By this time of year the air would be brisk and you’d find me scurrying from my car to the nearest entryway. The parking lot would be full and the pews would be crowded as we all shed our coats and draped them over their wooden backs. The marble steps leading to the altar would be flooded with a sea of red poinsettia and the gold ornamentation would seem just a little shinier.
The altar itself is architecturally peculiar. I remember my younger self thought the ceiling resembled a vinyl record that had been melted only to the point of being warped. It’s wavy structure rested on a colonnade that wrapped around the base of the marble platform. This centrality of the alter afforded the whole congregation a view as if they were seated front row. The church itself is round and its domed roofline is a fixture in this suburban city’s skyline.
It was the church where my parents had married, yet it was as foreign to me as a distant country.
Between my pre-teen and early teenage years, I’d tag along to services there whenever, and with whomever I could. From the very first steps into the sanctuary I was aware that I did not belong. Holy water, that I didn’t know what to do with, filled the tiny marble baths mounted just inside the doorways, odd kneeling procedures as we found our seats, prayers I didn’t know, recitals I had never been taught, and communion I couldn’t take. These were some of my earliest memories of church. Yet still I wanted to go, there was something calling me there, something I wanted.
“Peace be with you” said the priest, and the congregation responded “And also with you.” And then my most favorite part of the service; where we all offered PEACE to one another.
PEACE that was what I was looking for, and this was the one place where I had felt its presence.
What is PEACE and how can we find it?
Is it the absence of conflict? Or the perfection of circumstances? Or is it something so much greater than our earthly perceptions?
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire would be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to hime and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough – because there was no room for them at the lodging place.
In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”
Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying;
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! Luke 2:1-14 HCSB
Do you think it was a peaceful situation for Mary and Joseph to find themselves navigating a “premarital” pregnancy? Or was it a peaceful journey to be traveling near the time of her labor? How about finally arriving at their destination and finding no place to lodge?
I can only image that these circumstances brought with them confusion, conflict, and chaos-not PEACE.
So what is PEACE anyway? Well according to these angels PEACE is this…
“a Savior who is Messiah has come and this is a sign to YOU”. God has brought PEACE on earth.
The prophet Isaiah foretold;
For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 HCSB
If you’re anything like me, you need to feel it, see it, or touch it, for it to be real to you. Well, God said “hey, I am sending the Prince of Peace to you.” And when the angels announced His birth they said “just as was promised He’s here and remember this is a sign to you. God has brought PEACE to the earth.”
This is why I first felt PEACE in the church, and why many years later, it was within the church where I experienced PEACE. The church, not the building, the community of believers are the living, breathing, presence of Jesus on the earth.
And when the priest extends the offer “PEACE be with you” it is a reflection of God’s offering to us. “Here’s my Son, I’m making PEACE with you.”
And when we respond, “And also with you” we are saying “YES, God this is your Son.” and it’s this heartfelt exchange that is the bridge to PEACE. When I am standing with God, in Christ, I experience PEACE. This is why the apostle Paul urges us, the church, the community of Christians;
…walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. Ephesians 4:1-3 HCSB
The church is the collective of those who have responded to this invitation of peace and share it with one another, it’s what binds us together. I think that’s why my most favorite part of the service, was where we all offered PEACE to one another-it’s our common bond. Because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, promised His first disciples and promises the same to us;
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27 HCSB
This is how I know that my PEACE, the PEACE He offers me, is mine regardless of the conflict or less than perfect circumstances that intrude into my life…because these things belong to the world. Let us not look for PEACE in the ways that world does, but receive the PEACE of God that was given to us at Christmas.
“Peace be with you friend.”
For further reading and reflections:
Read Matthew 10:34-36; 1 Peter 3:9-11; and Romans 12:17-21
Reflect on any conflict in your life, the difficult circumstances you might be facing and use these verses to help remind you, or help you understand, why these things threaten your PREACE, plan for ways you can be an agent of PEACE this holiday season.
Reflect on your gratitude for being at PEACE with God, through Christ, and the common bond of fellowship you experience in the community of believers He has provided for you, the church.
ADVENT is a season of anticipation that we can experience “Peace on earth, goodwill toward man.” This can only occur if we embrace His PEACE.