Yesterday as I drove home from the Sanctuary decorating event, I encountered one of my favorite sights: the vision of the trees and ground coated in untouched new-fallen snow. Despite the hassles that snow can bring, I still feel moved to peace and tranquility that a snowfall brings. As corny as this sounds, I think of the symbolism of snowflakes in this holy season: they remind of what religious writers describe: That the exquisite uniqueness of each snowflake -- so intricate and small -- reminds us that Christ sees the individuality of each and every person. God calls every creature each by our own name. Does not the prophet say, “Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name.” As snowflakes blanket the world in white the scriptures again declare that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
Unfortunately, there is nothing peaceful or tranquil about the use of the term snowflake. Back in the 1860s, a “snowflake” was a person who opposed to the abolition of slavery—the implication being that such people valued white people over black people. Lately the term “snowflake” has transformed into another slang insult. It is used against young people who came of age in the generation of the 2010s — which considers them as weak and vulnerable as a speck of snow. They are known as the “snowflake generation.” Furthermore, the right wing of our country now frequently calls liberals and progressives “snowflakes” as a put-down. They insinuate that such people are delicate, fragile, sensitive and melt at the moment heat is applied. I will never think of my beloved image of a snowflake entirely like I used to. Even snowflakes have become politicized.
However, today is the Advent Sunday of peace. Our readings this morning lead us further to images of creation to give us another under-utilized image of peace: the peace and comfort discovered as every mountain and hill is brought low. The peace of every valley filled. The peace of every crooked path made straight.
These mountains and valleys exist in our hearts. The mountains and valleys exist in the collective heart of humanity. Each of us has a life of highs and lows. Each of us know the gulf created by mountains of pride or greed. We also know the valleys of depression and defeat. Furthermore, we find ourselves in a huge global gap between human predators of all stripes and shapes and the preyed-upon. Between the higher-ups and the lower downs. The haves and have nots. The hawks and the doves. The self-styled strong and the snowflakes.
Consider just this one huge gap between mountains and valleys in our world:
The top three wealthiest people control the combined wealth of more than half the U.S. population. That’s three people own more than 160 million.
The six members of the Walton family, creators of the retail chain Wal-Mart – cradle Presbyterians - has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.
The richest 80 persons on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people.
Wealth is not necessarily bad. The issue is that the extent of one’s wealth should not condemn others to homelessness, illness, and suffering. Advent reminds us there cannot be peace when humanity allows a minority in live lavishly on the mountains and the majority are consigned to valleys of woe. The prophets Isaiah and John call us to the holy task of peace, to bring down the mountains and hills, to raise the valleys. To make the crooked way straight. Mary the mother-prophet of Jesus, in her great song that proclaims the holy leveling of God in Christ: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly (Luke 1:52).”
Peace is the spiritual tool to bring down those mountains. To raise up the valleys. To straighten what’s been made crooked. This of how peace permeates our Christian life.
When we say, “Peace be with you” in the passing of the peace, aren’t we actually saying, “May you live well?” When the carol extols us to “sleep in heavenly peace” don’t we pray for respite that has conquered the mountains of worry or strife? When we wish for the “Peace on earth” that the Christmas angels proclaim, don’t we confess a world free of conflict and war?
Wait, there is more. Don’t the scriptures teach us that this is just the tip of the iceberg? Peace envisions a better world for everyone. We recall that the Hebrew root of peace means "to be complete" or "to be sound." Peace proclaims that it is God’s desire that all people get to live in a state of wholeness, health, safety, tranquility, prosperity, rest, harmony; free from agitation or discord, a state of calm without anxiety or stress. That’s how we bring down the mountains. That’s how we raise the valleys.
The New Testament adds another layer to this. Peace in the gospels can also imply, "to join or bind together something which has been separated or divided." That is why Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, or as Paul says, “he is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).” Jesus before his death could’ve blessed his disciples with anything, but he told them “Peace I leave unto you, my peace I give you (John 14:27).”
Through the peace that Jesus leaves us, we come to understand that peace on earth is much more than the dismantling of nuclear weapons and cessation of war. It means building up and binding up the broken. It means promoting reconciliation, creating goodwill and friendship where there once were enemies. Jesus underscores the importance of pursing peace when he teaches in his beatitudes, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God (Matt. 5:9).” The task of peace is to bring wholeness to earth. Bring low those mountains, raise those valleys. Jane Adams, the first woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, described it well: “True Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of Justice.”
We saw the work of peace ignited this past week. On Monday December 4, two leading prophet-ministers in our country, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II from South Carolina, and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, of the New York City Presbytery, restarted a new movement. The new Poor People’s Campaign, A Call for Moral Revival. Created 50 years to the day that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King began the initial Poor People’s Campaign, these two ministers launched this campaign after witnessing the mountains and valleys of our country. They heard from mothers whose children died because their states refused Medicaid expansion. They heard from homeless families whose encampments have been attacked by the police and militia groups. They visited the border wall and met with families ripped apart by unjust immigration policies.
This is the work of God’s peace. To bring down the mountains. To fill in the valleys. To make straight the crooked paths. In our individual hearts and heart of humanity. Listen to the following story.
“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a sparrow asked a wild dove.
“It is nothing,” was the answer.
“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the sparrow said.
“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say-the branch broke off.”
Having said that, the sparrow flew away.
The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”
You know what? I may sound silly, but I reclaim the power of the snowflake. The power to wear down the mountain. The power to fill the valley. The power in unity to straighten the path. The power together to break the branch.
The power to bring wholeness and safety. The power to bring tranquility and rest. To bring peace of newly-fallen snow. And when those mountains are finally worn down, when the valleys are finally filled, when the branch has finally broken and the path straightened, may we know peace on earth.
Peace in every heart.
Thanks be to God.
Read more: Are You in the Top One Percent of the World? | Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp#ixzz50bPBYFMW