2020 Advent Devotional: Week Two - Peace
Sunday, December 6, 2020
Pastor Heather Kirk-Davidoff
From the Outside to the Inside
God is showing up in the world—that’s the message that John the Baptist proclaimed to anyone who was listening. John made it his task to prepare people to have their lives re-arranged. Isn’t it intriguing that John first “appears” (to use Mark’s language) in the wilderness? Was it easier for people to see something new there than it would be had John spoken in the midst of Jerusalem? If we want to keep our eyes peeled for the Advent of God, maybe we should look towards the wild places in our world!
Let these questions guide your reflections before or after worship today:
Where do you look for God’s activity in your life? Are you more attentive to the center or to the edges?
Where do you see wilderness in the world around you?
Could these endings actually be a place of Advent?
Monday, December 7, 2020
Reflection of the day:
Beyond the countdown to Christmas, I never much saw the purpose of Advent until I started writing reflection pieces for church – and reading others. The idea of “reflecting” during the holiday season seemed absurd, except for the hour on Sunday when I was at church, if I was able to make it. About ten years ago, after almost twenty years of not going to church, I walked into a Methodist church in Manhattan, where I was living. I wrote my first Advent reflection – and read my first Advent reflections – and that sealed Advent for me. Things made more sense and went just a bit slower during the holidays. And I was more at peace.
The last three years living in Albany, I have not had Advent reflections to read. I attempted to go to every church I could find in the area, but mainly kept church to those times when I went home to Syracuse. (The pastor I had growing up returned and was preaching there.) I found peace in other ways. I went for Sunday urban hikes and walks through my new city. I breathed in the frosty winter air. I took in the cool steel beams of the bridges on the Hudson, the tranquil scenes of fathers and kids fishing and people grabbing their weekend coffee with steam fogging up their glasses. It was a different kind of peace.
Now, I have an infant daughter, a full-time job, a house, clients that need work done, and a pandemic. Peace may seem impossible, but actually, it’s closer for me than it has been in a long time. I now have a church family. I have a new community looking out for me and for my daughter, asking about my parents and life in general. I have a purpose on Sunday mornings at 10 AM, a commitment to myself to keep. And now, I have new Advent reflections to read.
Peace for me is not about stopping the insanity of life or quieting it. It’s about finding reminders that God is with me and has my back, no matter what lies ahead. After all, God led me to Westminster. Now I have the possibility, the energy, and the potential of my new Westminster church family – and that brings me great joy and peace.
Dear God thank you for the noisiest parts of the holiday season to remind us of what peace really is.
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Rev. Dave McMillan
Reflection of the day:
"May the Lord bless his people with peace!" Psalm 29:11
Psalm 29 concludes with a prayer that the people may be strong and at peace. Today, I know many people who are strong, but not many who are at peace.
Jesus speaks about the people in Matthew 5:5 when he says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Meek in ancient Greek meant a kind of horse, a horse broken and tamed and, therefore, "meek".
Our Presbyterian ancestors spoke of "will breaking" in raising their children. Believing every child was born with the burden of original sin, they believed their children had to be "broken" and their strength disciplined like that of horses.
Today, we rarely think of ourselves as "meek" and we may be horrified at the idea of "will breaking." But, for a moment today, consider the words of the hymn, "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem",
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still,
the dear Christ enters in.
Lord, discipline our strength and give us peace. Even, this Christmas, might we be week enough to receive him.
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Reflection of the day:
What does peace look like? Is it a negative peace of surly silence and coercion or a positive peace of harmony and mutual respect? We see David running from King Saul and hiding in a cave in the wilderness when Saul walks in to relieve himself. Does David kill him? No. Instead David cuts a few threads from his cloak and, once Saul has stepped back into the light, David confronts him and offers his blessing and allegiance. Leading Saul to proclaim, (1 Samuel 24:19) “When a man meets his enemy, does he send him down the road with a blessing? May God give you a bonus of blessings for what you’ve done for me today!”
Friends can keep peace, but only enemies and opponents can make peace.
Few of us have been pursued by a king and taken refuge in a wilderness cave. Yet how many of us have at one time or another fled from those who wish to harm us? I’d dare say most of us. Perhaps it was a simple as seeing someone down a grocery aisle and choosing to head to a different part of the store. Perhaps it was recognizing a car at local diner and deciding today you’ll eat at a different place. Life is full of difficult people, folks who rub you the wrong way or folks who actively seek to hurt you. It’s not unwise to avoid these people, and God isn’t urging us to open ourselves up to abuse, but to make peace there comes a time when it’s worth the risk to step out into the light and offer your enemy a blessing. Who knows, maybe it will lead to a reconciliation and a new peace.
A prayer for peace:
Deliver me from my enemies, but if you choose to put my enemy before me, grant me the courage to offer my enemy a blessing instead of taking revenge. Stand by me as I try to make peace, and protect me if my efforts to make peace should fail. Amen.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
How does peace come? The psalmist prays that the king will have God’s justice and righteousness so that the king can judge the people with righteousness and the poor with justice. The psalmist also prays that the king will defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. Then where righteousness flourishes, peace will abound.
In American democracy today we do not have a king – we the people hold the ultimate power. It would seem, therefore, that we pray that God grant justice and righteousness to us so that we can defend the poor, deliver the needy, and nonviolently crush their oppressors. Pope Paul VI famously said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Speaking from another tradition, Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Peace cannot suddenly descend from the heavens. It can only come when the root-causes of trouble are removed.”
In this Advent season we look forward once again to the coming of the Prince of Peace. Let us prepare for His coming by doing the things that make for peace.
God of justice and righteousness, give us minds and hearts to do justice and righteousness and to show love to our neighbors in peace. Amen.
Friday, December 11, 2020
As we approach the darkest time of the year, we understand that these shortened days are seasonal. In a few weeks, we know they will start to lengthen and in another 12 months, we again will experience these long nights. Seasons, Cycles, Circles…. We recognize this. We get this. We know these long nights will pass, and anticipate the sun warming our face.
Psalm 85 reminds us of the cyclical nature of living in community. Throughout the ages, people and communities have wandered from God and from each other, but God forgives and encourages us, as He has, to put aside anger to find peace and reconciliation. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Peace comes in cycles. It is hard work, and is very fragile. The psalm reminds us to not turn back to folly or foolishness, but to focus on what is right and just. There have been many dark times since this psalm was written, and it has been proven over and over that God comes through. God has not abandoned us, we must not abandon God. We have a job to do!
Thank you God for giving us these long evenings to marvel at the stars, breathe the crisp winter air and enjoy the odd silence of winter. May this solitude lead us to inner peace. Amen.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
I have been singing in church choirs for so long that when I read the Bible, I almost always hear music. There are so many snippets of music floating around in my brain, and when I read the words, they surface. The memories aren’t just of the notes themselves, but also of the experience of being grounded in the church building and singing with other people. When I read Psalm 122, the music I remembered was the anthem by Herbert Howells, and I had to stop and find it before I could start pondering the Psalm.
Finding peace within ourselves is a tall order. We are surrounded by so much that it is always hard to concentrate. And it is even harder to concentrate during a pandemic when fear, anxiety, and sorrow are always in the background.
For me, singing helps me find peace within myself. Singing requires focus and that means all of my cares are put on hold so that I can think about the task at hand. It also always lifts my spirits. How I miss singing with all of you in our beautiful church!
This Advent, I will have to sing without all of you, but we remain connected by our memories of singing together in the past and the sure knowledge we will be singing together again in the future.
God, help us to be able to focus so that we can find peace within ourselves as we wait for your Son. Amen.