Monday, December 12, 2016

Advent 2-A

The Peaceable Kingdom


Peace, peace... peace... something hard to define, something hard to achieve, something we all long for... peace is something that seems to be desperately missing from our world, and curiously, I imagine it is hard to find in our personal lives around now too with all of Christmas weighing down on us in one way or another.
So what is it exactly that we long for? What do we mean when we talk about peace? The obvious answer is that it is the absence of violence... but when you stop and think about that for a second, we need to ask another question... what is violence...
It may sound like I am going to go all high brow on you and start to talk about philosophical ideas and theological faith responses... but what I am thinking about it actually far more mundane and practical.
I know a couple who just decided this week to end their marriage. Ali has an ex parishioner who is just a young and troubled man whose mother just died of a heart attack. The malls are so crowded that you cannot hear yourself think while you walk around them. Rush hour in this city... My daughter Rachael had the stomach flu. I could not sleep Friday night.... all of this is violence, is it not?
The noise, the busyness, the pain of life all hurts us. It is painful. And we wish we had a break from it. We wish we had peace, just for a moment...
Peace is also one of those things prophets foretold and Jesus came to offer... The Prince of Peace he became known as, the one who would usher in the prophecies of Old.
And so we gather and worship and wait.... but while we wait, we will take this opportunity to think about how to bring Peace into our lives.

Time for the Young at Heart

God's Dream - Nelson Mandela

Of Prophets and Presents

 I have always thought that in order to have true peace the world would have to be a different place - I started this whole ministry thing with the naive hope of changing the world... I guess I was a vey Old Testament prophet sort of guy in terms of my ministry.
The prophets believed people could change. You hear it all the time in the Old Testament; they preached, often fire and brimstone, trying to convince people that they should change… that the world would be a better place if only they could see that they were not living their lives like God wanted them to live.
Some times forget that this was a very practical and political world. Israel was a place where warfare and chaos reigned. When the prophets hoped for changed, when they preached about peace - it was not an abstract thought... how about people stop fighting... how about people grow enough food... how about we learn to conserve water in a drought.... stop focusing on the wrong things and focus on how to make life better.... that would be peace.
And maybe God would send someone to help us get on with it... someone like Elijah... someone like Moses... someone who would be a leader and help us change....
Sometimes we forget that this is the meaning of Christmas.... We have built up such nostalgia and sense of tradition that we think the holly and the ivy, the Christmas lights and turkey smells, the family and love is what it is all about.
Jesus born in a stable and gifts from unexpected sources. Stars and cattle lowing...
But that is not what it was about. Sometimes we forget that only two of the four gospels talk about the whole ‘birth – manger – shepherds in the fields’ part of the story… Only half of the writers thought it important to start with what we pretty much think is the core message of Christmas…
There is something that all four gospels to agree on, however, There is a concrete part that they all agree began the ministry of Jesus... and that is John the Baptist. "Christmas" ... the whole "Messiah" thing... It all starts with a political protestor. So as we consider peace in our time, let's start where he starts.
let’s start with the political and social situation of Jesus. Jesus was born into an awful world, filled with awful rulers… They were governed by the largest Empire ever known, an Empire that was already crumbling with decay and corruption. The Emperor Caesar is corrupt, so is the local governor, so is the Jewish king, and finally, so is the High Priest of God’s very own temple. Every single person of power seems corrupt.
And so God's spirit begins to work in that usual and unexpected way... a nobody appears on the scene... the son of a small time priest named Zechariah. And this man, John, becomes convinced that people need to change, that the prophets were right, that we are off track
So he is all about making the paths straight, all about preparing the way… and his message is one of repentance; of turning your life around and focusing on the things of God. Really, he thought it would be that simple… if we stopped thinking about the ways of the world and started thinking about the ways of God, everything would get better.
Do you know what I have observed in my 23 years of ministry? It is very hard to change the world! No, really.... It is almost impossible to change the world. I have come to see that there is a mathematical formula about change. Changing the minds of four billion people is impossible. Changing the minds of a million people is almost impossible. Changing the minds of a thousand people is impossibly hard. Changing the minds of 100 people is unlikely. Changing the mind of a person is possible.
Perhaps these prophetic dreams of peace were aiming too high?

The Imagination of a Messiah

Some people say John Lennon, from the Beatles, was a prophet. That he was one of those voices that God has spoken through to try and bring us a message about how the world should be.
It was 36 years ago, or will be four days, that John was killed… His song “Imagine” is actually a pretty good Advent Hymn when you think about it. In case you have not heard it this is the chorus...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one”
The verses have other sentiments about getting rid of the things that divide us, about no more countries or religion, no more politics or greed. It actually sounds really good, and it is really no different a message than when Isaiah and the other prophets were getting at with the whole lion will lie down with the lamb and we will all be at peace; or that someday God will come and restore the justice of the people….
Prophets had hope, they had a sense that the future was one in which peace reigned; and they believed that this was true because of the fact that there was a better way to live.
But what they needed was something Jesus knew all about... the one on one. Jesus did not minister to institutions or even churches. He talked to people. Mostly one at a time and where he met them.
He knew that to change the world you change it one person at a time. Just like Lennon said, I am going to do something differently... I hope you join me... and someday we will see the world begin to change.
This is how we build the peaceable Kingdom Isaiah spoke of and John preached about. This is how we find the peace we all long for, even if it begins with small changes..
So, two weeks into Advent and I am suggesting that we need to have Hope, and seek Peace. I am not telling you how to do it, some days I know that for my own life, and some days I have no idea….
But still, I believe that life is a journey in which we grow and learn and seek to be a better person.

As we approach Christmas, and think about the voices from our prophetic past, I think that they may have been on to something….