The Reality of Peace 12/06/09

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79 and 3:1-6

“Silent Night, Holy Night!  All is calm, all is bright …” The opening line of one of our most beloved hymn paints a picture that is idyllic, pastoral, and lovely.  All around town, there are nativity sets going up that will show a scene of the Lord’s birth.  All of them include Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus.  Most of them include a manger/cradle and a star.  Some of them may also include the shepherds and wise men.  What these nativity sets cannot include is the entire context of that night.  Much like today, the situation of the world that Jesus entered into was not a peaceful one.  The holy family was on their way to their town of origin in order to be counted in a census.  They were at the whim and mercy of the government and society in which they lived.  Everyone, at that time, was on their way to be counted in the census.  The roads were busy, the inns were full.  Business was good for all merchants, pick-pockets, and thieves alike.  Like the day before Thanksgiving, travelling was a nightmare.  And Mary and Joseph were doing this at a time when Mary’s ankles were swollen and she could not walk for long without needing a break – she was that pregnant.  And yet, we sing of the “virgin mother” and the “Holy Infant, so tender and mild.”  Amidst all the noise and chaos of this world, where is the peace that this lovely hymn proclaims?  Where and how do we find it?

A Voice in the Wilderness Prepares the Way

Our two Gospel lessons are a father and son duo.  Zechariah, an aging priest is Mary’s uncle.  And just like his niece, he is visited by the angel Gabriel and told of the son he and his wife will have (John the Baptist).  In his disbelief, Zechariah pushes the angel on this (just like the laughing Sarah of the Old Testament) and as a punishment, he becomes deaf and mute for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  After his son is born, there is a crisis of what to name the child, and this is where our passage and Zechariah himself burst out in prophecy and song.

Zechariah has had some time to think about what is happening, and he’s taken that time to reflect on the faith that he as a priest teaches.  His words in this passage talk about redemption and salvation both on a social and personal level.  He talks about the prophet his son will become.  You can almost feel his awe at being included in this most amazing part of God’s story.  His fresh new words of prophecy awaken us to what we might need to examine in our own lives.

God in the silence of centuries has done preparatory work for Israel.  God in the silence of nine months has done preparatory work in Zechariah … God moved on Zechariah and Elizabeth’s behalf and lined their personal miracle of a son to wider miracles for Israel.  Zechariah doesn’t understand it.  He doesn’t have to.  He rejoices and lets God manage the details.  Zechariah will spend his remaining days a happy “praiser” mentoring this miraculous child.[1]

This miraculous child is who we here from in Luke 3.  John the Baptist is a challenging person to listen to because he is so insistent and focused on his message that he makes what he wants very clear … and thus very hard to ignore.  John does not pull punches; he doesn’t have time to.  “The voice in the wilderness cries out for the way of God to be prepared with relentless urgency.”[2]

We have all been baptized in Christ because of John’s insistence that we prepare for the Lord – that we prepare our hearts and the world for the reality of Christ and the peace that Christ brings to us.

Peace in Repenting?

We confess each week as a way to bring us back to our baptism and remind us of the work that God has begun in each of us.  Baptism calls us to prepare the world for God.  It calls us to peace with God, both personally and as a world.  Peace is not just the absence of conflict … peace is a wish for well-being, a desire for wholeness.

Prepare the way of the Lord!  When you prepare for guests, you do things you would not always do just for yourself.  You make a special menu for the occasion.  Clean especially well.  Pull out your fancy dishes and towels.  You go to extra special lengths so that your guest knows that they are welcome.  They have been anticipated and prepared for with joy.  Would we not want to extend that same welcome to the most special incarnation of God here on earth?  What would preparing the household of God look like if we as a community were preparing for the reality of Christ’s presence? 

The answer to that question is the key to our worship experience together.  Because that is exactly what we are trying to do as we worship together.  We invite one another to share in the Lord’s Table together.  We confess to God out of a genuine desire to do and be God’s will in the world.  We want to be at peace with God, to align ourselves with God’s vision of the world.  When we share the peace of Christ with one another, we are sharing something precious with each other – we are expressing a desire for shalom.  Shalom, in Israel, is used frequently and has a whole host of meanings.  It is, in fact, a greeting.  It is also, “Completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony.”[3]  When you speak Shalom to someone, you are blessing them with all of these things.  Shalom is not just experienced individually.  The peace of Christ is meant to be experienced together.

The reality of peace is something that we must live for and work towards every day of our life.  Christ’s peace is world-altering and community-building.

Advent is here!  Prepare the way of the Lord!  Search your heart and open it to God’s will.

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79)

Sleep in heavenly peace, God is alive and active in the world.

Working for Peace

“With the dawn of redeeming grace”


[1] Robin Gallagher Branch.  Feasting on the Word.  Luke 1:68-79.

[2] Wesley D. Avram.  Feasting on the Word. Luke 3:1-6.

[3] David Silver.  “The Meaning of Shalom.”  http://www.therefinersfire.org/meaning_of_shalom.htm

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