December 10, 2018
“I’ve Got Peace” ~ sermon for December 9, 2018
Our second New Testament reading this morning continues in Luke’s gospel as John the Baptist calls the people to a baptism of repentance.
Isaiah’s prophecy about the one who will come to prepare the way is referenced.
How wonderful it is on this second Sunday of advent, as we baptize Theodore, to be reminded of the importance of this sacrament of the church.
Hear now a reading from the gospel of Luke 3:1-6.
Here ends the readingof God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessings. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Out of the embrace of mercy and righteousness, you have brought forth joy and dignity for your people, O Holy One of Israel.
Remember now your ancient promise: make straight the paths that lead to you, and smooth the rough ways, that in our day we might bring forth your compassion for all humanity.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
And you child will be called the prophet of the Most high….to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Peace be with you.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The term “peace” is used in the New Testament in at least five different ways:
- absence of war or chaos;
- peace as a right relationship with God or with Christ;
- peace as a good relationship among people
- peace as an individual virtue or state, that is, tranquility or serenity;
- peace as part of a greeting formula.
- Perhaps you have a definition of your own.
In my Peace Through Understanding project I defined peace as “the absence of fear.”
My intensive study of peace and peacemaking led me to conclude that peace must start with the individual and radiate out into the world.
Almost every description of successful peacemakers contains this element of self-understanding.
Communal peace can only be achieved when individual, personal peace has been cultivated.
Only when we approach peacemaking with peaceful, forgiving hearts do we find that we are able to reconcile differences and embrace our neighbors.
I have come to believe that fear is the prevalent feeling in our culture today.
Fear, often constructed on false beliefs or unarticulated expectations can sap us of our ability to be compassionate or to participate in community.
Sometimes it is fear of not having enough.
Sometimes it is fear of not measuring up to others expectations.
Sometimes it is fear of anything or anyone different than we are.
Sometimes it is fear of being alone or unnoticed.
Sometimes it is an unnamed fear that causes us to be anxious.
Advent gives us the opportunity to turn inward and look at our fears and turn them over to God.
True peace is achieved when we are free to name our own fears, most often rooted internally, part of a personal narrative constructed over time.
Our scripture this week reassures us that God is always coming, always available to God’s people, and always working for restoration.
Our God is the God of transformation.
God is always working for restoration and justice in our lives and in our world.
I love these words from “O Little Town of Bethlehem:
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
Receiving God’s coming, however, takes preparation, and so God sends a messenger to do this work, to prepare God’s people for God’s coming.
In order to open ourselves to this gracious work of God, we need first to be aware of the messengers who proclaim God’s coming.
Second, we need to be willing to do the tough work of heart preparation in order to be transformed by God.
The challenge is for us to embrace the work of preparation for ourselves – opening ourselves to God’s restoring, cleansing and disturbing work, and making our hearts ready for us to become, in turn, messengers of God’s restorative justice and mercy to the world.
Richard Rohr wrote this week: “You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe.
You and I are a part of this Christ Mystery without any choice on our part.
We just are, whether we like it or not.
It’s nothing we have to consciously believe.
It’s first of all announcing an objective truth.
But if we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create immense joy and peace.
It gives us significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work.
We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe.
And it is pure, undeserved gift from the very beginning.”
This second week of Advent we focus on John the Baptizer and his message, to “Prepare the way”.
Many spiritual teachers through the centuries have recommended silence and stillness as a way to prepare.
These are good habits to nurture, but for many of us, our fast-paced lives make it very difficult to carve out time to be still and silent.
For this reason, it is important that we also learn to do the work of preparation within the activities of our lives.
When we can slow our minds and hearts down in the midst of chaos, we can find more helpful ways to communicate and find solutions.
When we can slow down and prepare well for projects, events and people, we can ensure that we don’t have to repeat work that wasn’t done properly, or we can ensure that we have the necessary resources at our disposal.
Our focus of Advent is to prepare for Christ, not to prepare for Christmas.
Let’s think about ways that you might prepare your heart for Christ this season.
The first thing I would suggest is a close look at things that might be troubling you.
Take an inventory of relationships: is there a place for forgiveness; for healing; for reconciliation.
This is Advent work.
The next thing to take a look at is your own feelings about Christmas.
Are they Christ-centered?
If not, try to redirect your focus.
Listen carefully to the words of the carols you are singing (the religious ones).
Pay particular attention to the third and fourth verses of familiar songs.
We often sing only the first two verses, leaving out some incredibly tender language about God’s love for us.
Come this afternoon and listen to the beautiful words of scripture put to music in Handel’s Messiah.
Another thing to pay attention to is the words of our Advent prayers. As we light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, let those words resonate in your heart.
Meditate on these Advent words throughout the week.
It’s a perfect mantra while you are waiting in line, shopping, writing Christmas cards or engaging in small talk at the office Christmas party!
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love repeat it as often as you need to.
Another wonderful way to get into the Christ-centered feeling is to do something nice for another person.
Visit someone who is lonely;
Bake cookies and deliver them to someone who may not bake anymore.
Buy a gift for someone who may not be receiving gifts this year.
These are Advent practices that will bring you closer to Christ.
The Sunday school children were each given an Advent Calendar (hold up calendar) with suggestions of activities they might do each day to bring them closer to Christ – simple reminders that it is Advent.
If you can’t think of things to do, I have extra copies of the calendars for you.
Although it is already December 9 – you can catch up.
The point of all of this is that Advent is an active season.
It is not just a season of preparing for Christmas; it is a season of actively preparing for Christ.
If you take this seriously and apply yourself to it, I promise you that by Christmas Eve your heart will be warmed with a love so tender that it will take you by surprise.
Zechariah included all of us in his prayer when he said:
And you child, will be called the prophet of the most high…By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Let us pray.
Gracious, loving, reconciling God, be with us this day as we prepare the way for your Son.
Help us to live in the spirit of Advent radiating hope, peace, joy and love everywhere we find ourselves.
Remind us, holy one, that this season is one of the heart.
Open our ears that we might hear your messengers and allow ourselves to be transformed.
Hear our prayers this morning for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who feel lonely or angry during this Advent season, we pray that your Holy Spirit might find them.
We pray, O God, for peace: in our hearts; in our homes and in your world.
Hear us now as we turn to you in the sacred silence of this Meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts….