December 10, 2017

The Advent of Peace

Passage: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

Today, on this second Sunday of Advent, the focus is on peace. The advent of peace…or the coming of peace. The word advent is from the Latin word for ‘coming’…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And today we reflect on the coming of Christ…the gift of peace…given for us gathered here in worship, and for everyone.

In the second hymn we sang today – People in darkness – each verse is a prayer longing for the coming of the four gifts of advent…love, hope, peace and joy. The third verse is peace and the prayer goes like this: People in trouble would like to be free…come, come, come, Jesus Christ. People with arguments want to agree…come, Lord Jesus Christ. These days of adventure when all people wait are days for the advent of peace.The two words the author of the hymn chose to focus on for peace are ‘freedom’ and ‘agree’. What are some other words that go hand in hand with the word peace? Tranquility…calm…restfulness… quiet… serenity… harmony…order… ceasefire… silence. When we picture such words, we might imagine a peaceful scene like a walk along a beach…or the quiet of early morning. We might reflect upon the sense of relief that is experienced upon receiving good news. Perhaps it was the peace of reconciliation with someone you had been having arguments with, or were estranged from. Or perhaps you pictured peace and freedom. Like the words in the hymn…People in trouble want to be free. Free from an abusive situation. Free from worries. Free from pain. Or perhaps you thought of freedom from war and conflict…poverty and hunger. The images are plentiful…the need for peace great.

The Nobel Peace Prize this year is being awarded today to ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. More than 70 years since atomic bombs were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as tensions flare over the North Korean crisis, the Nobel committee sought to highlight ICAN's efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. ICAN was a key player in the adoption of a historic nuclear weapons ban treaty, signed by 122 countries in July. However, the accord was largely symbolic as none of the nine known world nuclear powers signed up to it.” The quest for peace continues and in our complex world…a world with short tweets that are herd around the world…there are no simple answers. The challenges are many.

Today is also Human Rights Day. We know there are people around the world living in danger, hungry, exiled from their home land, longing for peace. Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th and commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year Human Rights Day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark its upcoming 70th anniversary of the document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being…regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

We have the Nobel Peace Prize, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Strong messages that strive for peace. We know that the path to peace is not easy. Peacemaking involves more than the laying down of arms…though that is a necessary step. Peace is a gift from God that we are called to live, share, demonstrate, enact…in our daily living…in our corner of the world. And for Christians who follow the Prince of Peace, the path to peace begins with repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace is what God announced at the first advent…is a gift that Jesus left with us…a promise that his light will guide our feet into the way of peace.

Our gospel reading for this second Sunday of Advent – the Sunday of Peace – is the opening verses of the gospel of Mark. He quotes from the prophets including Isaiah: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the desert. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John – Jesus’ cousin – prepared the way for the coming of Jesus…for the advent of Jesus…the one who lights the path so we can walk in the way of peace. John the Baptist quotes from the prophets…words that would have been familiar to the people and that came at a time when the people would have been desperate for good news. It is thought that Mark wrote the first of the four gospel accounts, writing his gospel around AD 65-75. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins and the temple a pile of rubble.
And into this setting arrives John. He is dressed like a prophet. His clothing is based on descriptions of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 – a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist. And John’s task was to prepare the way. To tell the people to get ready for the Messiah. John’s whole life had been leading up to this time of baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John lived about 30 years and spent about 3 months preparing the people for the coming of the one who was more powerful than he. He called on the people to make straight their paths…to repent.

John’s message was not an easy message… nor is it today. Repentance is a word we do not hear often today, but it is an ancient, good word. In Greek, it means “to change.” It indicates a change…a change of direction…a change from going one’s own way to going God’s way…to move in God’s direction…to be closer to God. It doesn't always mean a 180 degree turn, it may be a small re-direction onto the right path. At the same time, it may indeed call us to radically change the entire direction of our lives. What repentance does mean, is that we are willing to admit our mistakes and offer them over to God. It’s about living a life that honours Jesus Christ whose advent we wait for now and whose arrival we welcome at Christmas time. And in that honoring we are to live lives that are true to Jesus’ greatest commandment to love one another…
to be concerned for one another…to have compassion for one another. When we live lives that honour Christ we are witnessing to others and sharing his gospel message – that advent message of hope…peace…joy…and love that we pray for this time of year.

The Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson in his sermon Making Straight the Way, wrote these words: “As John set his life on a path of making straight the way for others, we are called to do the same. Jesus tells us time and time again, that the greatest of all commandments...of all laws, is the law of love – the law of concern for those around us. We, you and I, have an obligation to all those around us to take the skills and resources we have and make straight the path for others to reach the Kingdom, by pointing the way – as did John – to Jesus. That is why it is crucial that each of us give of ourselves beyond the simply Church attendance week after week. Not just by our actions, for that is merely humanism. Not just by our prayers and words, for that can dwindle into hypocrisy. We are called to – in all things – word and deed, prayer and action, by what we say and do, share the Christ story and thereby draw others into our journey to the end of the path.”
Advent is a time for sharing the Christ story. And the Christ story goes beyond the babe in the manger which is sweet and lovely. The Christ story calls us to be peacemakers…to pray for peace in our families…in our community…and for peace in the world. We need to pray for peace during this Advent season as we prepare. As we prepare for God’s gift of peace, let us remember that however dark this world may seem some days…God has not abandoned us. God is with us and is always near. We can rejoice because Emmanuel, God with us, has come to us. God’s gift of peace comes as we know that we do not need to hide anything from God, but can bring everything, including our frustrations and disappointments with ourselves… all of our hostility and anger with the words and actions of other people… our confusion and concern for the world…we can bring it all to God in prayer. God’s gift of peace comes as we know that God has not given up on this world but is still at work seeking to encourage people to walk in his ways of peace.

Today is December 10th. We are entering the second week of Advent. We know what is
coming. So, prepare the way… make straight the paths… walk in the way of peace. Bring comfort to people. Share God’s word of peace. As you continue your preparations over the next couple of weeks… take time to reflect on advent…and who we are waiting for. The coming of Christ…the gift of peace…given for us all. Take time to prepare the way – ready your heart – for Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is coming.

I would like to end with a prayer shared by the Rev. Herb Hilder of Prince George, BC. The prayer uses the opening verse of Isaiah 40: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. So clear your mind of distractions. Close your eyes. Rehear Isaiah’s words as God’s words for you.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Hear these words you who face death and dreadful decrease – your own, or the life-threatening illness of a loved one. You who suffer as a result of HIV, AIDS, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart attacks, strokes and tumors.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Hear these words you who are undergoing broken or strained relationships in your marriage. You who as children are living with such strain or brokenness. You who are at your wits end, confused or just plain exhausted and fed up dealing with family crises. You who are caregivers to aging parents, relatives or friends – hear these words from the Lord.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Hear these words you who live with underemployment, unemployment, redundancy, or too much work stress. You who live in or close to poverty, homelessness, or financial loss and bankruptcy. You, who have been persecuted, bullied, robbed and financially abused as a result of the greed of the powerful and influential.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Hear these words you who are children, teens and young people, intimidated or rejected by your peers, who have no friends, who feel abandoned by their family.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Hear these words you who are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. You need and shall receive God’s comfort.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Hear these words from the living and loving God you who carry heavy burdens of self-blame, of
guilt, of terrible self-image as a result of sin. Hear these towards as you are pressed down by
stress hopelessness, sadness, loneliness, heartache and if you feel it is your entire fault.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Because the eternal God continues to come into our lives – especially in those times of despair and disorientation. God is here – today. Make no mistake about this! None of us are alone! Amen.