Themes of Advent: WHEN PEACE LIKE A RIVER

it-is-well

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN PEACE LIKE A RIVER ATTENDETH MY WAY.
WHEN SORROW LIKE SEA BILLOWS ROLL.
WHATEVER MY LOT, THOU HAS TAUGHT ME TO SAY:
IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL, WITH MY SOUL.

This beloved hymn – full of comfort, strength, trust and hope,
did not come to us by way of perseverance and a happy ending.
Rather it was born out of the darkness of pain and gut-wrenching loss,
And the “Peace that surpasses understanding” as Paul proclaims in his letter to the Philippians.

According to Lindsay Terry [http://staugustine.com/living/religion/2014-10-16/story-behind-song-it-well-my-soul], this hymn was written by Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) who was a successful lawyer in Chicago. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire consumed much of his business. Horatio and his wife Anna had five children. Their Son died of pneumonia that same year.

 

Horatio rebuilt his business.  He and Anna rebuilt their family life together with their four daughters. In 1873, two years later, they decided to go to Europe, booking passage on the ocean liner Ville du Havre. At the last minute, a problem with his business arose, and Horatio stayed behind.

Four days into the trip, tragedy stuck, as the Ville du Havre collided with a Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Within minutes the Ville du Havre sank, taking 226 of 313 passengers down with her. Anna and Horatio’s four daughters were among them. Anna was pulled from the wreckage despondent, asking the unanswerable question, “Why?”

The survivors of the shipwreck were taken to Cardiff, Wales.
Anna wired her husband saying to Horatio: “SAVED ALONE, WHAT SHALL I DO?”
Horatio did the only thing most of us would probably do ourselves,
He dropped everything and booked himself on the next ship to Britain.

Four days into his journey, the captain pulled him aside;
Telling him they were now at the spot, where the Ville du Havre, and his daughters, sank.
It is told that he spent the rest of his voyage composing this well-beloved hymn:

IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL. WITH MY SOUL.

Powerful words, especially when all is lost.

Peace will come.

I wish I could tell you that everything from then on went fine for Horatio and Anna.
But as you and I both know – life isn’t like that.
Anna and Horatio had three more children,
but one of them died at age 4, again to pneumonia.
And in the face of such ongoing tragedy and heartbreak?

IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL. WITH MY SOUL.

I am so often surprised by the resilience of people who have circumstances placed upon them that seem an unbearable source of pain and sorrow, and yet their song becomes:

WHEN PEACE LIKE A RIVER ATTENDETH MY WAY.
WHEN SORROW LIKE SEA BILLOWS ROLL.
WHATEVER MY LOT, THOU HAS TAUGHT ME TO SAY:
IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL, WITH MY SOUL.

I used to know someone of great faith who used to say,
“I don’t know how people who don’t believe get through it.” Me neither.

As so many of you know – the death of our friend Angelika has not only impacted the family next door to us, but that loss has also touched us so deeply over the last ten days – and we are people of faith.   The promise is: Peace will come.

Today we remember 75 years ago this day the attack on Pearl Harbor brought our country into WWII. A conflict that consumed the lives of millions; most of whom were innocent civilians. Through those horrors, God’s promise remains the same:

Peace will come. “Peace that surpasses understanding.” (Phil 4:7)

It is not a contractual peace dependent on how well we come to terms at ending conflict
It is not an intellectual peace that can somehow make rational sense of suffering or hardship. It is not an emotional peace that finds the gumption deep down from somewhere within. It is not even a spiritual peace presented in clichés or platitudes.

It is peace that cannot be understood at all. Not really. It is a peace that is experienced and given in faith. God’s coming peace transcends and overwhelms;

Like light shining in the darkness. Like Job who lost everything yet remained faithful.
Like Horatio and Anna that sang in the face of death. Like countless generations before us who endured horrible horror, pain and suffering.  Like Jimmy, Jaidyn, Addy and Grayson, surrounded by family, friends and this church. Like we who are gathered in the darkness on an evening in Advent; looking to the light as we pray…

Knowing that when all else is gone, it is only the richness of the love and mercy of God that remains.

And we sing: IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.
A manger. A cross. An empty tomb. Light in the darkness. A promise that peace indeed will come. This is what we wait for in Advent. This is what we long for tonight.
This is the peace we expect and anticipate. “The Lord is near.” (Phil 4:5).

And when the Lord is near; IT IS WELL. IT IS WELL.

Come, Peace. Come.

___

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.                    (Philippians 4:5-7)

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About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Change Proponent, Goofball, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
This entry was posted in Advent/Christmas, Advent/Christmas Posts, Advent/Christmas Sermons, on Letters of Paul, Sermons and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Themes of Advent: WHEN PEACE LIKE A RIVER

  1. Jeanette says:

    How I miss hearing you preach. But in reading this I hear the words in your voice. Like most, peace is hard to obtain but I look for it in God’s word.

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