Art for Week 2
The Way of Peace | “Thou Will Keep Him in Perfect Peace”
Danielle & Jon Rodgers
Cello arrangement with photography Watch at nscbc.org/perfectpeace
Artists Statement: I used to sing Samuel Wesley’s “Thou Will Keep Him in Perfect Peace” with an anglican choir many years ago. It has been a favorite of mine ever since. The lyrics are drawn from Isaiah 26:3, Psalm 139:11, 1 John 1:5, and Psalm 119:175. When reflecting on the theme of “Peace” in relation to our Advent series, this work was top of mind. I decided to arrange it for cello, recording the individual vocal lines on cello and mixing them together. This arrangement is paired with Danielle’s photography with the lyrics spread out similarly to how they’d be sung in the choral arrangement. I encourage you to search for the choral piece online and have a listen, it is very enjoyable.
– Jon Rodgers
The Way of Peace | Be Still (2022)
Oil on Canvas
Painting available at shaunakurihara.com
Artists’ Statement: Peace. The Lord promises us peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Breathe in. Breathe out. Do you feel the peace of the Lord with you today? It is hard to experience the peace that the Lord promises to us and desires for us to have if we don’t allow ourselves the time and the space to actually sit and be still with him. How can we recognize his presence with us if we are always doing; always moving from one thing to another? The reality is that we won’t. Paul tells us in Philippians that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). The Lord desires for us to experience his peace, but how are we to receive it if we do not slow down enough to even notice it? This painting is a reminder to slow down and be still, an invitation to breathe, and a promise of God’s peace. As you spend time with this painting and contemplate the birth of Christ, our Prince of Peace, I would invite you to breathe deeply, be still, and recognize the peaceful presence of Immanuel, God with us.
– Shauna Kurihara
Monday December 5 | The Way of Peace | Luke 10:38-42
Perhaps inspired by Jesus’ teaching about the Good Samaritan (10:25-37), Martha is a disciple who expresses her devotion through hospitality. Jesus can see that Martha’s intentions are good but her heart is anxious. She is not experiencing peace. How can he tell? She makes the signature move of an anxious person: she reaches for control.
As a doer and a perfectionist, I relate to Martha. Before I had children, I loved spending a December weekend baking cookies to share with friends and family. Our neighborhood is full of generous people, and I reciprocated their care by sharing homemade treats. But each year, as our family grew, baking lost some of its joy. It became another stressful box I needed to check. I found myself dropping a tray of cookies by my neighbors’ mailbox between errands. Like Martha, my intentions were good, but I was distracted and my heart was not at peace. Like Martha, I needed Jesus to invite me into a new way of being.
The invitation came the year I was pregnant with my third child. I was exhausted. While it felt like a concession, I decided to forego baking and buy Trader Joe’s cookies instead. It seemed like all I had to offer as I carved out a Sunday afternoon to deliver the cookies and wish my neighbors a Merry Christmas. My first stop was a neighbor with whom we are close. As we talked about our holiday plans, they offered to babysit so I could walk the neighborhood kid-free. I gladly obliged. At the next house, my neighbors were hosting a belated Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebration. They insisted I come in for potato latkes and stories about their daughter’s travels. An hour later, with a full belly, I moved on to the next neighbor who immediately invited me to admire their kitchen renovations and hear updates on their grown children. My final stop was a neighbor I knew the least well. She invited me in for tea and put slippers on my feet. Our husbands joined and discussed their love for music, travel, and golf. We traded holiday traditions and stories from our shared careers in nursing. Several hours later, I had delivered only four boxes but experienced several meaningful conversations.
Like Martha, I felt Jesus inviting me into a new way of being at peace with myself and my neighbors. While service is valuable, the cookies were not all that I had to offer. Rather, it was my availability that made it possible for me to experience the life that God had for me—and I experienced it through the hospitality of my neighbors.
When Martha reaches for control, Jesus responds with such sweet words: “Martha, Martha…” He gently defends Mary’s right to sit at his feet and invites Martha into a new way of serving—not anxious and troubled, but at peace. I recently heard the author Shannan Martin describe hospitality as “asking for what we need and offering what we have.” Reflect on this statement. Can you see how this approach offers a greater peace?
Finally, spend some time prayerfully reviewing your holiday to-do list. You have permission to re-order your list. You are free even to cross-off good things if they leave you anxious and without margin. Add or adapt your activities so that they contribute to the peace and fullness of your neighborhood, extended family, or workplace. May this reorientation help you to truly celebrate Advent—God with us. As Jesus reassured Martha, it is possible to choose what is better.
Wednesday December 7 | The Way of Peace | John 14:25-31
Every advent season I reflect on the words of New England poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. During the American Civil War Longfellow was struck by repeated tragedy. His wife died after her dress caught on fire while she worked on her daughters’ hair in 1961. Two years later, against Longfellow’s wishes, his teenage son Charley enlisted in the Union army. Weeks before Christmas 1864 Charley was shot through the back. After rushing to Washington DC, Longfellow returned to Boston with his severely wounded son. On Christmas day he poured both joy and grief into his poem “Christmas Bells.”
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; ‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’
I’m often struck by Paul’s description of the “peace of God” in Philippians as a peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). The peace of God, perfectly represented in the birth of its Prince on Christmas, cannot be found by simply examining the state of reality. How can there be peace in the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the state of violent turmoil which has once again seized Afghanistan? How can there be peace in a world cursed by poverty, starvation, pandemic, and human trafficking? How could there be peace as Mary and Joseph fled from the infanticide of Herod’s soldiers?
Certainly, as he looked around at his fractured nation and at the bullet wound on his son’s back, Longfellow had little reason to feel the peace proclaimed on this holiday. The war, death, and tears that consumed his world seemed to taunt the very idea of celebrating peace. And yet, the bells still rang in 1864 as they had rung year after year, and despite his despair Longfellow declared:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Such a confounding peace, which endures the death and injury of loved ones, which rings out even as brother fights against brother, must come from a deeper and truer source than external circumstances. This is the kind of peace Christ offered when his people and disciples expected a conqueror who would drive out the Roman Empire. While speaking of his eventual departure in the Gospel of John, Christ tells his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Praise the Lord for giving us this peace instead of a temporary, worldly comfort. Christ continues, “I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:30-31). Even the evil of Satan himself can only serve to highlight the source of our ultimate peace: the love of Christ and the will of the Father.
Jesus exhibited this very peace as he anticipated his own torture and death. In Gethsemane, even while he fell on his face and pleaded for another way, Jesus saw beyond the immediate bleakness, praying “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). Christ knew that beyond the pain and suffering of his body, his people, and his world, there was an ultimate, indestructible hope. Like a bell that rings more deeply than a canon, the inexplicable peace of Christ defies the mockery of sin and death and renders them utterly powerless.
Friday December 9 | The Way of Peace | Luke 4:16-28
When we hear about peace at Christmas we often think of inner peace—a sense of serenity or absence of anxiety. And yet the peace promised in Isaiah 61 is not an individualistic peace. The Messiah mediates peace among peoples. Fittingly, when Jesus gave the first sermon to his home synagogue in Nazareth, he preached from this passage, promising “good news to the poor” and “liberty to the captives.” He then closed the scroll, while “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” They were fixed no doubt because he stopped reading in the middle of Isaiah’s sentence and left out a cherished line regarding, “the day of the vengeance of our God.”
Jesus proclaimed the Lord’s favor, but in much of Judea war drums were beating. In the Jewish community, many resented Roman rule and longed for independence. Others profited from Roman rule and resented those that threatened this. Multiple factions vied over Jewish identity. If a messiah were to come, he had best side with the “right” faction and make war on the rest. Given this context, it is not surprising that some rejected Jesus’ identification with peace and the Lord’s favor, declaring him a false prophet and even trying to throw him off a cliff, which was the fate designated to such. To preach peace is the ultimate offense to those who profit from conflict. Yet Jesus, being the true Messiah, attested to his sonship by miraculously walking through the mob like they weren’t even there.
Still today, as we begin Advent, the drums of war beat across television screens, social media feeds, in tense family conversations, and in many corners of public life. The wars are sometimes political, sometimes cultural, and sometimes economic, but always we are called to fight, for only the victor will enjoy the day of vengeance. Some pastors and even seminary presidents have spoken about how the days of gospel winsomeness are over, and that now is the time for Christians to fight to secure their vision for the world. When we are tempted to heed these voices, we would do well to remember that the fighters of Jesus’ day by-and-large were not the ones who became his followers. Jesus offended his hometown hearers the most when he warned them that in Elijah’s day, it was gentiles and widows who experienced God’s favor while much of Israel experienced God’s judgment. Those with no battle to fight were the ones to both experience and bring the Lord’s favor.
In a way, Jesus anticipated his own ministry in this inaugural sermon. During his ministry the poor would be helped, many lepers and those with other ailments would be cured, demons would be cast out, and women, children, and minorities became his followers. Wherever he went, he brought peace and the Lord’s favor, and many came to know and love God. Sadly, the fighters lacked interest in this as it did not enhance their vision of the world. Rather than be moved by the great works God was doing, they hard-heartedly attributed them to the devil.
Jesus was a peacemaker. He calls his followers not to war but to make peace insomuch as we can. Not everyone rallied behind Jesus’ message and not everyone will be dissuaded from war by our own peacemaking efforts. Jesus persisted in this mission nonetheless, and so should we.
When conflicts arise (even today), whether in our church, in our families, in our workplaces, or in public life, pay attention to your response and to how we collectively respond.
● Do we rush to take a side or do we turn away wrath with a gentle answer?
● Are we quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry?
● Do our tongues and keyboards burn like a fire or do they speak words that are good for
edification, according to the need of the moment, speaking grace to those who hear?
● Are we driven by so-called righteous indignation or controlled by the love of Christ?
This Advent season, consider Jesus’ invitation to the way of peace. This is an invitation not to simply feel peace, but to “live at peace with everyone.” (Rom 12:18) Consider asking this list of questions regularly when you encounter conflict. The list is drawn from Proverbs (15:1) and the letters to the early Church (James 1:19 and 3:6, Eph 4:29, 2 Cor 5:14). Remember they were given not simply to individuals but to guide the peacemaking efforts of the Church. Return to the gospels and meditate all the more on the actions of Christ who brought peace. The day of the Lord’s vengeance will come someday and on that day it will be the peacemakers who will be called “sons of God.” (Matt 5:9)