Updated on December 13, 2017
When peace comes like a snowstorm
We will be talking about it for years to come. The snowstorm that blew into the South on only the second week of Advent. The storm that no one saw coming. It fell from the sky in huge downy flakes and coated our Christmas lights and holly wreaths like postcard pictures. And it screeched the hustle and bustle of our holidays to a complete halt. Because this is the South. And we don’t do snow.
I believe you could hear the delightful squeals of our southern school children all the way up to our northern borders. No one thought it would amount to much. But then the white fluffy flakes wouldn’t stop falling. It was delightful and magical; a feast for our weary eyes as the peace seemed to fall noiselessly from the sky and coat our chaos.
That is until it just kept coming, heavy and wet. The trees and power lines bent with the weight of it all and soon the slick and the cold began to win as the power went out and the roads became ice rinks.
The beautiful and the dangerous mingled into the late hours of the night. No one was prepared. Bread and milk still lined the shelves of the stores as people huddled around fireplaces and abandoned their cars.
It was lovely. But it was also fierce.
And so on the second Sunday of Advent, walking to worship requires some work. We shovel the snow out of the church parking lot and scatter the salt to make a way into the sanctuary. We come cold and hungry, tired and amazed. Gripping the warmth of our coffee cups and standing close around the wreath of candles.
The Sunday of peace, and all the world seems to be blanketed in this snow-covered wonder that came when no one was looking.
And it feels a bit wrong to light this candle of peace. The world is not at peace; our own city is not peaceful. There are people without heat and wiry pine trees still popping and cracking under the weight of all the snow. And yet, the candles flicker up there on the altar.
Peace and Hope.
The weary world spins on, upended by a darkness it cannot seem to overcome. Wars rage, poverty spreads, storms threaten and fires blaze.
Yet, here we stand. Heads bowed. Peace and Hope casting their light into our snow-covered morning.
“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; goodwill to men” (Longfellow).
I watch the flames dance atop those candles and it is the words to Henry Longfellow’s poem about The Bells on Christmas Day that run through my mind. He writes about how the bells keep ringing and he despairs that all is wrong with the world. Why ring the bells? They fix nothing; they do no good. The lighting of these peace and hope candles will not end all that is wrong with our world. They barely cast a shadow into an ever-growing darkness. And only a handful of us has braved the elements to worship in the early morning light of this snow-covered Sunday of Peace.
And I wonder if it matters. This worship? These candles?
“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” (Longfellow).
The more Longfellow listens to the bells; the more he gets it. The peace doesn’t come from us. The ringing bells and the flaming candles don’t bring the peace. And we need to know that. Peace isn’t ours to create any more than snow is ours to make fall.
We don’t have all the answers. But. We ring the bells and light the candles to proclaim that the One with all the answers is still in charge. We do it in protest. The darkness will not win. This is the peace we need.
I keep watching the light on those candles.
And maybe that’s what Advent is; a way of walking and waiting and learning to expect the unexpected. We are waiting for a Savior; a King who snuck into his own world as a baby born in a manger. While all of Bethlehem was asleep, he came. While they were looking for the entrance of a mighty warrior … “silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given … where meek souls will receive him still; the dear Christ enters in.”
No one saw it coming.
It was beautiful. He came in lovely and quiet and wrapped in swaddling clothes. But it was also fierce. For he came to bear a weight and to be broken under it for us.
So if you find yourself in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm this Advent, or just caught in the middle life’s spin, know this: God comes there, too.
He is Emmanuel in the lovely and delightful and Emmanuel in the fierce and the hard. He is “with us.”
We ring the bells and light the candles and stand amazed at the early December snowfalls because they remind us of what that baby in the manger would grow up to teach.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
And then we go. We take our light and our song and we go light up the darkness. Because we know how the story ends. There will be “peace on earth and good-will to men.”
And it just might begin with us.