Philippians 4:4-9 (Common English Bible)
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.
“From Hope to Peace And All the Gunk In-Between.” That’s the title of today’s Message. And I think it’s especially significant today considering the times we’re living through. I mean, we often talk about Advent in terms of a journey, right? And I was reminded this week to remember to “stop and smell the roses” along the way. I was reminded to remember to look for the Sacred in each moment.
Now, this reminder got me to thinking about something I read a couple of years ago. In her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott helps us to think about living in the moment. Lamott writes: “Every time we choose the good action or response, the descent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope.” She goes on to say, “We live stitch by stitch, when were lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or is unraveling, but if it was precise, we’d pretend that life is just fine and running like a Swiss watch. This is not helpful if on the inside our understanding is that life is more often the cuckoo clock with rusty gears.”[i]What a profound statement! I mean, in this time of pandemic when everything around us seems to be upside/down, I think we tend to “fixate on the big picture.” And please don’t misunderstand me. There is a time and a place to consider the big picture. Believe me, I’m a big picture kind of person. But in times like these it’s so important to live, as Anne Lamott suggests, “stitch by stitch.” We must pause and examine each stitch because each stitch, each encounter with another person, each moment spent listening, really listening to the sounds of nature, contains a bit of God; a spark of the divine as it were. You see, Advent is a time when we must live the life God has given us right now. We must refuse to live yesterday over and over again and resist the temptation to save our best selves for tomorrow. Do not put off living the kind of life your meant to live. Live in the moment. Which leads us to an even deeper place. A place where we finally discover that living in the moment can bring peace.
What do I mean? Well, consider the hope we encountered last week, the anticipation of Advent, which, in the order of things, gives way this week to the peace of Christ, a peace that Paul says, “exceeds all understanding.” Why? Well, hope is a precursor to peace, but we all know that the transition isn’t always smooth. There can be a lot of “gunk” in-between.
So, I think, the question becomes: “How do we wade through all of the gunk in order to discover this sense of peace?” Well, just the other day, when speaking about the abnormal-ness of our new normal, I used the example of making lemonade out of life’s lemons. Now, this is an expression we’ve all heard a thousand times. It’s glib, it’s pedestrian, I know. But it’s also appropriate in these difficult days. I mean, how many more lemons can 2020 give us? How much can we take? That’s, of course, the lemon part. However, the lemonade part of this example might surprise you. The lemonade, as I see it, boils down to a single word: opportunity. Yes, we will miss our traditions. And yes, we will miss our family gatherings and seeing our kids and grandkids in person. But once the dust has settled on these realities, what opportunities for lemonade do these lemons provide?
Well, I can think of a couple. First, reflection. Amid the busyness, the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas, we sometimes forget the meaning of it all. We sometimes forget that the Christ-child is so much more than a ceramic figurine in our Nativity set. We sometimes forget that the incarnation forever changed the world and forever change the way humanity viewed itself in relation to the Sacred.
Reflection on the true meaning of Christmas is the first thing and the second is related to it and ties back into this idea of living in the moment. You see, this change in ritual and routine affords us the opportunity to really contemplate and then implement those “higher ideals” that Paul shared. In our text for today, Paul said, “if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on those things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” Perhaps one of our pitchers of lemonade this Christmas Season could be a “refocusing” on any one of these values. Values, that while offered here in a very broad sense, could be narrowed down, by each of us, and applied to a specific event or segment of our journey. Values that could be lived-out in the moment, stitch by stitch, in ways that are as unique as each of you are unique people of God. Which, Paul says, will invite “…the God of peace to be with you.”
So, here we go. The journey continues as we move through all the gunk seeking solace, seeking that “solemn stillness”. But, our journey doesn’t end here. Next week, on the third Sunday of Advent we will consider the place of love in all this. So, until then, may your journey be smooth, may you and your family and your friends and your neighbors, be healthy and safe, and may the Peace of Christ, a peace that exceeds all understanding, indwell your spirit and enliven your soul. Amen, and the people of God said, “Amen.”
[i] Anne Lamott Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair (Riverhead Books, 2013)