December 8th will be the second Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Peace. As we light two candles on our Advent wreath, we will give thanks for God’s gifts of Hope and Peace.
It would be understandable if someone in the congregation raised a hand to ask the obvious question, “What peace are we celebrating? Where do you see peace in our world today?”
Certainly not in New Orleans, where 10 people were shot this week.
Not in Hong Kong where rioters demand free speech and increased self-determination.
Not in too many homes where incidences of domestic violence are on the rise.
Addiction, racism, prejudice, misogyny, and bullying are all forms of violence which are prevalent in our society and across the globe.
It is enough to make one hesitate about lighting a candle of Peace.
As I pondered these troubling truths, I came across this beautiful prayer:
God of life,
Every act of violence in our world, between myself and another destroys a part of your creation.
Stir in my heart a renewed sense of reverence for all life.
Give me the vision to recognize your spirit in every human being, however they behave towards me.
Make possible the impossible by cultivating in me the fertile seed of healing love.
May I play my part in breaking the cycle of violence by realizing that peace begins with me.
The painful honesty of this prayer touched me. Then I discovered that this prayer had been written in the 7th century. It was oddly reassuring to me to be reminded that people of faith have prayed for peace across the centuries and through great tribulation. They have offered themselves up, as Saint Francis did, as instruments of God’s peace and asked to be used as messengers of God’s vision for our world.
This prayer was written by Saint Ethelburga who, I learned, was the founder and abbess of a double monastery (a monastery that housed both men and women) in England. The abbey existed for 900 years until it was destroyed (ironically) by the violence of King Henry VIII who oversaw the disillusion of all the monasteries and abbeys in England, Wales, and Ireland.
Yet despite the efforts of a powerful king, this eloquent prayer has survived. On the second Sunday of Advent we will join our prayers with hers as we celebrate the Sunday of Peace. The Season of Advent does not celebrate accomplishments but rather voices God’s intention for God’s people.
God desires that we live in peace.
God desires that we treat one another with kindness and respect.
God desires justice and equality for all of God’s people.
So on Sunday we will light our candle of peace and together with Saint Ethelburga remember that peace begins with each one of us.