Daily Devotion - Friday, December 11, 2015
This is the second week of the season of Advent. Throughout the season of Advent we'll be focusing on what it means to be full of expectation and anticipation during this blessed time of year. We'll also be lifting up the various weekly themes of Advent, corresponding to the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. This week our theme is "Peace."
"When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast caused me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul."
- Horatio Spafford "It Is Well With My Soul
"I've got peace like a river, I've got peace like a river, I've got peace like a river in my soul..." - African American Spiritual
"Peace like a river ran through the city/Long past the midnight curfew/We sat starry-eyed/Oh, we were satisfied...Oh, oh, oh, I’m gonna be up for a while..."
- Paul Simon "Peace Like A River"
Because it's the essential theme of the second week of Advent, and was the topic of my sermon last week, I've been writing and thinking about "peace" all week long. And there's been a phrase that has drifted in and out of my head over the past several days that I can no longer ignore. I've been saying and singing this phrase in one way or another for most of my life, and I've never really understood it. Here it is: "peace like a river."
What does it even mean to have peace like a river? Are all rivers inherently peaceful? I've seen a few in my life and some of them might fall into the peaceful category--at least from afar. But many of them are full of rapids, deep eddies, and generally always have the potential to overflow and flood everything around them.
Horatio Spafford wrote the great hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" in 1873 after losing all four of his daughters when the ship carrying them and his wife sank in the Atlantic ocean. He'd lost nearly everything he owned in the bitter economy that followed the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The first line of the hymn begins with "When peace like a river..."
When I was a kid, I would sing that old song, "I've Got Peace Like a River" at the top of my lungs in Sunday school. Little did I know that the song originated from African American slaves, who would sing it at the top of their lungs in the fields as they worked.
Paul Simon wrote "Peace Like A River" during the turbulence of the 1960's and amid the many protests of the Vietnam War across the United States. In his song, he sees a "glorious" day as a vision that includes a river of peace that flows through a city made new. He realizes that it was just a dream, but he can't let it go--he holds on to vision long after he's awake.
Where do all of these visions come from? And why is it that all of these songs that contain the phrase "peace like a river" have their origins in the midst of strife, pain and suffering?
Rivers are highly symbolic in literature, poetry and song. According to one scholar, a river in a song, poem or prose seems timeless and constant "...only because it finds its own way without short cuts, straight lines, or disregard of any physical impediments but in full acknowledgement of the reality of all that surrounds it, implying that the longest way round is the shortest and only safe way to the sea."
In other words, the river gets to where it is going--in it's own time and in it's own way. To put a finer point on it as it relates to peace: Peace will come. The world will be made right. Everything that is troubling you will be resolved. There is a "glorious day" ahead of us, brothers and sisters.
In Isaiah 54:10 the prophet declares the word of the Lord to the people of God: "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
In the end, God gets what God wants--a new world, a new Creation free of strife, war, disease and death. A world filled with the peace of God. And every tear in every eye will be wiped away. John the Revelator, who penned the last book of the Bible glimpsed a vision of the City of God, with a river running through it--a river that flowed from the very "throne" of God. This vision should fill us with hope. It should, in the words of Paul Simon keep us up "for a while."
May you be filled with peace like a river--peace that flows from the very heart of God. May your visions of a world made new, filled with God's shalom give you the courage to live a bold and hope-filled life. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.