The Unlit Candle of Peace

This is a transcript from the December 8, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

Last week Pastor Russ had introduced us to the idea of this new theme for this month and it’s The Unlit Candles of Christmas. Last week was the Candle of Hope as the Advent wreath, and this week is the Candle of Peace, which I joked with him and Nick in our worship planning. Of course, he gave me peace because peace seems this very hard topic to talk about because either it's world peace or what is it? What is peace? It seems this ideal that we always try to attain, but we cannot actually get it. So I got tasked with peace.

We often think of peace this time of year because this is the time of year that it's about joy and peace and happiness and gifts and giving but oftentimes it doesn't feel like a season of peace for us. We're running around and doing all kinds of things. We have all these parties we have to go to, the gifts we have to get, the baking and the cooking. We feel like we're running around 1,000 miles an hour. The more kids you have, that gets amplified by probably times 10 the more things you have to be at. So this does not feel a time of peace.

There is a sense that we got to do all this first in order to obtain the peace at the end, when it's all done, when it's Christmas Day and we don't have anything to do. Except guess what? Christmas Day some of us all have family things to do and different parties to go to. It seems like this unattainable thing that eludes us. For me, I see us trying to manufacture Christmas, trying to manufacture this peace.

Last week Russ talked about how we say things like, "We love Christmas, but--" There's always a but to it. Now, this week I want to say, "It isn't Christmas until [blank]" All of us have this thing that fits into the blank. There's all kinds of stuff, so I have to watch certain movies. But what I want to talk about is eggnog. It's not Christmas until I find the right eggnog. At some point in my childhood, my dad brought home eggnog. I remember it was a yellow container and ever since then I've been searching for that taste of eggnog. Now, I probably have gotten the same eggnog before but you can't recreate those moments. Those moments in time that you keep chasing.

Nostalgia is the most powerful thing of all. But I think I found it this year, by the way. Anyway, besides that point, I think I found it. It tasted just like it. We have that it's not Christmas unless this happens. Then we build this pressure and we try to manufacture this peace or these experiences. We keep chasing that feeling from that one time. We keep chasing that nostalgia. There's pressures of the season and today we light that Advent Candle of Peace, but many of us do not feel very peaceful at all.

One of the things that comes to mind when we talk about peace is war. Often times when there's a time of peace, it means a ceasefire or time we're not in conflict that we agree we will not fight during this time. That peace is temporary, as we all know, from human history. That no matter when peace comes war will inevitably come again. Let's talk more about inner peace today. I think that's the thing that drives almost all of this. Even war, even the chaos that we feel within the holiday season, but it's what's going on inside of us.

I think that's the real problem of peace during this season. That we want to make things so perfect that all that stress and anxiety and everything that's going on inside of us starts to permeate and affect everything else. We're all feeling a bit stressed and behind and not enough. For me, I have a special way of talking about this.because I feel peace doesn't work very well with me. I have generalized anxiety. This is what it feels like when you have anxiety that you start thinking about all the things that could go wrong and will go wrong, in my case, I like to say, but it gets foggy.

You can't focus. I think anxiety for me has shown that I feel like I cannot obtain peace. I know I probably don't look anxious, look calm, I seem calm. This type of anxiety that's on the inside, it's like a hamster wheel going on the inside. The hamster that's running on it non-stop. Anxiety comes in waves and it's completely irrational. It tells you that you have thoughts and fears of-- Maybe for me it comes out in ways of you said something that offended somebody.

Not only just thinking that and worrying about it, but you obsess over it. That you think about for days and days and it just sits there, hamster wheel that keeps going and going. Always worried about what others think of me, how they perceive me, how I present myself, financial ruin. It's called thought looping with anxiety where you think if one thing happens and then you get anxious and think about, "Well, that happened, this could happen. If that happens then we can't afford this or that and also and I'm at the point where like, “I'll never be able to retire.”

The Unlit Candle of Peace - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Which is catastrophic thinking, irrational thinking. Anxiety tells me that you look stupid in a social setting where you'll say something dumb or you'll say something, you'll reveal a secret of somebody's that you weren't supposed to or something like that. Anxiety tells me that I'm always an imposter, that I don't actually know what I know. Best of all, my favorite mode of anxiety is being anxious about being anxious. This is the best one of all because this is the one where I've said to my wife plenty of times, "All of a sudden I feel very anxious and I don't know why."

I start getting anxious about that because I'm like, "I don't know why, there's obviously something wrong." Now I'm anxious because there's something wrong, but I don't know what it is. For me, inner peace is hard to come by. Sometimes I wonder if peace is this wonderful made-up thing that we just like to talk about but never really happens. Sometimes I even resent it because I haven't felt it many times in my own life. Maybe you haven't either. I found these Charlie Brown cartoons that are able to give a little bit of glimpse into what anxiety is like.

Sally says, 

The Unlit Candle of Peace - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

The Unlit Candle of Peace - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

For us it's not school for adults, maybe it's something else. That's what anxiety does and in the moments where I have found calm and peace, something pops up. Something rears its head and says, "Not so fast. You don't get peace just yet because this could go wrong or this can go wrong." Maybe you are just finding out you have anxiety. Maybe you didn't realize it but hearing me talk about it, you're like, “oh man.”

I could say don't be anxious about that, but that's not going to help. Maybe some of you are just finding out about it. Maybe some of you have it, maybe some of you it's not so much anxiety, but it's the weight of the season. Maybe you are a patriarch or matriarch of your family and you feel like it's up to you to make the season right and wonderful for all your kids, for all your family. Maybe you cannot wait for Christmas to be over because then you'll have peace. You just want to get through this season. Joy is going to come up and she's going to lead us in a prayer to recognize these anxieties and fears and stresses inside of us.

The Unlit Candle of Peace - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

As we look inward, though, to the war that goes on inside of us during the season, where are the places that you can make peace? Where are the places that you can give to God? Where are the dark places that you're ignoring? What are the things that you're locking inside a cabinet deep into those dark places of your heart and soul? Joy is going to lead us in a prayer of thinking about those things.

Joy: Let's begin by being grateful that Jesus wishes to gift us with peace. Every time we turn a disquieted mind toward the recognition of Jesus' presence, we deepen our trust. With lots of time and lots of practice, trust ripens into peace. Please join me in turning our attention to an experience in prayer. If you wish, you may close your eyes or lower your gaze but let's quiet ourselves by releasing the holding in our bodies of fatigue, the harried hurriedness of the season, the stress of circumstances or uncertainty. Let's take a full breath in and express the breath out with a verbal sigh. [sighs] Lord, help us enter into that peace which consists in having put our lives in your hands.

Lord, we trust you, help our untrust. If you would please repeat and pray these words silently to yourself. Jesus, I believe that you love me. Does it feel any differently to pray: Jesus, I trust that you love me. Jesus, I believe you are with me. Jesus, I trust you are with me. If you would, recall a time, perhaps, the first one that comes to mind, any time of difficulty in your life, big or small. When you were aware of God's presence in it or even in hindsight recognized God's help.

Allow a feeling of gratitude and peace to wash over you. Today, how do you find yourself? Harried, anxious, troubled, afraid? Feel where your body is holding that. What are the disquieting thoughts now that distract you? Turn your attention back toward the healing memory of God's presence and care you experienced a few moments ago. Pause and savor it. One hand of peace, one hand of disquiet, brought together in awareness of Jesus' presence. One more time, breathe in deeply and breathe out with a sigh. [sighs] May a fresh sense of peace wash over you. Lord, help us enter into that peace which consists in having our lives in your hands, for the peace of Christ, Amen.

Pastor Jordan: Let's continue to pray in the way Jesus taught us many, many years ago, with the Lord's prayer. Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not to temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.

Our scripture for today, Russ read it after the Advent wreath was lit. It's from John 14:27. I believe it's in your bulletins. It says this, "Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid." This is in the context of Jesus is talking to his disciples and preparing them for his eventual death and leaving them. There's, obviously, a lot of anxiety around the disciples about, "Hey, you started all this. Why are you checking out now?" Jesus is giving them a way of saying the Holy Spirit's going to come, the Holy Spirit's going to be with you, it's going to give you peace. Do not let your hearts be troubled but I will always be with you.

When I first read this and decided this was going to be my scripture for this week, I was like, "That's nice but my heart's troubled and sometimes I'm afraid." That's pie in the sky type of talk. I think I want to be real because I think not just me but all of us read some things in the Bible or read some things said by Jesus and we're just like, "Tough luck with that." For example, when Jesus says, "Love your enemy," "Good luck." When Jesus says, "Care for the orphan and widow." "Me? Us? We do that?" When he says, "Do not be afraid," I say, "That's a bunch of malarkey." [laughs]

What is this peace Jesus is talking about then? Because it's nice to say, it's nice to read, it gives us a sense of calmness a little bit but what is really peace? In the Bible, there's different kinds of peace that's used in the biblical language. The more the Greek peace is just talking about that ceasefire within war, that there isn't conflict. What the peace Jesus is talking about in this passage goes back to the Hebrew scriptures of Shalom. Shalom is used as a greeting in the Jewish culture. It means a lot of things. It's one of the worst words in the biblical Hebrew language to translate to English because it means like 50 different things.

How are you going to translate that into one word in the English language? The best thing we've come up with is that it means completeness, wholeness. Shalom and wholeness. It's about what the world is supposed to be, what God is working towards, that wholeness, a connectedness, that it was originally intended. That's an idea of what Shalom means. When we think about the moments of peace we have experienced, it's not simply a time of quiet.

I know maybe for parents it might be. But the times of peace and quiet that's just absence of noise. This real peace that Jesus is talking about, the best way I can help us think about it is what are those moments in your life that you have felt everything was right with the world? Maybe it was only a five-second moment, but it felt like eternity, because, not in a bad way, but in a good way, you didn't want it to stop. That it was just this moment, that everything was right with the world. That nothing could happen that moment to ruin it. Maybe for some of you it's like Christmas morning when your kids wake up and run downstairs, and grab their presents and open them and you see the looks on their face.

Maybe for some of you is when your child was born. Maybe it was your wedding day. These moments of Shalom when we're tapping into the wholeness and connectedness of the world. John's message is clear in this text. John is talking about Jesus talking to disciples that the loss of the historical and physical Jesus through his death is not ultimate. In fact, this loss for the disciples grows into an even greater experience of God and communion with God. That's the peace that Jesus is talking about. I've experienced this eternal peace of Christ, those moments. I think the difference between what Jesus is talking about and our ideas of peace is our ideas of peace are temporary, but Jesus's idea of peace is eternal.

It's that thing underneath everything else. It's that constant layer of peace throughout time, throughout history, throughout the cosmos, throughout the world. It's that thing that you can tap into that you cannot manufacture. You stumble upon it, it just happens and you find yourself in it. One of the best ways I can give you advice in this season of all the pressure is to try and tap into that a little bit to let go. To let go of the pressures you have, to let go of the stress, to let go of especially the pressures you put on yourself. Remember that God is still there, whether you get it right, or whether you get the right eggnog or not. Or the perfect gift.

Fred Craddock says the peace of God is the confidence that God is God and neither our gains or our losses are ultimate. That no matter if we win or lose that God is always there. God's presence is always there. With my own generalized anxiety, I've had to think about and work towards, what are some things that help out with that. I'm going to give you a couple of ideas of how to help with maybe your stress or anxiety to gain some inner peace of Christ this season.

The Unlit Candle of Peace - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

First one is focus attention on things you can control. Part of anxiety and stress is thinking about worrying about all the other things happening around you that you actually have no part in. This is why news and the media cycle is so powerful because it gets you upset about things you can't really do anything about. Spend time in nature, or exercise. I know in Colorado, that's a big thing for us. Go out, go for a hike. I wouldn't go for a hike in the snow, whenever it snows, but it's been nice lately. Exercise has helped me ease some of that anxiety.

The Unlit Candle of Peace - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Be true to yourself, because sometimes during the season we put on a mask, we put on a facade. We try to be somebody to impress our parents, impress our family, or impress our friends. Be true to who you are, and who God created you to be and who God is creating you to be now. Do good deeds. I think we do this well. Do something good for somebody else. Giving for us has been an example that. Science has proven the more you do for others, the more happiness and joy that grows inside of you. Do something good for somebody else. One of the most important ones of all is avoid trying to change others.

Some of our anxiety and stress comes out, especially with family at holiday time. Thanksgiving is the big one. We make jokes about it. That one crazy uncle, maybe you're that one crazy uncle or aunt, I don't know, but we get anxious about because we want to change them. That's not our job. That's the Holy Spirit's job, to change somebody. Let go of that. Even sometimes we try to change others without even recognizing it.

We say it all the time here at New Hope that there is nothing you could do to make God love you any more or any less. That's the peace of God, that's the peace of Christ, to know that to stand in that. That's true peace. It won't always fix your anxiety, it won't make the world full of bunnies and unicorns and rainbows, but it's going to give you a place to stand even when you crumble. It's going to give you the tools to face your fears, and even when everything else is washed away, God is still there. But we have to be willing to take those steps. We have to be willing to light the candle.

Russ talked about that last week that we have all these unlit candles in our lives, but we have to be willing to make the choice to light them. We have to be willing to light that candle of peace, to take the steps. I want to say one thing about it, that the church historically sometimes has made this even worse or has been hurtful in this process with anxiety or mental health, that it's okay to seek out help. It's okay to see a therapist. It's okay to take medication. It's okay to talk to a friend about it. Sometimes the church has simply said you just need Jesus and it'll be all better.

I like to browse Twitter, which is not always the best place for my anxiety. But a Christian writer or blogger or somebody had posted, "You don't need therapy, you need Jesus." Then it was nice to see other people reply and say, "Well, then I guess you don't need that pill for your heart disease." You don't need that insulin for your diabetes then, you just need Jesus." The ways we think about mental health are sometimes backwards. I just want to say that sometimes the church has been hurtful in that. I want to say it is okay because all those things work towards good. Medication, therapy, and talking.

As you look towards this season, will you join me in this Advent season in seeking that peace of Christ, finding ways to tap into that. That understanding that there is nothing you can do. Nothing that can happen to you that changes your status with God. Amen.