Sunday, December 9, 2012

Peace Not Possible

Zechariah was old, and Elizabeth was old. 
This is another one of those impossible stories, where God comes through barren wombs and to people who had long given up expecting it.  
Elizabeth bore this secret for five months and shared it with Mary when she visited in her six month and the baby John leapt in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice.  
And Zechariah was struck completely dumb for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy because he had outright questioned the angel when the news was announced to him.  How can this be?  This thing you say is coming, is not possible. 
But here it is.  The time has now come. The baby is arriving.

And Zechariah has had a long, quiet nine months to ponder these things, an enforced peace if you will, with plenty of space for internal dialogue and personal thought and prayer. 
What does all of this mean? could have been his constant companion.

If hope is somehow trusting in the promise that wrongs will be made right, that life will be as it was meant to be, that wholeness and harmony will be restored, then peace is what we hope for. Peace is things as they were meant to be. 
Peace is harmony and wholeness, instead of division and striving.  
It is right relationship with God and one another – the whole world and all its inhabitants is connection, interdependence, fully and trustingly living out their authentic purpose alongside all else doing the same. 
Hope points us to God’s future. Peace IS God’s future.
Hope is what propels us forward; Peace is where we arrive.  
Hope is maybe temporary, maybe a vehicle from here to there, maybe what gets us there but then is no longer needed when the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness.  
Peace is the kingdom of God in all its fullness.

This baby gave Zechariah hope. 
It gave him the vision to see the future that God was calling him, calling the world, into.  It woke up what was dead in him, and called forth his own participation in that which he had so longed for but knew was impossible. Knew could never be.  Both for him and his wife, but also for the whole of Israel and all of creation.

How can this be, since we are both old and my wife is barren? 
How can this be, since I am a virgin?
How can this be? This cannot be.  It is not possible. 
But Peace does not come from what is possible. 
It is not produced from our own virility, or created from our own capacity to plan it or earn it or work hard enough to manufacture it. 
Peace comes from God, maker of heaven and earth, who designed the whole thing and knows how it works. Who made us for relationship with God and each other and knows what that should be like.  Who balanced the seas and the mountains, the insects and birds, species of all creatures who live in woods and desserts, glacial ice caps and tropical rainforests, who knows how much oxygen and carbon dioxide and minerals and particles and mysteries infinitely great and infinitely small are the right amount for equilibrium, and wove them all and us too into one another in everything’s uniqueness and brilliance and inter-reliance, and who holds it all - the whys and hows we haven’t even gotten around to asking yet in this vast world that we could never ever capture the whole of and also the beating of one tiny human heart and soul cradled in your arms and breaking you open with love – peace is all of this in God, and God, in all of this, working in harmony and joy. 

We do not make peace. 
But boy, can we recognize it. 
We know what it tastes and smells like. 
We know what it feels like deep inside of us, or in between you and me. 

And if we can recognize it, we can also celebrate it.  
We can talk about what we see and lift up what we feel and let it give us hope, and others hope as well.  And if we can celebrate it, we can look for it more, in all the nooks and crannies of our own lives, the surprising places peace might hunker and bloom in our neighborhoods and communities and woah, maybe in our institutions, even, and places of power, perhaps, even there, here and there, in small resilient streaks. 

And when we start looking for it, we might start stepping into it, a little at a time, and seeing what living in more peace might feel like.  What would it feel like to rest when we’re tired? To reach out to someone instead of letting conflict fester and grow? What would it be like to speak up for someone else, not even for your sake, but for theirs, or because it’s begun to dawn on you that theirs and yours are not maybe as real of distinctions as you once thought them to be? What would it look like to forgive and let go of some hurt or anger, even if it was justified and you were in the right?  Or to put everything down and shut everything off and find stillness, real and quiet stillness, where you can see stars and feel gentle wind on your cheeks? 

And if we can step into it here and there, we can begin to practice letting it live in us, this peace of God, and even guide us a little bit.  Maybe stopping us now and then before we speak, or prompting us in unexpected ways to do something, say something, give something, expecting nothing in return. 

Maybe helping us even take who we are as a gift, in ourselves and for the world, and watch love begin to be set free a bit more within us where gratitude and joy and generosity swirl together in sometimes indistinguishable output and we find ourselves, even for a moment, embracing others and ourselves as children of God, precious and holy.

And if we can begin to practice letting God’s peace live in us, it might make us begin dreaming.  It might awaken that hope thing we’ve talked about, that trust that there is more –more harmony, more chances for people to be fully, wholly human and completely loved and forgiven and fed and connected and needed, more peace.  And we might begin to live as the people of God-  the dreamers and the prophets, the hope shouters and justice seekers and peace lovers and people who seem utterly crazy and disconnected from reality, only somehow more deeply and profoundly aware of reality than the rest of us, because they live from the impossible that is also coming.

This – I wonder, if this is part of what Zechariah had a chance to ponder during his nine months of silence, as he watched is old wife’s belly swell.  
He might have started somehow trusting hope, and believing that peace is real. 
And that it’s coming.  And that he was part of it. 

And when that little baby arrived, that impossible baby, and he held that impossible little baby in his old and wrinkled hands, there was not a doubt in his mind, and his mouth was opened when he said, His name is John - his name is “God is gracious.  God is merciful, God gives us more than we could ever even know to long for”- that is his name. 

Look at this child! he sang, sang out!, to his neighbors and friends. Look at how God’s promise to our ancestors is coming to fruition, we are part of it! I am holding it.  Oh yes, it is coming! There is no doubt that God’s salvation of us all is coming.  
And for a moment, not a person in the room could doubt it either.

And then he turned and looked into the brand new blurry eyes of this utterly impossible child in his first minutes on this earth and he said,
 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people
 by the forgiveness of their sins.
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 in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’


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