Peace seems like a no-brainer at this time of year. The Christmas cards we send and receive talk about Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men. Sermons this week will all be about Peace, because this is Peace Sunday. But as I looked around at my friends and family and church members, and yes, even myself, I didn’t see a lot of peace going on. I did see frantic shopping and list-making and holiday planning. My calendar is jammed with church events and meetings and holiday parties. Where’s the Peace?
And then strange things began happening. Everything I picked up to read turned out to be about peace. Not just church stuff, but everything, even the novel I’m reading at night before I go to sleep. I’m helping to plan several regional church events, and the theme of each one revolves around inner peace, and reconciliation with God and with each other. Peace – or at least the idea of peace – has entered my life in a big way ever since I received the invitation to come here. I love it when God works that way in my life.
But all of this didn’t help me decide what to do when I came here, until I was sitting in my office and happened to look up and see a Christmas gift I received some years back sitting on a shelf. I decided I’d like to share the story attached to this gift with you all.
Story of the Lion and Lamb
Everyone has a favorite Christmas. For Emily, it happened when she was a little girl. It was the year a special lamb was born on Christmas Eve . . the same Christmas Eve a lion escaped from the Fletcher Brother's Circus. Emily and her brother, Bobby, had made many trips to the barn that night, making sure their new little lamb was safe and well. But their final visit changed them forever. To their surprise, they discovered their precious lamb nestled between the paws of a very large lion. Emily and Bobby stood motionless, panicked by the scene, until the lion spoke. "Please allow me to keep my friend warm this evening. We are both alone on this special night and need the comfort of one another."Then the lamb raised her head and said, "May peace be in everyone's heart."
On that starry Christmas Eve, so long ago, Emily and Bobby felt the real spirit of Christmas. They realized that nothing in the world could change it.
Emily and Bobby had discovered peace – real peace – the peace that comes when we are held close in the arms and heart of another.
This is the peace that surpasses all understanding, for it comes at unexpected times. It comes on days when the pain is so great we don't know if we can bear it - until someone comes and touches us with love. It comes in the long dark hours of the night, when we lay sleepless, wondering if the dawn will ever come - until we look out the window and see the glory of the full moon and the star-filled sky.
True Peace is not the temporary halt of hostilities on a planet where war is pretty much a constant. And not what we feel when we have a few minutes to sit and relax in between bursts of activity. And not what happens when we take a vacation and then fill every moment with so much activity that we are more worn out when we get back than when we left. But it is that feeling inside of us when, for one brief moment, we are neither angry, nor resentful, nor over-tired, nor worried, nor fearful.
Peace is found deep inside our hearts. When we are truly at peace, what is going on outside cannot affect us – just as a storm moving across the top of a lake cannot affect the calm of the waters in the depths of that lake. It comes to us through God - when we forgive an old hurt, we can know peace. When we turn all our troubles over to God, we can know peace. Because in those times when we are able to let God hold all our troubles and worries and resentments and fears – when we are able to truly love and forgive all of God’s children, even ourselves - in those times we know we are held closely in God’s heart, just as the lamb was held closely by the lion – and God’s peace fills our souls.
I’d like to share a poem by Kate Compston, a British Quaker and poet, which seems to me to be a pretty good How-To on achieving peace.
Web of peace
Peace is like a gossamer –
Vulnerable, yet indestructible:
Tear it, and it will be rewoven.
Peace does not despair.
Begin to weave a web of peace:
Start in the centre
And make peace with yourself
And your God.
Take the thread outwards
and build peace within your family, your community
- and in the circle of those you find it hard to like.
Then stretch your concern
Into all the world.
Weave a web of peace
And do not despair.
Love is the warp in the fabric of life:
Truth is the weft:
Care and integrity together –
They spell Peace.