An Advent for Peace
Happy New Year. I know you’re thinking, Karen you are a whole month early. Its December 1st not January 1st. But today we start our new liturgical year. The liturgical year is shaped by the life of Christ as we examine and proclaim God’s work for salvation through Christ Jesus. This year we will see Christ’s life through the eyes of Matthew. The writing has traditionally been attributed to St. Matthew, one of the 12 Apostles, described in the text as a tax collector. It is believed be written after 70 CE in either Antioch or southern Galilee though some scholars put it earlier. It was written primarily for a Jewish audience. Matthew’s gospel mirrors that of Mark, with about 80% of the Gospel of Mark appearing in Matthew, but only half of Matthew’s Gospel appears in Mark. Matthew stresses the divine nature of Jesus, that Jesus is the long awaited and prophesied Messiah. He is especially helpful in our understanding of how the entire Old Testament leads up to the promise and the person of Jesus Christ.
Our new year starts with Advent. During Advent we prepare for and anticipate the coming of Christ. Advent translated from Latin means coming. Since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century, Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ, in the flesh, in our hearts, and in glory at the end of time. Many of us have already started preparing to celebrate the Advent of Christ in the flesh as we remember Jesus’ humble birth in a stable. We come to Wordship to celebrate the Advent of Christ in our hearts, grateful for His presence in our lives. Today’s reading reminds us that we are still waiting for the Advent of God’s Kingdom. We anticipate the second coming as the fulfillment of all that was promised by Christ’s first coming
When I read today’s gospel my first thoughts were I don’t want to be left behind when God comes to judge the living and the dead, one will be taken and one will be left. I was surprised to find in my research that the idea of the rapture is fairly new. Taylor S Brown states that “No Christians before the mid-1800s believed in a “rapture.” Many people think its increased popularity started in the 1970’s and was fueled by the Left Behind books of the 90’s. There is, also, much debate about the exact meaning of these words. Is it good to be taken and escape tribulations or is it good to be left behind to enjoy God’s kingdom on earth. Apparently these views are held pretty evenly. This was fascinating to research, something I had never done before. But I digress. Being left or taken has nothing, at all, to do with the message in today’s reading. In our gospel today, Matthew reminds that the first Advent or Coming of Jesus is not complete. We are actively waiting for the Second Coming. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. No one knows the day or the hour, not the son, nor the angels, only the father. It will very likely happen as we go about our daily lives. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. The farmer will be in the field and the women in the mill, ordinary things. It is easy to be prepared for things when you know they are coming, when they are scheduled or on your to-do list. We would all be like the homeowner if we know someone was going to break in. We would turn on all the lights, check the doors and windows, and stay up to make sure they don’t get in. Both times my house has been robbed it was because I was not watchful. I assumed that my house was locked up tight. It was not, allowing someone to enter my home. I wish I can tell you that I am now always diligent and most times I am but just this week I went out a door that I don’t use often and found it unlocked. I have no idea how long it had been unlocked. I can blame being sick, having lots of company in the house but really I just stopped checking the doors and windows before I go to bed. That is exactly why Matthew admonishes us to Stay Away. I don’t know about you, but when I have a crisis in my life, God and I are stuck together like this . But it is my ordinary life that I become complacent. When I skip time with God, it is easy to be to make excuses. I’m tired. I’m busy. God is always there, right. Matthew’s admonishment to stay awake is not the hyper-vigilance we have all done waiting for the other shoes to drop but a reminder that we cannot let our everyday lives pull us away from God.
Isaiah gives us a beautiful image for what we are waiting. A shining city on the hill, to which all the nations, not just the ones we like or agree with, but all nations, will stream. We will be invited and encouraged to come to the hilltop and learn from the Lord. Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. Imagine it. People from all over the world coming together to hear and learn God’s word and then going forth to spread the God News. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD. There will be judgement. We say it in our creed. He will come to judge. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples. This does not sound, to me, like a judgement to fear but a fair and loving judgement. It reminds me of when we went to small claims court. It was scary to go but the experience was impressive. The judge assigned us an arbitrator to see if we could work it out among ourselves. The arbitrator listened to both sides as we described the dispute from our point of view. He asked non-judgmental questions to dig deeper into our reasoning. He came up with a judgement where both sides gave a little. In the end, we all thought it was fair. There was no anger or recriminations though I’m pretty sure both sides thought felt wronged going in. I know we did. That is how I hear this verse. This feels personal. How could it not be? We will not need to take sides, fight for our rights, or dig up any opposition research but we will be lovingly guided to peace. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Think about being able to melt down guns to build playgrounds or make battleships into refrigerators. Where war will cease and no one will have to leave their families to train for war. This truly will be the Advent of peace: peace in our lives, peace in our society and peace in the world.
This Advent I encourage you to hold God’s promise of peace in your heart. It is the purpose of his coming, in Bethlehem, in our lives and in the time to come. What peace you would feel if all your problems, all your unresolved conflict were arbitrated away. I feel myself relaxing just thinking about it. But peaceful and relaxed are not the words that many of us associate with Christmas. We think about the demands and expectations of the season. We deal with our crazy family, all of us a little if not a lot stressed. As we await an Advent of peace, let us celebrate This Advent for peace. Here are some traditions that my family has use over the years to help us hold Advent in our hearts. We resist doing anything related to Christmas until Advent. No decorating, no lights, no movies, no music, thought to be honest, I usually do buy a few presents in November. This sets the time aside as holy and sacred. Tonight we will place a stable on the buffet and add the sheep, cow, and donkey. Mary and Joseph will start their journey to Bethlehem. Every Sunday I move them closer to the stable. It reminds me that I am on a journey too. When my kids were little, the journey included the whole house. Every day Mary and Joseph travelled from room to room. The boys were so excited when Mary and Joseph got to spend at least a few nights in their room. I lived in terror of the daily move. My nativity is a beautiful ceramic set, hand painted by my cousin Velda Jean. She gave it to me for my first Christmas in the first house. It truly is irreplaceable. But as much as I worried that the boys would break it, they always treated Mary and Joseph and later the Wismen, they travelled too, with reverence and respect. It was the same reverence and respect I saw them bring to people and activities as we prepared for Christmas. We also lite an Advent candle every night at dinner, reading a devotional and prayer. Our first devotionals were designed for small children and emphasized Mary and Joseph’s journey and preparing for the birth of Christ. As they got older, we remembered the longing of Jews for the Messiah, our own longing to have Christ in our lives and our longing for God’s Kingdom. Although I no longer light the Advent Wreath at home, I still read an Advent devotional every day. It keeps me centered when I get crazy busy and helps me leave the expectations and perfection behind, at least most of the time.
So this Advent, hold Isiah’s vision of peace in your hearts. Make is an Advent that we not only look to the future with joy and hope for the coming peace but also bring that peace into our lives. Stay awake and do not let all the busyness, perfection, and expectations pull you away from God. Embrace traditions that remind you of our journey from Christ in the flesh, to Christ in our hearts, to Christ’s coming again. Claim that peace God has promised by being the peacemaker. Show kindness, love, and understanding to all you encounter. I know that is a tall order. But as we prepare our hearts once again for the coming of Christ, we can embrace peace, a peace that we can share with others If anything we should learn from Matthew today it is that we should not put off being the person we aspire to be. Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! together.
I would like to share a poem about the peace of the season that I cut out of my church’s bulletin about 25 or so years ago. It reminds me that at the core of Advent is our longing for the Prince of Peace
“My peace I leave you, My peace I give you.”
I have come to bring you peace.
Not the peace of the season, for it is too fleeting.
Not the peace of the carol, for it is nostalgic.
Not the peace of the greeting card, for it is too slick.
Not the peace of the crib, for it is too wistful
Rather, I have come to bring you peace,
Peace of the ordinary, the daily, the homely,
Peace for the worker, the driver, the student,
Peace in the office, the kitchen, the farm,
I have come to bring you peace.
The peace of accepting yourself as I have fashioned you,
The peace of loving yourself as I love you,
The peace of being yourself as I am who I am.
I have come to bring you peace,
The peace that warms you at the completion of a task,
The peace that invades you at the close of the day,
The peace that sustains you at the beginning of the day,
The peace the reinforces you when you are reconciled with one another,
The peace that touches you when your family is in order.
Without peace, my coming is unfulfilled.
Without peace, my birth is forgettable.
Without peace, Christmas is a contradiction.
I have come to bring you peace.