December 19, 2017
Peace = Absence of Fear ~ Sermon for December 10, 2017
Our New Testament reading this morning is the very beginning of Mark’s gospel.
Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was the first one written, perhaps by a companion of the disciple Peter.
Mark’s gospel is thought to have been a source for both Matthew and Luke’s writings.
There is no birth narrative in Mark’s gospel.
Mark opens his book with The Proclamation of John the Baptist.
Hear now a reading from Mark 1:1-8.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding God’s blessings. Amen.
Please pray with me.
God of hope, you call us from the exile of our sin with the good news of restoration; you build a highway through the wilderness; you come to us and bring us home.
Comfort us with the expectation of your saving power, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Sermon: Peace = Absence of Fear
Peace is a prevailing theme for Christmas.
We sing songs of praise to the Prince of Peace.
The psalmist promises us “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
Greeting cards depict the lions lying down with the lambs.
And yet, into this peaceful picture comes John the Baptist – all wild and crazy- a screaming preacher proclaiming baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Baptizing with water, he promises that another is yet to come who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
John’s baptism with water is meant as preparation for receipt of Jesus’ baptism with spirit.
It is a temporary fix, until the real thing comes along.
Again, in this second week of Advent, we wait in holy expectation for the one who will truly bring transformation to our lives.
This peace we yearn for is promised, but it has not yet arrived.
When I read the news headlines I feel that we couldn’t be further away from the world God envisioned for us.
Fear, rather than peace seems to be the prevailing theme this season.
People are afraid of nuclear war, terrorism, gun violence, climate change and economic ruin.
Writing in 1933, on the eve of the Nazi’s rise to power, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the fear plaguing people.
“Fear is the archenemy itself.
It crouches in people’s hearts.
It hollows out their insides until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down.
Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices.”
If fear is the ‘archenemy’ faith is the antidote.
“Do Not Be Afraid” is repeated fifty-nine times in scripture.
Our Christmas story begins with Luke’s account of an angel’s visit to Elizabeth and Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.”
Next, Mary is visited by an angel who tells her “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
Matthew’s gospel recounts Joseph’s encounter with an angel:
“an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
On this second Sunday of advent we have lit the candle of peace.
Peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of fear.
It is when we live without fear in our lives that our hearts can find peace.
This is God’s promise.
But it is a promise for another time – a time that is yet to come, something that we wait for.
Fear is an integral part of our lives.
Fear influences our decisions about where we will live, where we will travel, to whom we will speak and with whom we will spend our time.
As I reflected on this early in the week I thought about how fear has been an underlying current my entire adult life.
As a woman, I was socialized from a young age to be fearful of male violence.
I was cautioned not to walk alone at night; not to park too far from the door; not to be alone with strangers.
These early messages were only reinforced by stories of college friends being assaulted; colleagues being harassed; and then by working on a 24-hour crisis hotline, as an advocate in a battered women’s center and eventually as a consultant helping professionals respond to sexual violence against women.
The #METOO campaign reminded me that women throughout the world live in a culture of fear.
On Wednesday, when Time Magazine announced that the ‘Silence Breakers’ those who spoke up about violence against them, were being acknowledged as the ‘Person of the Year’ I nearly cried.
For over forty years I have been listening to women’s stories of victimization.
I have heard the lament of the homeless woman assaulted in a shelter; the teenager groped on the ride home from babysitting; the suburban housewife forced to participate in sexual acts that made her uncomfortable; the waitress grabbed by her manager; the child hurt by her father; the executive; the academic; the minister…voices of hundreds, then thousands, now millions of women giving voice to their pain, anger and fear.
One of the most heartbreaking things about working with victims of any type of degrading assault is recognizing the loss of potential.
Fear curtails ambition.
Fear undercuts creativity.
Fear generates self-doubt.
As Bonhoffer said, “When fear wins, hell rejoices.”
Now some of you might think that it is too political to talk about violence against women in an Advent sermon.
Karl Barth suggested that preachers should hold the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
I can guarantee that there is not one person sitting here today who doesn’t know someone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed.
This is an epidemic plague in our world and we will never change it unless we name it.
I bring it up because I think the current trend is shedding light on a universal problem that we must address if we ever want to get to the world God dreamed for us – that world where ‘righteousness and peace will kiss.’
Until we learn how to live together peaceably, without violence or corruption of power, we will remain locked in a culture of fear.
It’s not just the lion who has to give up their predatory power; the lamb has to trust that the conversion is genuine.
John the Baptist offered baptism for those who repented their sins.
“And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
“All the people!”
John’s offer of baptism was a cultural turning point.
#METOO and the ‘Silence Breakers’ have the potential to be a cultural turning point for us.
Forgiveness was granted to those who took responsibility for the wrongs they may have committed and promised to sin no more.
Later, Jesus would offer the same.
This is the good news of the gospel.
This is the Advent message that we can cling to.
We are able to move forward, to be born anew when we turn our hearts over to God.
In this Advent season we are called to rejoice in God’s love and promise.
Let us take a lesson from the ‘Silence Breakers’ and John the Baptist and raise our voices with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It could change everything.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God be with us this day as we prepare our hearts for the joy of Christmas. Let us proclaim your glory throughout the land, sharing the promise of your covenant with all.
O God, our world is troubled and many have lost sight of the gifts you bring.
You have created us to be loving, caring beings.
Help us to focus our lives on living up to our God given potential.
Grant us the grace to hear the pleas of our neighbors and to rise up and repent – transforming our world into one of peace.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For any person whose voice has been silenced we pray that your Holy Spirit will give them words and courage to speak their truth.
On this second Sunday of Advent, we pray for peace: in our hearts, in our homes and in your world.
Hear now our silent prayers as we turn our hearts to you.