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It was our second Sunday in Advent, the Sunday associated with peace. All but perhaps the gospel text dealt with peace.
Now in our world we all have different notions of and images of what peace looks like. I grew up in a home where I was taught that if someone is not hurting themselves or someone else, live and let live. And if you looked at the variety in my family, loved ones, and friends that I hold dearly you would see a lot of variety there.
But there are parts of my family where there is an expectation to live your life a certain way and if you don’t you may be called a “disgrace” or “white trash”. And yet there is other parts of my family where if you don’t agree with them completely then you cant be in relationship with them, because you are died to them. Now, most of us would think that those last two parts are not real peaceful. And our text deals with that a little.
I have a friend. My friend and I can sit and have a drink and ponder questions we will never really have an answer to and such a question has been “the church talks about a peace that surpasses all understanding, what is that?”.
Well in Isaiah 11, we have the famous text of the lion shall lay down with the lamb. I wonder if that is a glimpse of the peace that surpasses all understanding, because that is a level of peace that I can’t imagine. I can’t fathom that happening in a world were that is the norm. Woody Allen said that the lion and the lamb may lay down next to one another but “the lamb won’t get much sleep”. It is because of that cultural memory and that is a thread throughout Romans as well.
Paul [in Romans] is encouraging the Christians in Rome to welcome those who are different than them and really what we are talking about is the Jews and the Uncircumcised, Pork-Eating Pagan Gentiles which these two groups were about as different as you could possibly be in that time and in that place. And yet, Paul is telling them to live in harmony, to live in peace, to welcome one another.
It reminds me of our Advent wreath. Every week we light an additional candle in order to banish the darkness and we are called to be the light of hope, peace, joy, and love to banish the darkness of hopelessness, of the lack of peace, violence, the lack of joy and happiness, as well as hate and intolerance. We are called to be that light. I often talk about the great divisions in our society and frequently find myself encouraging people to reach across those differences, to be in harmony, to welcome, to banish that darkness. That is part of our calling as people of God.
And then we get to Matthew and we have John the Baptist in the wilderness as the one that is called to prepare the way for the Lord, and yet his message is rarely very peaceful. He speaks very harshly against the religious authorities who are coming to be baptized, he calls them brood of vipers, a direct reference to them as children of the adversary from the fall of man. It wasn’t until this year that I read a commentary and I got a little different insight into these texts, perhaps John’s issue with the religious authorities wasn’t that they were the religious authorities; it was with their mindset. They understood that they were not in need of forgiveness or repentance because they were the children of Abraham, they followed the law and because of that they did not see the darkness within themselves. They did not see the sin and the brokenness within themselves. Forgiveness is restoration [and] reconciliation with the divine. Baptism is part of that process, it is also part of the process to become that light, to come into a new way of being. John and Matthew’s issue was that these leaders wanted baptism without acknowledging their need for forgiveness, their need for reconciliation , their need for restoration. They did not recognize the darkness within themselves.
My mom sent me a quote a couple of years ago. The quote is from an unknown source but it is “Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of God”. We could say that peace is not the absence of difference, the absence of darkness or sin. But it is the presence of God and we know that God is ever-present even in the darkest moments of our world and even in the darkness within ourselves.
We are called to be the light of hope, peace, joy, love, and to show the light of Christ in order to banish that darkness within our world, within ourselves. If we don’t live in harmony, if we don’t welcome people who may look, see, act, or behave differently than ourselves are light is not banishing the darkness. Our light is not getting brighter, in fact its getting dimmer.
My prayer is that each one of us ponder peace as the presence of God, peace that surpasses our own understanding, and how we can be the light that banishes the darkness within our world and within ourselves. Amen.
Scriptures were Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; and Matthew 3:1-12.
Originally Preached on 4 December 2016