At the end of the letter I sent out to readers a few weeks ago (you can sign up to get those letters right here), I asked this question: Over the next four weeks, what do you feel like you need more than anything?
No one said they need stocking stuffer ideas for their teen girls.
No one said they need inspiration for their dining room table setting.
Of course, those things are lovely and fun and may even be good.
It struck me, though, that no one said they needed a bigger, better, more efficient, more impressive, more established anything.
When I asked you what you needed during the Advent season more than anything else, the answer was unanimous.
Oh, it was packaged differently. Some said they long for connection and clarity in the midst of difficult family relationships.
Others said they craved a quiet space and a slower pace.
In all the answers I received to that question, I saw the threads of longing for peace woven within the words.
Now those four weeks of Advent have turned into two and the pain and beauty of this season of waiting is in full swing.
In the midst of Advent, what do you feel like you need more than anything?
When I think of the opposite of peace my mind goes far in the other direction. Because the truth is, the brightest light of peace can morph into dark shadows of tragedy. And it happens in a second.
The thing about tragedy is we don’t get any warnings. It’s disruptive and destructive to peace.
Loss is always filled with sorrow, but we usually reserve “tragic” for something sudden, shocking, and unexpected.
When terrible things happen to us or those we love, we don’t have the benefit of hearing a dissonant musical score to warn us of what’s to come, to signal our hands to cover our eyes, to prepare the delicate soul for impact.
We just drive to the movies like we planned and then we get the phone call. We’ve not picked up on any clues along the way because there weren’t any. There is no rising tension. There is only normal life and then a ringing phone.
That’s the extent of foreshadow. A ringing phone.
Now, a year later, every time you drive by that certain spot where you were when you got that phone call, you’ll remember.
You’ll remember the garland and lights in the shop window in front of you, you’ll remember the look your husband gave you when you put your hand over your mouth, you’ll remember how he turned the car into the parking space next to Jason’s Deli.
But what you won’t remember is what it was like before the phone call. You’ll try to grasp for those normal moments, but now they’re gone.
In the midst of tragedy, what do you feel like you need more than anything?
Words from Isaiah keep coming back to me this week, the ones about predator and prey living peacefully together; the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling, and a little child will lead them.
I can’t imagine it, can you?
But the idea of one day, this kind of peace happening in nature gives me hope.
Because right now, the kingdom of earth is rife with suffering and conflict. We see it in Syria and Iraq. We see it on our college campuses and inside the walls of our churches. We see it around our dinner tables and in the quiet places of our own hearts.
Sometimes it comes looking like the shocked face of a tragedy and other times it just looks like low-grade anxiety of a Tuesday. But the disruption of peace always seems to come in one way or another.
And yet, Isaiah 11 says there will come a day when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
While tragedy erupts unwelcome into our lives without warning or invitation, hope for peace leaves hints and signs and evidence along the way.
God gives a hopeful vision for the future before it comes to be.
Abraham was told to leave without knowing where he was going. But God pointed to the stars in the heavens and promised so shall your offspring be.
Moses led the people out of Egypt without sure next steps, only knowing the final one-day destination would be the Promised Land.
Mary was promised a Son without the sure proof of a sonogram, the sound of a heartbeat, or a thick, colorful book of what to expect.
The earth was rife with suffering then as it is now. And yet.
“He did not wait till the world was ready, till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release.”
Madeleine L’Engle, First Coming
In Luke 17 the Pharisees asked when the Kingdom of God would come and Jesus said it’s already here.
“The kingdom of God is in your midst,” He said. It’s among you, within you.
They missed it because they were looking for the wrong signs.
They were looking for a king to sit on a throne, but God sent a baby to lay in a manger.
They were looking for warrior with a weapon, but God sent a son to a cross.
They were looking for power, but God sent humility.
God sent Peace to live among us and now, He lives within us. Yet we look around us and see evidence of struggle and we say there is no peace to be found.
Maybe we, too, are looking for the wrong signs.
While the kingdom of earth struggles and moans, the kingdom of heaven grows even in the darkness. It expands, it moves into the pain of the world not from somewhere out there but from the secret place within us.
Peace came to earth, to live among us and now, He lives within us.
How might He want to be born in us again today?
It’s the curious paradox of humanity, that we long for peace to come even as we believe Peace has come already.
We embrace the Prince of Peace who lives within us even as we look for ways to offer his peace to others.
We wait in the darkness, holding on to the promise, believing in the hopeful vision God gave.
We believe the vision of the promise fulfilled not because it seems possible, but because God is the one who gave it.
Most of you answered that question – what do you need more than anything during Advent? – from the perspective of an everyday traveler, moving toward Christmas, and not wanting to miss it.
Some carry long to-do lists and growing expectations.
Some carry painful anniversaries.
Some carry heavy burdens of loss.
Still others carry the joy of firsts – the baby! the marriage! the hope!
As we anticipate Christmas again this year, may we allow whatever we carry to rise up to the surface, whether it be grief, indifference, joy, disappointment, heartbreak, courage, or love.
As we acknowledge the colorful mix of our own humanity, may we offer it all to Jesus, joining one another in preparing Him room.
May His peace be your kind companion. You are never alone.
In my last letter from the bench for 2016, I will share the main enemy to my personal peace, especially when it comes to my everyday life. I hope it’s encouraging to you in this Advent season.
If you’re already on my newsletter list, you’re all set to receive it by the end of the week. If you would like to receive this monthly letter, including my list of 5 Practical Ways I’m Embracing Peace as well as my current reads, quiet perspective, and a little more intentional help to create space for your soul, join the list right here.