Perceptions of Peace

Advent candle of peace with the text "peace".

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem December 20, 2020

Advent is a time of joy – love – hope and peace; but, not for everyone – even in the best of years. 

Cookies, decorations, presents, carols, and cards are ways we share God’s peace; but, not for everyone – even in the best of years.

This season of waiting is when families come together in peace to celebrate the birth of Christ – the coming Lord; but not for everyone – even in the best of years.

Even in the best of years, there are people who feel advent and Christmas is also a time of isolation – and anxiety. And, beloved, those feelings are common. Many Christians feel the crippling darkness of these feelings which lead to holiday depression each year at or around Christmas. During this time where so many of us are enjoying the beautiful season, there are people – neighbors – friends who are being torn asunder by the feelings of anxiety and isolation. And that, beloved, is in the best of years.

In this year of 2020, we have had our fill of anxiety and isolation. Our fill of these feelings which are causing more and more people to spiral towards holiday depression. Our fill of the anxiety and isolation perpetuating our lives from covid-19 – social unrest – and political controversies fed by the news and social media. And that was all before those dark tendrils of holiday depression started to creep towards our hearts. So, please – please know that if you are feeling depression of any sort – holiday, seasonal, or chronic – I am here to listen and guide you to the help you need. I believe we are all here to listen and help you find ways to deal with these destructive feelings. Please reach out for you are not alone, there is nothing wrong with you. We all have every reason in the world to feel many forms of depression. Depression which is so crippling that it can tear you apart from the inside. Tear apart families and relationships – tear apart the world and fill it with a darkness that leaves no room for God’s light of peace. So, if you need a kind ear please reach out and let us help you find Peace.

That said, today, I would like to share a few ways to help – not the only ways – but some ways to help push away the isolation and the anxiety of our world. Some ways to move away from holiday depression by changing our perception and preparing our hearts for that light of God’s divine Peace.

Before we go too far – would you pray with me:

God of Peace let Your light shine upon our lives once more as You push out the darkness – the isolation – the anxiety of the world. Ignite in us the spark of Peace so our lives can become beacons for all people – all of Creation. May our hearts sing of Your Peace and my lips be guided by Your Word this day, O’ God, and all the days to come.

Now beloved, like I said chronic depression itself is a serious issue which affected 9.3 % of the US population in 2019 according to the Center for Disease Control. These numbers increased in 2020 by 62% over last year’s totals just in the months from January through September. Added to these numbers, we are also seeing increases in seasonal and holiday depression so please if you have any feelings of depression no matter how minor they seem, reach out and let us all be there for you. 

For these feelings of depression are increased by anxiety and isolation. Feelings we have all become too aware of in this last year – grown too used too and become too comfortable with, through the pandemic. For, the more we get used to these feelings the lonelier we feel; but what if we stopped – right now; and changed our perception of the world today – what if for just a few minutes we stepped away from the swirling depression and changed our perception – stopped focusing on the anxiety of the season and the isolation of our Covid world – just for a few moments by breathing out those feelings and witnessing the world in a different light.

Breathe out those feelings that I imagine King David was feeling in our scripture from Second Samuel this week. Feelings of anxiety because he had not provided God with the same understanding of peace from Jewish society. For, peace by Jewish standards at that time seems to be a “rest from enemies” and a “house of cedar” – a place to rest peacefully – a home. Yet, David is conflicted in this passage for he has not provided God a home. Rather, God “stays in a tent.” This understanding of peace for the Jewish society is confirmed by the theologian Bruce Birch who says that the first few verses of this chapter designate that the “(Jewish) kingdom is at peace.” I would also argue that the prophet Nathan’s original acceptance of David’s plan also reveals the society’s understanding that a “house of cedar” is core to being at peace. So, here we begin to witness the anxiety – anxiety that David has yet to fulfill for God society’s perception of peace.  

What we see though is that a “house of cedar” – or a temple – is not what God wanted – not how she understood peace. Not what he had asked for from David. In this conflict I can only imagine that there was anxiety for David. Anxiety in a conflict between how society saw peace and what God understands as peace. How similar is that for us today – we feel anxiety about isolation because society tells us it is good to be with family – a couple – other people, yet – God says you are amazing, and you are never alone. We feel anxiety that things are not the traditional way of society; yet, God says Christmas will come and reveals thousands of ways to celebrate the coming Light through each and every person on earth. We feel anxiety of shopping for the perfect present; yet God says my Son is the present, the grace, the gift to the whole world and all you have to do is accept him into your life. That beloved is the core of our holiday depression – a difference in perceptions of reality – an increase in anxiety and feelings of isolation between the way society or our own beliefs says it should be and the way God reveals it is. Yet, there is Good News in the story of Mary where we witness the perception of divine peace when she sees the world not as society; but accepts the impossibility which God reveals.

This Good News is revealed through the miracle of Mary’s pregnancy from our story of Christ’s birth in the Gospel according to Luke. For, it is told that Mary was a virgin who had not lived with a man and was not yet married. Both of these points reveal a different perception from societal standards or reality for the Jewish culture, a different perception of building a family peacefully in that society. This conflict would, of course, create anxiety for Mary, Joseph and their families. There is even another theory amongst theologians that Mary was not a virgin but simply too young to bear a child like Elizabeth was too old to conceive. And even when we take this understanding – we still must imagine that Mary, Joseph and their families had anxiety for what they ‘knew’ to be true was in conflict with the way God revealed the birth of Jesus. They either had to change their perceptions of what was possible or live-in anxiety over what was happening. The Good News is revealed when Mary accepts the will of God and says, “let it be.” Let it be as it is, beloved, accept the way the world is being revealed – the way we are celebrating Christmas – the isolation we must endure right now – accept and be at peace – let go of the things we cannot make as society has told us – but accept the advent season as it comes. This beloved is the good news of how we let go of anxiety and prepare our heart for the light of peace.

Still this acceptance does not mean we can absolutely do it alone and by no means will this be the only way to alleviate the destructive force of depression. However, it is a step – a way to help shift away from the darkness of holiday depression. Acceptance of the way the world is begins by voicing those conflicts of anxiety – sharing them with someone you trust, with those of us who you know will not judge you. Perhaps through the practice of prayer.

I believe Nathan shows us through prayer that he is able to come to peace over David’s anxieties; Mary definitely finds peace while praying on the anxieties of life; and maybe this practice of prayer – of speaking to God will help each of us find peace when we have anxiety. However, prayer is not simply the Lord’s prayer; it can also be a spiritual practice like walking – engaging with family via phone or even knitting. Anything that will provide you a moment to stop – to step away – and to let go of the anxiety. Anything from reading to singing which will help you let go of the anxiety long enough to hear the will of God and shift perceptions from the way the world should be to the way God is revealing the world. In this movement of perception, beloved, we may each release our anxieties and prepare our hearts for the Light of Peace coming into our lives and into our world. May you take time this week to set aside the anxieties of the way the world should be to see the way the world is through God. So, you may make a place for the Light of peace in your hearts during this blessed advent season. In God’s eternal Peace, we pray. Amen.