As we continue to wait for the one who has already come, the birth of Christ into our world and our lives, we are so close we can almost taste it!
Maybe your lights are up and the tree is decked out.
Maybe there are already Christmas cookies sitting on the countertop and presents under the tree.
We are ready for the heavenly choirs of angels mingling with the shepherds in the fields.
We are ready for the moment the wise ones, led by celestial signs, lay eyes on the infant in the manger.
We are waiting in holy anticipation – not for experiences beyond this world, but ones that are embodied in things we can touch and feel, live and breathe.
We are getting ready for God to take on human flesh in our midst!
And boy, do we need it.
Maybe one of the reasons those little lights twinkling on my tree bring me so much comfort is that they are signs of light and life, hope and peace, in a world that is really struggling.
Last week, I lifted up so many places where violence has disrupted lives and this week, more cities, more lives are added to that list. San Bernadino, California. Savannah, Georgia.
If you count up all of the tragedies where four or more individuals were injured or killed in this year, there have been more mass shootings than days.
If you look at our own community, Des Moines has seen its 20th homicide this year – the highest number in 19 years.
On this Sunday, we are called to lift up the promise of peace as we light the Advent candles.
And peace is my prayer on this morning.
Peace is the deep yearning of my heart.
And this morning, we hear from Luke’s gospel songs of longing for peace.
As Magrey deVega reminds us in our Advent Study, if Mark’s version of the gospel is a Reader’s Digest, Matthew is like a Steven King novel, and John is like a Shakespeare play, then Luke is like a Broadway musical.
When his son, John is born, Zechariahs heart sings out: The prophets spoke of mercy, of freedom and release; God shall fulfill the promise to bring our people peace! (UMH #209)
Elizabeth recognized that the child in her cousin’s womb was the longing of all Israel. She was absolutely overjoyed…. and in her joy and in Mary’s song they recognized deep in their hearts that the promise from Micah – the promise of the one of peace – was being fulfilled.
Our hearts in contrast… are jaded and worn and disappointed. And maybe that is because we are looking for peace in all the wrong places.
I remember quite clearly President Obama delivering a speech to the nation and an audience at West Point in 2009.
He had just been named the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and he was announcing a surge in military personnel in Afghanistan.
“I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace on with the other.”
The prophet Micah describes the Prince of Peace in this way:
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:4-5)
Mary and Elizabeth and the child in Elizabeth’s womb cannot contain themselves as they encounter this promise of God – yet unborn. They have been longing and waiting and hoping for so long.
There was no triumphant singing after Obama’s West Point speech… and while there may have been music in Oslo at the Nobel ceremonies, Obama’s own speech tempered any bit of joy and celebration.
We keep looking to our national and world leaders to bring peace.
We keep waiting for the right legislation or diplomacy or defense policy to make us safe and quiet the world.
But they are not the ones we are waiting for.
We live in a world of cynicism and violence, a world of confusion and hatred. Whatever conflict we are experiencing… whether it is family trauma, violence in our neighborhoods, a civil war halfway across the world, it creates conflict internally.
In my own life, I am wrestling with the distractions of family conflict and must admit there are times it is all I think about.
I desire grace and healing to be experienced and yet I hold onto grudges and my own comfort with the status quo. These things are not compatible. They war within me.
And that internal conflict is magnified on the world stage.
Even as we seek peace, we send troops. Echoing out this week from Christian leaders were calls to sign the death warrants of our enemies and to seek out and destroy those who are against us. We demonize those who are different. We label those who have committed atrocities as outcasts and terrorists so we don’t have to recognize that they are human… just like us.
Yet, if we live in this way, will we ever experience healing or reconciliation? Will we ever know peace?
We come together as people of faith and we light the second candle on the advent wreath because we dare to believe that the Prince of Peace will reign.
We dare to hope that there will be day when nation will not rise up against nation.
We dare to hope that a day is coming when innocent lives are no longer taken by gun violence.
We dare to wait for the day when the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up.
And so we pray for peace.
The thing about prayer, though is that it is not a passive thing.
Prayer is an activity.
Prayer requires doing.
Richard Foster wrote:
“Prayer is the central avenue God uses to change us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.”
We believe that God is active in the world, bringing peace through us… just a Mary sang out that God was radically transforming the world through her.
As deVega writes in the third chapter:
The church can offer the very thing that would most remedy a world caught in an endless cycle of self-destructive behavior: a subversive, surprising song. A song whose lyrics speak of self-giving love rather than self-addicted agendas. A song whose sounds are counter waves to the thrum of war chants and the clanging of swords [or the sound of gunfire]. A song whose melody drives us upward towards holiness and purity, rather than into the darkest recesses of our sinful instincts. A sacred harmony that pulses with God’s unconditional love, calling us to forgiveness… the church has a song to perform, and we each have instruments to play.” (p. 60-61)
We each have instruments to play.
If we want to pray for peace, then we have to be peace in the world.
Robert Mann calls us to
“Be a reverse terrorist.
Plot. Plan. Scheme and launch random acts of love.
Incite it. Invite it. Ignite it.
Shake this world to its foundation.
And enjoy yourself in the process.”
That might be peace in the Middle East, or peace between you and your neighbors.
It might be peace among loved ones, or peace between you and your inner thoughts.
In this season of Advent, we stand in the face of war and suffering and distress and we not only look for the coming of peace, but we live it.
We stand like Elizabeth and Mary, pregnant with the hope that God’s promises are real.
The reality we long for this and every Advent…
The miracle that we wait for this and every Christmas…
Is that we might wake up one morning and run outside to discover that God is with us – Emmanuel – and that the Prince of Peace rules the earth.
Until then… we pray and we sing and we live for peace.
**side note** this summer, I attended a concert with Reba at the Iowa State Fair. She talked about how she had been wrestling with so much going on in the world and asked God what she could do and the answer came back… pray for peace… ***