Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.John 14:27 (NRSV)
Throughout scripture, we hear many references to animals. We are comforted by thoughts of sheep lying down in green pastures. We hear of donkeys and camels helping people to safely travel from one place to another. We are assured that just as God feeds the birds of the air, God will also feed us. We hear cooing doves carrying branches of hope, and we are even called to imagine that someday the lion and the lamb will lay down together. It’s the stories of animals in Bible that always give us glimpses of peace. Even Daniel found himself thrown into a lion’s den and came out unharmed!
Now I know that many of you have pets at home or have had pets at some time in your lives, and so you know the unconditional love that they bring. Actually, during this time of virtual coffee hours and zoom church meetings, we have come to meet many of the pets that are such an important part of our Oldtown families. And as many of you know, our dog Rufus and our cat Cornbread have become very used to being here during our weekly worship services. I’m sure that you may have heard them whining or walking around in the background!
Now as we have discussed before, our church in North Attleboro is known by many names. We’re the First Congregational church of North Attleboro, the Oldtown Church, the Old Post Road Church, the police church (because the police always sit in our parking lot), the backwards church, the third grade tour church, the coffeehouse church, the supper and fair church, and over the last few years. with thanks to Dr. Granville, we have become known as the Pet Clinic Church, as Dr. Granville holds pet clinics at the church when our building is open.
The truth is, the unconditional love that our pets share with us is an amazing example as to how we should treat our friends and neighbors. Animals brings such peace and comfort to our lives. If we shared a little more of that same peace and comfort with others, just imagine what the world would be like.
Well, each year when we light the candle of peace, sure, I long for peace in families, and in communities, in our nation, and in the world; but I always also think about the peace that the animals brought to the stable that night. Now we all know that animals are not always quiet, so when we talk about that silent night so long ago, I’m sure it was far from silent. But not only did the animals share their space with Mary and Joseph and the baby, they also shared an unconditional sense of love and acceptance and comfort which I’m sure brought Mary and Joseph peace. What better gift could there be on that first Christmas so long ago? After all, Mary had already felt the judgment of society, being a young pregnant unwed mother. Joseph felt the pressure of taking care of Mary, though he was still in shock and didn’t fully understand what was happening. And then when they arrived in Bethlehem, after traveling more than eighty miles, they found no warm welcome and no room in the inn.
But things started to turn around when a kind innkeeper, seeing that Mary’s baby was coming soon, told them that they could stay in his stable where the animals lived. Now many people would ask, “What kind of a place is a stable for the son of God to be born? A stable? Surrounded by animals? Really?” But I say, what better place for baby Jesus to be born! For as we heard in our scripture reading today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Just another reminder that the love and peace of God is not like that of the world. For rather than being born in a fancy, worldly, or royal place that was filled with human injustice, prejudice, and judgement, Mary gave birth to her newborn son surrounded by animals that provided a place of unconditional love and peace.
In our opening hymn today, we heard about the gifts that the animals gave, simple yet loving gifts. The donkey carried Mary safely to Bethlehem. The cow gave his manger for a bed, and hay to pillow the baby’s head. The sheep gave his wool to keep the baby warm. And the dove cooed the baby to sleep. They provided a place of warmth and welcome in a cold and uncaring world, and they set the scene for Jesus life–a humble life filled with grace, a life that he spent teaching and sharing the unconditional love of God, without judgment, with everyone he met.
Even when Jesus knew that his life was about to end, when he knew that one of his own had betrayed him, another would deny him, and the rest would eventually abandon him, Jesus still gathered his disciples together, feeding them in mind, in body and in spirit. And that night in the upper room, when Jesus washed their feet and shared bread and wine with them, the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about. But they ate and they drank anyway, because though they didn’t really understand, they did know that the grace and peace of love of Jesus defied all human understanding.
Friends, Jesus welcomes us ALL to the table today with peace and unconditional love, just as the animals greeted him at his birth. In that stable so long ago, God came to us in the simplicity of a baby, and yet God is far greater than we can ever imagine. From being a child dependent on Mary and Joseph for food, Jesus grew to be the Living Word, offering everyone the Bread of Life. He traveled from the manger to the cross, calling, teaching, caring, healing, encouraging, challenging, showing and sharing God’s love with everyone.
And today, he calls us here to be fed and nourished at his table. So whoever you are, wherever you have been, and wherever you are on life’s journey, know that you are welcome at this table!
(( SHARING OF COMMUNION ))
Friends, so many times we think that peace means the absence of difficulty. We imagine silent, serene places and portraits of perfection, but true peace is far from that. Though the world’s understanding of peace seems to be affected by outside forces, our faith teaches us that in order to see glimpses of grace in the world and experience peace in our lives, we need to find peace within ourselves.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, may you first search within yourself so that you can then see glimpses of peace in the world. But don’t stop there. Share that peace, no matter how simple or how small with the people you meet, because that is how we carry the light of peace with us and make a true difference in the world.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!