Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

Here’s the link to the YouTube video of this week’s worship service. The beautiful flowers on our communion table were given to us by the Bondy family after the funeral, and celebration of the life of Mr. James “Jim” Bondy. Our prayers are with his family, and friends, and all others living with grief and loss.

Here is the text of the Learning Time for this week: Making Peace with Joseph:

My wife, Lexie and I practice yoga every morning, stretched out on mats in front of a YouTube video. We used to go to the gym, but gave that up with COVID.  Whether in person, or on the flat screen, at the end of the session the cheery, energetic, and flexible instructor brings their hands to their heart chakra, and says “Namaste”.

Namaste can mean “hello”, or “goodbye”, or “peace be with you”, or “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you”. It’s kind of a greeting, or a salute, or a blessing, or a prayer, or wish, or maybe parts of all of those rolled into one. It reminds me of “Aloha”, or “Shalom” other words with multiple levels of meaning.

Shalom is related to our Advent word for this week, Peace. Shalom comes from Ancient Hebrew, a language in which words are built on roots of consonant sounds. The letters for the Sh sound, the L sound, and the M sound form the root for a family of related words.

When Ancient Hebrew was written down, they did not fill in vowels, just the consonants, so in the Bible, where the root word in the text is Sh L M, the meaning of the word, and how to say it, is interpreted, based on the context, with a range of possible shades of meaning.

Shalom means “well-being or peace”. Hishtalem means “it was worth it.” Shulam means “it was paid for”, Mushalam means it’s “perfect.” Shalem means “whole”.

When I wish you Shalom, I can be wishing you many things, all at once: wholeness, and security, and well-being, and happiness, and freedom from worries about debts, or obligations. We lose some of that rich texture with our English word “peace”, the meaning of which is often reduced to calmness, or quiet, or the absence of conflict.

I am all in favour of quiet calm. I have visited a few places in the world, and in our own country, that remind me that to live in relative peace, without the daily threat of violence is not to be taken for granted.

This Sunday, December 6, was the 30th anniversary of the murder of 14 young women at L’Ecole Polytechnique, often called the Montreal Massacre. This horrific gender-based hate crime stands as a reminder that even though many of us live in relative peace, there is much work, and growth, and healing needed before there is real peace for all.

Actual peace, or more richly said, shalom, takes a lot of work. People need to cooperate, share resources, act to promote and protect the well being of others. They must consider the common good when decisions are made.

When the yoga teacher says “Namaste”, it often feels sincere, because we have just spent our time on the mat, doing work that contributes to well-being. We are actually building peace, and helping folks get along better. It’s hard to be in a bad mood after yoga.

In the Letter from James it says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, it someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. if one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

With the pandemic, and the economic downturn, many people are facing hard times. I am glad our church is involved not just in this season, but year round, collecting food and other essentials for familiies in need. I am grateful to all who are helping us fill our quota of stove top stuffing and canned corn for the turkey hampers. When we help to feed others, we are making peace.

We are headed towards our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Because of decades of Christmas pageants, we have our memories of the innkeeper, who depending on the script, is played either a bit mean, and says, “no, there is no room for you,” or kind-hearted, and says, “you can take shelter with the animals”. Either way, the innkeeper is a good part. They only have one line, and it moves the action along.

I can’t remember if I have said this here before- there actually is no innkeeper in the Bible story. All the Gospel of Luke tells us is there was no room for Mary and Joseph. Somewhere along the line, a director added the character, maybe to create another speaking part. Which happens, because let’s face it, not everybody can be Mary or Joseph.

Speaking of Joseph, if I asked you, what was his profession of Joseph, what would you say?

Please, please don’t say inn-keeper!

Tradition says Joseph was a carpenter. That’s based on two places in the New Testament where Jesus is called the son of a “tekton”. (It is related to our word technician.) Tekton was a common term for artisan, craftsperson, or woodworker, but also stone-mason, builder, or someone who worked with metal. The word tekton has been found in writings from that period about a shortage of skilled artisans. This could suggest Joseph was a learned person, who taught his craft to others.

Even if he wasn’t, strictly speaking, a carpenter, I am drawn to the idea that Joseph worked with his hands, and showed others how to make things. Near the beginning of our service we watched an animated video on the Advent theme of Peace. It presented Peace as being like a tree that provides a place for animals to find shelter, and birds to build their nests. Shalom is wholeness, and safety, and security, and access to what we need to live and thrive.

Making peace is hard work. Peace is like a bird’s nest, safely tucked in the branches of a tree. It does not make itself, and isn’t achieved simply by wishing and hoping.

I like the idea that Jesus could have spent his early years around someone who taught others to use their craft to make things. That’s not that different from what Jesus grew up to do- to teach his students, his disciples, how to build something good- a faithful community of people who saw it as their mission to follow the Jesus way, to love people, especially those in need, in God’s name.

That’s essentially what we are about as a church- we encourage others, and show them what we have learned, about how to build good things. We use our hands, our hearts, our voices, our creativity, our passion, our courage, our generosity, our talents, to make peace in God’s world. Amen

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