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Trusting the Peace

Cynthia Johnson, December 16th, 2012

Here we stand again, in the midst of the season of Advent, busy-busy-busy preparing for Christmas. Christmas: Christ’s birth, the dawning of a new era, not just for the people of Israel but good news for the whole world.

Advent marks the start of the Church’s calendar, and in two weeks we will celebrate the New Year of 2013. Schools and colleges begin their ‘year’ in September or October; there seems to be more than one ‘New Year’ – consider the Chinese, Jewish ands Muslim new years. All, however, have responded to the cycles of the seasons as we, and it seems every nation, seek to measure, and make sense of, our lives and our search for the knowledge and presence of God.

We can look at this internally: we gather together inside our buildings, where we worship together, gain strength and meet God at the altar. We then proceed externally with mission, being the way we take God outside our buildings. And we can learn so much from the Bible. Today’s Old Testament reading, from the book of Zephaniah, opens with doom and destruction, threatening to punish the land of Judah for worshipping false gods – and they are not the only ones. But Zephaniah prophesies hope, if repentance is declared by the humble and lowly people of Jerusalem, who tell no lies and do no wrong. He promises that they will be secure and afraid of no-one, as they live the Lord’s way – and he ends with the song of joy which we heard earlier.

Compare this with the gospel reading: like Zephaniah of old, the prophet John the Baptist has just warned his listeners that if they don’t mend their ways disaster will befall them. The message is the same – repent, mend your ways, and look forward to the Messiah, whilst you live the way of the Lord. When we come to the Epistle, when St Paul comes to preach the good news, he too urges his followers to live a godly life, following the example of Jesus. He encourages them to celebrate the love of God, to have faith that he will fulfil their needs if they only ask humbly in prayer, instead of fretting.

‘To trust the peace’ – this is a phrase which a friend of mine used recently on a retreat organised as respite for carers, giving them the chance of a break for a few days in the beautiful setting of Noddfa, surrounded by tremendous trees and overlooking the sea in North Wales. The party had to learn to relax and enjoy the fact that they were the ones being looked after for a while. They found it quite unnerving – three lovely meals a day magically appearing, and no washing up! – Attentive nuns on hand for support, and lots of relaxing, gentle activities, including prayer and meditation. When one lady expressed difficulty adjusting to this, another advised her to ‘trust the peace’. I’m sure St Paul would have approved.

If we want to live the way of the Lord, where do we start? It can be helpful to pray in four different ways. If it’s hard to begin, choose a prayer you have learnt that is already written down (why invent the wheel?) – one which particularly inspires you: or maybe, simply the Lord’s Prayer. Having thus put ourselves in God’s hand, we need to spend some time listening to him – this is perhaps best done in silence, allowing plenty of time and space to do this – being patient and waiting on the Lord.

By now we have surely increased our conscious contact with God. Now is the time for us to talk to him. Tell him our troubles, share our dreams, name those for whom we pray – and delight in his company.

Renewed and revived by these prayers, it is natural to be so thankful for our gifts from God that we wish to share them; and this leads to practical payers – prayer in action. Doing something practical to demonstrate our faith: our church should be a living proof to a watching world. Do our lives in their humility and grace reflect the presence of God in our hearts? If we ever fear we cannot live up to these ideals, we need to look no further than the bible for a source of immense strength and courage – one written for people just like us.

The bible is a very thick book: in fact it is a collection of 66 books. And thousands more books have been written about them all. If we were to try and distil the wisdom found in all these books, I guess we would still have a fair-sized book! I also guess we would find many recurring themes, from Genesis to Revelation, as the people of Israel (the original tribes and ourselves) work through the cycles of life and the years. Two steps forwards and one step back: by trial and error; exhorted by the prophets and disciples and, supremely, taught by our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem and preaching throughout Galilee and beyond. And we would have none of these books if it weren’t for the likes of St Paul and all the other writers: may we give fervent thanks for them all.

And if we wanted to quote one small section that stands out among them all, we would surely include these four verses heard again this morning:   “May you always be joyful in your union with the lord. I say it again – rejoice! Show a gentle attitude towards everyone. The Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and mind safe in union with Christ Jesus.’

Let us trust that peace.

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