Last week we lit our first Advent candle – the HOPE candle. Hope was the catalyst for those who were waiting and watching for the coming Messiah. They did not have a clear grasp on the details of the arrival, the how and what of the Messiah – but there were those who were diligently waiting, constantly looking, and always hoping.They had the hope, and many had a thought or an idea, but in the end, nothing about the Messiah matched what they expected – which was a good thing. It was the hope that kept Anna and Simeon in the temple, day after day, waiting to see the Messiah. It is the same hope for us today, a return of Jesus, a new heaven and a new earth, whatever all of that will look like and however it will all play out – our call is to keep an watchful eye and a determined hope. Hope is the underlying theme of the Christmas story, it is actually the underlying theme of the Christian journey, including the crucifixion and resurrection, it was the hope of the promise to Abraham, it was the hope that sat with Joseph in the prison cell and with Moses on Mount Sinai, it is the same girding that the Holy Spirit empowers us with today. Hope. Faith gets us on the path, Hope uses the path to prepare us for the destination.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. Hebrews 11:1-3
Hope brings us to peace.
Our Advent candle today is PEACE. Peace is an end to hostilities, it is a comforting calming in the midst of anxiety, a sense of confidence in a time of insecurity – a necessary respite in the midst of chaos, fear, uncertainty, isolation, and all the other life situations that tie us in knots.
In his letter to the believers in Asia Minor Peter wrote encouraging them to ‘strive to be found, by Jesus, at peace.’
It is an interesting choice of words, ‘strive to have Jesus find you at peace.’
Listen to it in its context,
We wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, while you are waiting, be diligent, without spot without blemish, and be found by him in peace II Peter 3:13-14
Look at the words in bold, these are the emphasis words, words that give us a key to understand what Peter is saying.
Peter uses the greek word eiréné (i-ray’-nay) for Peace. It is defined as one, quietness, rest. eiréné connotes peace of mind; wholeness, and the joining together of all the essential parts. It is a holistic state of being – Body, Mind, Spirit bound together, at peace in whatever the circumstance.
Look at the apostle Paul – a very religious and righteous man – he was faithful in his religion to the point of sacrifice and he was hopeful in in watching for the promised Messiah. He, in his faith, accepted the mission to eliminate anything that would mislead and misguide the followers of God. His specific mission, was to stop this new ‘Jesus’ movement from diluting the faithful following the true God. He had sought truth all his life, he had strived to live truth all his life, he had sacrificed everything for the advancement of truth. He was a seeker, a searcher, and a hopeful follower. On a path to the city of Damascus, he knew he was following God’s calling, and I think, he was right. He was going to address the ‘Jesus’ movement, he was going to identify the followers of Christ. He thought his destination was to stop the Jesus followers through any means necessary. While on the path – God transformed Paul, he corrected Paul, God redeemed Paul, God permitted Paul to see why he was on the path. Paul confidently approached the path by faith, on the path hope led him step after step, the hope of the path brought peace, peace allowed Paul to accept the new twist in his mission, a twist he had never seen coming until he arrived with peace. In reality this was not as spectacular as we would think. Paul had spent his life seeking God and looking for the Messiah, the path led him to both. Paul was not, however, expecting to become a Jesus follower, that was not the destination he was expecting. When he hears Jesus saying, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ Paul biggest surprise was probably his own lack of surprise. This was a natural step of his path, he just had not known it until now, he was not ready to accept it until this peace. Now, he found what he was looking for, the Messiah, he recognized that this Jesus, the one who had been his problem and mission, was no longer a problem but still his mission. The hope and peaceful steps allowed him to recognize and accept this destination, permitting him to go to the house of a Jesus follower, not to persecute but to learn, not to stop a movement but to be a part of this movement – not to dilute his faith but now to complete his it. This was all a part of his path, he continued on the path, only now his mission had been clarified, refined, and defined. Now his hope and his peace was anchored.
2 Basics 2 Understanding
- The Holy Spirit moves us onto our path which the apostle Paul refers to as our ‘salvation journey,’ which is not a journey TO salvation but a journey OF salvation. The path shapes and refines us FOR the destination which is earthly as well as eternal. Stepping onto our path is an act of faith, faith lets us recognize the Hope of the path. We may think we have the path and the destination figured out, or, instead, we may attempt to waste time on the path attempting to avoid lesson and transformation, however God builds the path time intentionally in order to prepare us for the destination. We responsibly ask questions to spot ‘wrong path’ signs – questions such as, ‘is this path in harmony or conflict with the life of Jesus?’, or, ‘does this path seem to be paved with a priority of Loving for God and Loving all Others?’ Doubts & questions are gifts from God to propel us to seek and search, to know God more in order to recognize the warning signs, even along the path. Paul was on the path, a path that he assumed was taking him to destroy the Jesus movement, but, actually it was taking him to build up the Jesus movement. The path, including an experience of blindness, were all part of the work of refinement enabling Paul to see and accept the ultimate purpose of the path.
- Faith is where it starts. Hope provides a confidence that permits us to ‘hang in there’ on the path and to absorb peace regardless instead of our blindness, confusion, surprise, and fear. A wasted path that results in an absence of peace at the destination – such is the story of Jonah. The prophet Jonah was completely at home proclaiming the message of God, he was not a stranger to calling for the people to return to God. He had never scoffed at this mission until he stepped on a path and heard the destination coordinates. Ninevah. (A side note here may be helpful – this is why God often does not give us the destination – we need the path to prepare us to embrace the destination). Jonah attempted to change the destination, he headed in the direction of ‘anywhere but Ninevah’, while on this new path he even did God’s calling, only to a different destination and a different people, it was actually a very successful work. Gracefully, God provided a resistant Jonah a ride back to his right path, the path designed just for him, the path paved with Hope that would not only take him to a people in need of hope but also to prepare him to communicate great news. The path was intended to remind Jonah of his own hope path, letting him enjoy this path and destination with an unexpected peace. See, God wanted the brain in Jonah’s head to click on the switch of compassion and mercy letting him see that hope is a need of all people. Regrettably, Jonah used the entire path for pouting instead of hoping, therefore, at the destination he did nothing more and nothing less than God said to do, he failed to see Hope in action as he had failed to let God give him peace – instead of an experience of faith, hope, peace, love, and joy, Jonah ended up with a destructive worm, a destroyed vine, and a dastardly wind while finding himself at the geographical coordinates he deeply hated and despised.
The pattern of Hope and Peace is the same many times over in the Bible. Noah, a follower of God in a time when only he followed God was at peace in his own ‘rightness’, even though is was foreign, odd, and strange to everyone else. His hope was in God and that firm foundation increased his peace daily, a peace that was formed on his path that led him to an outrageous destination.. As a result, when God told him of the coming flood, his response was not to question or to resist, instead, he picked up his saw, grabbed his hammer and went to work. It was peace that woke him up each morning and put him exhausted to bed each evening. Or, Abraham, who came from a long line of idol worshippers, idol makers, idol sellers, he had grown up with nothing except for false gods. Then, the true God spoke to Abraham. We do not really have the details of the dialogue except that Abraham accepted. Abraham, too, was at peace saying yes, yes to this unknown God because Abraham had allowed the path to do its work of peace. There were three wise men, who were not Jews, who, for most of their lives, had been watching the stars, reading the prophesies, hoping to see the moment when God would break in, so when God said ‘It’s time’ they saddled up, with a path given peace that enabled them to follow the star. There are stories of prostitutes and priests, politicians and tax collectors, Kings and Queens, military leaders and and dismissed marginalized people, there are rich and poor, there are women, men, and eunuchs, there are lower class, middle class, and upper class, there are greeks, romans, jews, gentiles, hebrews, and even samaritans, there are masters and slaves, there are good and bad, they are all on their path, each facing the choice of refinement and peace or pouting and being stuck. Each faced a destination of joyously striving in God’s peace or an alternative to face their destination pouting, resisting, resenting, and seeing nothing but fear, hatred, and dread – that is their journey their path, that is our journey our path.
The Israelites faced a seemingly unbearable path that would take decades to complete, Isaiah spoke the Hope of their path to them, Peter spoke to a people who could only see suffering and pain on their path and he reminded them of their hope encouraging them to be found at peace. A strange prophet that wore even stranger clothes and held to a disgusting diet pointed out the filth of the paths that restricted many from seeing the hope that was already there. Two young people were put on a God awful path that could not have come at a worse time, but, as they traveled on that hopeful path, God prepared them for a peace that would carry them through a smelly stable, years away from home and on the run, a vicious and paranoid ruler, a cradle set next to a nursing cow, visitors from the pastures and palaces, and the Son of God, the Messiah.
So, along the path, we have 2 essentials of our path.
First, we are called to an ongoing search to know God, a constant pursuit. We know God through the written truth through which we never cease to learn and are never unqualified to use. We know God through the person of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the example of his earthly life. We also know God through others and everything around us –
The 2nd second essential tool of the path – In order to do number one we must stay awake & pay attention. This was the final request of Jesus to the disciples before his arrest. Staying awake and paying attention to others and everything around us, when this is accompanied by our growing knowledge of God we begin to notice and recognize notes from God, as well as identifying and eliminating those things inconsistent with God truth and the life of Jesus.
So, on the path, we learn and we notice, everyday of our life and every step of our path. Mary and Joseph were different people by the time they arrived at Bethlehem than they had been nine months prior. When Paul stepped on the path heading to Damascus he was a different person than he had been in the beginning of his religious vocation. The same is said for Eve, for Noah, for Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, for Moses, for Joshua, for all the prophets, all of the apostles, all the new testament believers, and for each of us. There are others, individuals like Jonah, King Saul, Judas, Annanias and Sapphira, who chose to miss the preparation of the path, they died with no growth, no hope, no peace.
We are on the path, our path, let’s make the most of it. Intentionally know God, do the work, pursue the relationship – knowing God is not a spectator sport. Next listen, look, question, everything, look for peace with every step you take. Don’t limit the Holy Spirit on revealing peace to you by limiting your pursuit to only a few approved voices that align with your thinking, also do not block out anything that the Spirit can use to teach and strengthen you on the path.
In his book, Peace In Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh says,
‘We know how to sacrifice 10 years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But, we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.’
Thich Nhat Hanh
God speaks, along the way, through many avenues and voices, God gives peace as we recognize him at work all over and all around us. It is the description of the path of those detailed in Hebrews 11, people that were headed to an unknown destination letting God gift them with hope and peace on the path. Be found at peace,
this is the encouragement given to us, it is the hope for a world in chaos, disappointment, confusion, hatred, pain, and death. It is the lesson of, and during, the path – it is peace regardless of what we can or cannot see. It is Jesus’ call to the Abundant Life, to an intentional Life, to a Real Life. It is God’s call to us.
Hope and Peace.