Third Thursday of Advent: Called to Peace
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
—Romans 12:18 (Read Romans 12)
It certainly wasn’t the most priestly thought I’ve ever had. Looking back, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t say it out loud.
It was August of 2006. I had just been told that the vestry of Christ Church in Accokeek, Maryland had unanimously voted to call me as their rector.
And I thought, “Oh, crap. Now what am I going to do?”
What was the big deal? Well, first, Christ Church’s people have been worshiping continually in Accokeek since 1698, years before George Washington was even a twinkle in his parent’s eyes. (Mr. Washington knew the people of Accokeek well, as Mount Vernon is a short boat ride across the Potomac.) If I accepted this call, I would be their 43rd Rector, serving a church that had stood for more than three centuries. It was a bit intimidating.
But this wasn’t all.
Christ Church was sued in 2001 by the bishop over their choice of rector. Yes, a lawsuit over their choice of rector, and five years later, I was their rector of choice. Was I next?
I believed firmly that the call of Christ Church was, in fact, the call of God. But it was a volatile time, and the bishop was theologically liberal while I and Christ Church were theologically conservative. How would this work?
I was concerned, anxious, nervous.
As I prayed about this, I began to hear the Lord very clearly: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
As I thought and prayed, it was clear as day—I was to do good and bless in the name of Jesus Christ, irrespective of my circumstances. It certainly was not my job to untangle the broader mess. It was my job simply to bear witness to the resurrected, ascended life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I was at peace.
That was 12 years ago. And while there have been bumps and ditches, potholes and cracks on the road, in that critical moment, Jesus showed me that He is my peace.
The early councils of the Church worked very hard to make sure that there was clarity on who Jesus actually is: God incarnate. Man Divine.
“Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
In His incarnation, the Son forever unites divinity and humanity in Himself, linked in a profound and mysterious union.
In His incarnation, He begins the remaking of a world hell-bent on unmaking itself.
Even though humanity was in rebellion with its Maker—“enemies” of God, as Paul tells us in Romans 5—that same Maker simply did not allow us to continue in our death spiral. The Creator became the creature. The One who was wronged entered the gap of alienation by taking human flesh upon himself. God and Man begin their reconciliation and redemption in Jesus’ very body.
As Gregory of Nyssa says, the power of the incarnation of the Son of God is like having the ability to make a flame burn downward.
In this flame is our peace.
And the miracle for me is that this grand vision of the surpassing greatness of our God became concrete and specific in Accokeek, Maryland. In that first moment of distress and consternation—and in countless moments since—He was my redemption and reconciliation.
He was—and is—my peace.
The Rev. Father Brian Vander Wel serves as the 43rd Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Accokeek, Maryland. He is proud to be the father of Doug and honored to be the husband of Beth. Brian worked for the CCO from 1992-96, ministering to students in Pittsburgh through a partnership with Church of the Ascension.