and got to know the family and John’s widow, I discovered their deep roots in Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though they lived down on the Front Range, there was history for them here that went back several generations. As they shared stories about John and the family members, a stranger became a friend. As we worshiped and prayed at the cemetery, I was reminded again of the promise the Psalmist gives us. We read together the 23rd Psalm and it was a reminder to each one of us… even though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, we are not alone. We had come to the cemetery as strangers… we left as family bonded together by a shared sense of loss and buoyed by the presence of the One who walks with us through the Valley.

One of the blessings of the week at CREDO was the limited amount of news we saw. We were encouraged to detach and simply be in the Lord’s presence… to hear the Lord’s voice… to sense the gentle nudging of the Spirit. Yet we came back into the world… a world filled with 24-hour news cycles of sensationalism and fearmongering… continued insanity coming out of Washington, D.C. and around the world.

This Advent season we have been focusing on the Magnificat or Song of Mary from Luke’s Gospel. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. (Luke 1:46-48) In a time of great turmoil (how do you think it felt for Mary to be given the news that she was to have a baby and that Joseph wasn’t the father?!) Mary was able to lift praises to God and sing of her assurance that God was with her and with the oppressed and the downtrodden.

The theme for this second Sunday of Advent is peace. That is, in part, why the verses from Malachi struck my heart as I began to prepare for tomorrow’s sermon. Malachi speaks of the redemption of the people and the restoration of their offerings. That sounds to me like peace and reconciliation. That is also the message of hope which Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, shared in his prophecy.

Zechariah speaks of a mighty savior who will rise up from amongst the people This savior would rescue the people and restore their worship and their freedom. The most beautiful part of Zechariah’s prophecy comes in the closing verses. It speaks of hope and of peace in a time of darkness.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I sure need to hear these words of promise and hope again and again and again. In the midst of the darkness that is both physical and spiritual (December 21st is the longest night of the year and the skies are often overcast… plus at times like this, Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression creep into the darkness) we need a reminder of light, life, and hope. In this time of hatred, animosity, fear, and greed we need a reminder of peace.

As we continue this Advent journey, my prayer for each of you is that you will join with me and allow the tender mercy of our God to give us light and guide our feet into the way of peace.

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