“Preparing for Peace through Our Holy Habit of Worship”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
Reflection, combined with congregational conversation
Advent 2A: Peace, Week 6 of 8 in the Holy Habits: Worship series
Isaiah 40:1-5
Mark 1:1-4

We are in week two of the four weeks of Advent, and we are in the sixth of eight weeks in our exploration of the Holy Habit of Worship.  Advent, remember, is the season during which we anticipate, get ready for, the Advent—the arrival—of Christ.  It’s when we remember and, to the extent we’re able, acknowledge the ache of waiting (as our choir just beautifully reminded us) for something we desperately long for, something that we need in order to feel complete, secure, at peace.

The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading this morning, offered a note of comfort and reassurance to the profoundly un-settled people of Israel.  Their hearts were broken, their spirits shattered because they’d been humiliated in battle and forcibly scattered from the land they believed God had given them.  And, they understood their humiliation as being, at least in part, a consequence of their sin and unfaithfulness.  But here was Isaiah, proclaiming, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”[1]  In other words, God is fixing a way for you to go home—a smooth path, a straight highway, no mountains or valleys to contend with, so you can focus on the joy of your salvation!  The Advent of a better life—a life of peace, and joy, and restoration.

And then, in our gospel lesson, we hear about John—the Baptizing man of God whose voice cried out from the wilderness, reminding the people to prepare the way of the LORD, to make the paths straight.  His audiences would have heard the echoes of Isaiah as John preached and challenged the people to straighten up, to re-focus their lives on what was truly important.

These four weeks anticipating the culminating Christmas moment also draw our attention to paradox and mystery in life: every single year, we’re called to pay attention, to be alert, to watch as we wait for the coming of our Savior.  Because, it wasn’t only the people of Israel, and it wasn’t only the people who found their way out to John the Baptist in the wilderness who felt there was something wrong with their life and their world.  It wasn’t only ancient people who noticed their need for a Savior, and who felt the deep longing for it.  I feel it, and you do, too.  We’re still waiting.

And yet, as Christians, we testify that our Savior has already come to us.  Is already with us.  We celebrate it every single year.  But still, we prepare and remind ourselves to be on the lookout for Emmanuel, God-with-us, because such worship re-establishes in that all-important holy habit.

Each week, we light a symbolic candle.  Last week, we focused on Hope: we considered how our decision to practice hope is an act of worship—it’s a declaration of reverence for, and devotion to, a confidence in God above all other forces in our life.  Even when we don’t understand the why’s and wherefore’s of this life, we place our trust in the Hope of the World.

Today, we are honoring the Peace of God.  How do we make room for the Peace of God—the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ—in or through our worship?  What do our scripture lessons this morning have to do with God’s gift of Peace?  I’m going to invite you to discuss it together in small groups.  For the next 5 minutes, please turn to the colored Takeaway sheet in your bulletin, and then turn to talk with someone near you (preferably someone you don’t know well).

1) How do you define peace?
How do you think Jesus defined peace?  Given how often he said, ‘Do not be afraid’, I’m pretty sure he would have suggested that, at the very least, peace is the absence of fear.  Among the words that opened our service today were the words Jesus said, according to John’s gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.   I do not give to you as the world gives. Therefore, do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  In 1 John 4:18, it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”  Jesus, Love incarnate, was fearless; he was the Prince of Peace.

2) What is/are the greatest barrier/s to the peace we long for?
Fear.  Isolation.  Inability or unwillingness to engage with God.

3) What do worship and peace have to do with each other?
In worship, we remind ourselves that God’s power is greater than all other powers—and so long as we are closely connected to the power of God, we need not fear anything.

Both of our Scripture lessons this morning call us to an attentiveness to what God is doing—to prioritizing attention and dedication to God’s activity over whatever other things might be clamoring for our energy or devotion; when we devote ourselves to the worship of God alone, we discover peace.

4) What can/will I, personally, do to foster peace in my sphere of influence?
        Daily devotional practice, reading the Scriptures (where we are likely to bump into some version of the divine reminder “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid”) and praying, taking time each day (even many times a day) to remind ourselves that God is the greatest power there is in the world (and not whatever situation that’s troubling us), doing our best to keep God’s ways of grace and love at the center of our way of being… this will help us to feel more peaceful.  And, have you ever noticed that peaceful people tend to have a ripple effect on others, especially if their peace is combined with hope, joy, and love?

[1] Isaiah 40:1-4

 

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