Advent – The Promise of Peace

An Advent Devotion  for December 4, 2017                                    Read Micah 4:1-5

“He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more” Micah 4:3

The image of a day when nations no longer go to war and the tools of war are recycled into tools of providence instead, encourages our souls. Who among us doesn’t want there to be an end to war, and an end to soldiers dying or being maimed? Who of us doesn’t want an end to the death, injury and harm of innocents forced to flee for their lives? Who doesn’t want an end to the suffering of people trapped by war?

God gives us a vision so we will work for it . . . A vision that encourages us to work for peace and not for war. It is the vision in the Christmas song which Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne captures in the music “Do you hear what I hear”

“Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light.”

 

Prayer: God of peace, your vision seems so far from us. Pictures of war fill our screens. Obstacles to peace appear insurmountable. We fear a nuclear disaster. We ache for the wounded soldier. We cry for the lost children. Our hearts bleed for lost lives. May we begin to look at your words of hope, not only as a dream, but your dream for all of us to live into. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

There is Both Mystery and Miracle About Christmas

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2,6 I have often found encouragement in these words of Isaiah. The longed for messiah will bring about a reversal of circumstance. Isaiah was a given a vision of a world made whole. The child born will not be an ordinary child, but one who will rule forever. In the birth of Christ our circumstances changed. Whenever we face trials, defeats, tragedies, depression or losses; when we yearn for something to give us hope, Isaiah’s words speak to our hearts.

The words of Isaiah have echoed through the centuries with that message. They speak to whatever darkness we face. “Those who dwelt in a land of darkness on them ; light has shined.” The promise is simply this: God will not let go of us. God has not and will not forget us. Where there are tears, one day they will all be wiped away. The burdened heart buried in cares will know joy. Whatever our outward circumstances might appear, despite all our mistakes, we are loved. Our foolishness and doubts, even the bitterness which eats at our soul cannot take God’s love away. God comes to be with us. God comes to lead us to life.

Ann Weems writes, “ I pray that the whole world might sit down together and share its bread and its wine. Some say there is no hope, but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools who never seem to give up on the scandalousness of our faith; that we are loved by God…that we can truly love one another. I no longer pray for peace: I pray for miracles.” From Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light

There is both mystery and miracle about Christmas that simply cannot be explained. Promises made centuries before are fulfilled in a child born in the obscure village of Bethlehem. Tonight we ponder the mystery of God’s coming among us. We celebrate the light brought into our world. We give thanks for the one who came as peace that we might become peace to one another.

Against the Backdrop of Pain – Advent Waits

Against the backdrop of ISIS, a climate on the brink of environmental disaster, shootings in Paris, San Bernardino and Colorado Springs, Advent arrives. We hear again the voice of the prophet crying in the wilderness.

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:4-6

I’m reminded that Jesus was born into an anxious, fear-filled world. An occupying force ruled Jerusalem. The people of Israel walked on tiptoe, lest they upset the delicate balance of peace. One sign of insurrection would bring about the swift and brutal response of the Roman government. This was a world waiting for answers, hoping for a messiah. Here was a world seeking light that would pierce its darkness. So it is that Zachariah speaks with joy when his own son John was born, of the one who is to come. “And you child shall be called prophet of the Most High for you shall go before the Lord to prepare his ways . . . 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 1:76, 78-79

In our own dark moments, we too seek the one who leads to peace. We seek the one who quiets troubled souls, comforts the distressed and heals the disenfranchised. We seek the one who gives light in our darkness. In Advent, we wait for God’s answers. We wait in the assurance that God who holds the future is already preparing a way for each of us. So, as we wait, let us sing the carols, write our cards, decorate our homes, but let us also pray for peace and work for peace. Let us pray for healing among the nations and in our communities. Let us give of ourselves and our wealth to make life brighter for another. Let us prepare our hearts for the gifts of Christmas and the wonder of a Savior’s birth.

To Say a Prayer for Peace

The groundwork for the Palestine – Israeli conflict started before I was born. By the time I was two, a major offensive had taken place. Through all these years, I heard one story. It was the story of the Holocaust and a land that became a Jewish homeland after Hitler’s ovens were shut down. For most of these years I wondered why there was no peace in that land. I wondered why the Palestinian people simply didn’t move on with their lives and work for the betterment of their people. I wondered why, just about the time when peace might finally break out, there would be a bombing in Israel by Palestine or an assassination in Palestine by Israeli forces.

I applauded the peace accords at Camp David and hoped that peace might finally come to that troubled land. Through all these years, peace has been elusive. A few years ago I read a book which gave perspective to the issue and helped me to understand there were two distinctive views of Israel and Palestine. More books caused me to dig deeper. Last summer I attended an event which brought Christians who live and work in Palestine to the states. Their stories were full of heartache.

I didn’t know that a wall was built around the biblical city of Bethlehem, birthplace to both David and Jesus. A wall built not for protection, but to keep people in, allowing access to mere four square miles. Movement between Bethlehem and another part of Palestine takes hours of waiting in line at a checkpoint, only to be repeated at another wall and another checkpoint. I learned that Christians who lived in Bethlehem were only allowed to go the four miles to Jerusalem at Easter and Christmas. I didn’t realize that Israel controlled both water and electricity in Palestine or that they allowed only scarce amounts of each to reach people who live there. Their stories of ongoing harassment caused me to entirely rethink what I thought I knew about Israel. I find it difficult to understand why the children of people who survived the Holocaust could treat an entire nation with so little compassion.

In the past few years, more and more Jewish settlements have started in the West Bank. The land is spotted with settlements which make a two-state solution increasingly difficult. Settlements have no lack of either water or electricity. Settlers have incentives to move into these new cities. Meanwhile, land that has been held in a family for generations has been taken, named as state land. The Israeli government will refer to an action by Hamas as the cause for taking the land, but somehow Christians in Palestine are among those losing their land.

The staff at Bethlehem Bible College talked about Jewish settlers who saw the land as something that God had given them, and therefore they had a right to take land in Palestine for themselves. They told of farmers with trees ripe for harvest who were told that their land was now state land. Between the time the farmer could appeal the take over of his land and a military tribunal validated his right to it, fifteen-hundred trees ready for harvest were plowed under. As I heard those stories, I thought of the good farm people I knew in Southern MN and how angry they would be if they were aware of what the current government in Israel was doing to farmers like themselves.

I started to read Goggle’s Israeli news after the conference. I’ve learned European Jews link rising antisemitism to Israel’s treatment of people in Palestine. In February of this year, 500 rabbis protested the demolition of housing built in the West Bank by non-profits to help fill the serious housing shortage there.

I wish there were easy answers to this long and painful conflicts. The frustration of the Christian population in Palestine was easy to see and hear. I wished for them an easier life. They told us they saw themselves as a bridge, trying to pull people together. A part of the solution. They asked each of us to do whatever we can do to draw attention to the conditions under which they are living. It seems a little thing to do. To tell a story, to share an insight. To say a prayer for peace.