The Sunday Sermon: November 29, 2020 – 1st Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-4
The Gift of Peace
And so, as different as it is for so many reasons this year, we begin another season of Advent together. This season has always been, and continues to be, for “waiting”. Advent stretches into four weeks and includes four Sundays. But here’s the thing this year: We’ve been waiting for thirty-eight weeks, that have included thirty-eight Sundays, counting this morning. We haven’t been waiting that long for Christmas, of course, but for our quarantine and the distancing it has required of us to end.
We have done the right “things” since all of this began – stopping in person worship even before is was mandated last spring and not restarting even when we were allowed; providing recorded worship services every single Sunday since March 15th; and having special drive-in services at first and then holding them every week since last August. We’ve been doing the right “thing,” but none of us thought we’d be waiting this long. We’re tired of waiting. So … this year, while we will continue to honor the “wait” of Advent, anticipating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we’re not going to wait to open a few gifts this year!
During this season, that includes twenty-six days and four Sundays we are going to crack open four gifts that God gives us and spend some time each week reading a few instructions, assembling them, displaying them and putting them to good use – and all of this before Christmas morning! (Kids, tell you parents it can happen!)
All four of gifts, and the “instructions for use” that go with them, are found throughout our sacred scripture, and we’re going to discover them again though the words of the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah. Our gifts are Peace, Justice, Joy, and Salvation. But before we go any further, let us pray …
This year with our season being so very different from any other year we’ve been together, we’re combining the worship service, recorded as it is, with a Zoom video gathering at 10:30 a.m. on the four Sunday mornings of Advent. We hope that everyone will worship through these recorded services available after 7:00 on Sunday mornings and then take advantage of the opportunity we have to gather on Zoom at 10:30. We’ll listen, learn, share, and enjoy our weekly gifts in even deeper ways if we are ”together” for both of these times.
Alright … let’s start unwrapping our first gift. This week: The Gift of Peace. Listen for the Word of God from the prophet Isaiah. Read Isaiah 2:2-4. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, there it is – unwrapped before us. What is it you think of when you hear the word “peace?” I trust you noticed we didn’t hear the word peace in our Isaiah reading, but as I say it now, what is it you think of? Is it tranquility amid the busyness of everyday life; a place of calm in the face of the pressures that come at us from multiple directions; is it an oasis, of sorts, where we can rest and regroup?
Maybe when you hear the word you think of peace as the opposite of violence or the end of warfare. Peace, then, is when people are not killing each other. Most of us never personally see violence like this in person, but we know that it is happening in our communities, our country and around the world. All of these are good meanings, good thoughts about, peace. And yet, isn’t there more to peace? Having unwrapped our first gift, it’s time to assemble.
We find a powerful response to the question about peace being something “more” in our verses from Isaiah. “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” (Isa. 2:4). Peace, in the vision that God gave Isaiah and that Isaiah in turn gives to us means people will no longer even learn how to kill each other. Peace means not only that warfare ends, but that we will not study battle plans or design evermore deadly weapons. We will no longer need to use violence to settle our disputes.
Peace is far more than the absence of conflict. It is deeper even than inner calm. Peace is fundamentally about harmony between people. It is human life lived in community when people get along with one another and where life flourishes as a result. Living at peace with one another and with nature is how we were created and intended to live.
So, unwrapped and more fully assembled, it’s time to take out the manual of operations on this gift, to figure out how we may most effectively put it to use. Peace is not only a state of being. It’s not just something we experience or “look at.” It is also something we need to be doing. In order to live in peace, we have to be peacemakers. From Matthew, chapter five, Jesus himself proclaims, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
Being a peacemaker is hard work. And it takes practice, lots of it. In order to be a maker of peace, the true, full gift of peace, we’re being “present-ed” with this year, we need to de-center ourselves and make room for others – not just the others we are comfortable and content with, but the others that we find more challenging, more different, and more in need than us. To be a peacemaker is to work toward a society committed to the well-being of all – the “mountain of the Lord’s house” Isaiah calls it.
That almost feels impossible this year, doesn’t it? I mean we’ve always disagreed with some and held different beliefs or ideas about what best leads us to the mountain Isaiah envisions. But more and more we aren’t simply disagreeing with others, we’re dismissing and demeaning them. The mental, emotional and spiritual violence we experience as we do this is compounded by the physical violence in our world that has invaded spaces we once thought of as “safe spaces” – schools, grocery stores, movie theatres, and even churches. In times like this we far too easily resign ourselves to the “status quo” and think that if our institutions and leaders cannot or will not get us back on the path, we certainly can’t. We look for the peace in our lives wherever we may be able to find it, but to “make” that peace for others? We far too often feel we can’t change anything.
But we can. With a true, full, understanding of this gift from God – Peace. In one of the most comforting and challenging verses of Christian scripture Jesus lays the gift at our feet: Peace I leave with you. My peace I gift to you. This gift of peace, envisioned in its fullest measure by Isaiah in his prophesy and by Jesus in his life, is at the very center of our hope for our lives, for our community, and for the world. The first gift of our Advent season this year has been unwrapped and assembled. We have read the instructions more precisely. So let us begin to use it. And before you get overwhelmed about where, when, and with whom to start, let me suggest that we begin with one person at a time.
Let peace be with you. Let peace begin with you. Beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks. And then, till the soil of this violent world. Prune the plants of God’s mountain to rid them of the dismissive and divisive branches of self-doubt and collective distrust. One person at a time.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. And like children on Christmas morning we are thrilled with our first gift – Peace. Try it on. It should fit perfect. Try it out. It was meant to be shared. Hope to “see” you at 10:30. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 29, 2020