Peace that transcends all understanding
Assembly National Consultant Rev Kath Behan offers the second of four Advent reflections
December 4, 2023
By Rev Kath Behan, Assembly National Consultant
Peace is not the sort of word that is at home in our world, especially right now. It is a word that our world struggles to understand, because we are surrounded by busy-ness, deadlines, wars and conflicts, suffering and pain. Peace in many ways seems futile.
"In this place where all is stripped away, you are most able to be at peace, held in the loving arms of the one whose peace transcends all understanding."
How do you stop feeling anxious when you see the constant news footage day after day of people’s homes destroyed by bombs, and children lying in bloody messes on dirty make-shift hospital beds? Or how do you begin to speak of peace when you reach the moment in which the one you have loved for over 50 years doesn’t even know you anymore? Or how do you find peace when you’ve lost your job and you’re struggling with the impact of your mental health on your closest relationships?
These are very real and honest questions that are often only ever voiced in times of crisis, when we are forced to come face-to-face with what we believe about life. And yet, it is the wrestle with these very questions, the realization and acceptance that life is fragile and at times beyond our comprehension, that ultimately brings life and possibility to us.
When the prophet Isaiah speaks to the Hebrew people with the words, ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God’, this reflects the different understanding of suffering that the people had. For the Hebrew people, suffering was a discipline of love because it was a witness to, and reminder of, God’s commitment to faithfulness.
Every time the Hebrew people were exiled or suffered under the oppression of a foreign ruler, they cried out to God, and God was faithful to them, freeing them and restoring them to new life. Though these seasons of suffering were long, each time their stories of suffering were remembered, it was also God’s steadfast faithfulness that was remembered as the fulfillment to their stories.
What was more important to the Hebrew people was not when God would be faithful, but that God would be faithful. In their waiting for God to restore them, in their crying out to God, their dependence on God grew.
When you have nothing left but to trust in God’s faithfulness, when everything else has been stripped away from you, when it seems all hope is lost and your last hope is in God, you are at the point of deepest humility. In this place where all is stripped away, you are most able to be at peace, held in the loving arms of the one whose peace transcends all understanding.
And so, the peace that Christ offers is far from being a frivolous attitude of positive thinking that seeks to deny our present situation. Rather, seeking the peace of Christ is an abiding intention to lean deeper into what is before us, trusting that there is more to life than what we are seeing.
For those who put their faith in God, seeking peace is an imperative, not an option. It is the seeking itself that grounds and centres us in God’s grander story of hope that is beyond even the darkest and most chaotic of times.
May this Advent season cause us to seek peace again with all our heart, mind, body and spirit, that we would come to know Emmanuel–God-with-us, deep in our souls, despite what the world around us might try to tell us.
God of peace,
we lift our heads this day toward the warmth of the sun.
For where there is light, there is hope.
And where there is hope, there is the possibility of joy.
And where there is the possibility of joy, there is peace.
And it is a peace that passes all understanding,
despite the chaos, despite the tyranny,
despite the darkness that can threaten to overwhelm us.
So engulf us in your light, God of hope.
Embrace us with your warmth, God of joy.
Encircle us with your calm, God of peace.
Not that we would live a complacent and apathetic life.
And not that we would ignore what is going on around us.
But only that we would find ourselves renewed
and reminded of the source of life,
in which we live and move and have our being.
For Yours is the kingdom, the way of grace;
Yours is the power, the way of vulnerability;
and Yours is the glory, the way of humility,
forever and ever.