The scriptures used were: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, and Matthew 3:1-12. The title was, “Peace in all things.”
Before I started I had to give a little disclaimer about how I had all these plans to write about peace with the people around us and how this is not about big global peace, but peace here for us at this time in our own little world, but even before I could start that I had to say that ironically yesterday was the extended Haak family Christmas and I really didn’t want to go. Like some families that are not gathering this year because of (well you know–the election, but I didn’t say the word out loud.) Anyway, I said, I wanted to say I was staying home to work on my message about Peace. Ha, then those dirty crooks held the gathering here in the town where we live and I was the one who had to pick up the key, and so how am I to say I am not coming now because I don’t really want to fight about our differences of political opinions. Well, it was ok, it worked out, and as I was putting together the message that is listed below, none of my earlier plans worked out because the fingers just couldn’t type what I thought I needed to say. Funny how writing works like that, sometimes things just come out the way they come out. Hope you are able to glean something from it, even if it seems long and boring.
The candle we have lit for today is known as the Peace Candle. Some call this the candle of Preparation, and if you look around the sanctuary, you can see that many were busy last week completing the preparations to pretty up our place of worship. Paulina has a final research paper due in her Senior History Seminar class, and she actually finished it up on Friday and sent it to me to proof read. I have done that for her since she started school, and it has been good for both of us because it helps me keeps my teaching skills intact and she is learning a bit more about language arts as we go. Anyway, I bring this up because the topic of her paper was a man who was a Congregational minister who was a leader of the Social Gospel back in the 1800’s and though he was raised in the stanch old Congregational attitude that said messages should be about hell-fire and brimstone and church sanctuaries should be free of any type of decorations, he was a bit more socially liberal than those around him were. It sort of made me chuckle as I was reading that paper because I wondered what some of the leaders of that era would think of how we keep our places of worship today. Certainly we might expect at least a bit of a talking to about it.
The other name for this candle that we lit today is the Bethlehem Candle, and it is called that as a symbol of the manger where Christ was first laid after he was born. I looked for more reasons why it is called the Bethlehem Candle, but only found information on the town, which is also called “the city of David.” It is the place where King David was first anointed by the prophet Samuel, and is also the burial place of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. Some other Christian denominations call the second candle the Love Candle, but in our denomination we reserve that for the fourth week.
Today the candle that we light is the Candle of Peace, and if we focus on the scripture from Isaiah, [vs. 6: the wolf lives with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together and a little child shall lead them. NRSV] (those Isaiah words are pretty good) we can see quite clearly that the message is about Peace. It is about the hope of Peace coming to those ancient days, and even to us now. We can hope that it is about peace coming to our world, to our time, for our future. Yet the reality is that we live here, and we can see the truth of the situation every time we turn on the TV news, listen to the radio or pick up a newspaper. Peace is not a reality or even a remote possibility in most parts of the world as a whole. Peace whether we are talking about a full blown war, tragic weather or accidental events, or issues brought on by disgruntled people, peace is not something that is a fact of life for most of the world around us. But, as we noted last week, at least we can see there is some peace in our area, right???
My first thought when I began to ponder this message as being about the Peace candle and thinking of the events we hear daily and nightly in our world—my thoughts went back a few years, in fact my thoughts went all the way back to the beginning of this country. I thought back to the days of Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry who were two of our greatest persuaders to convince the rest of the leaders of the time to enter into the Revolutionary War against the tyranny of the British Government. Henry was a great orator who gave the speech we have all heard about “Give me Liberty or Give me death,” and Paine was the one who wrote pamphlet after pamphlet about why it was a good idea to fight the British immediately without hesitation. He used phrases like “sunshine soldier and summer patriot” to argue against those who wanted to settle for peace at the time. Mostly he put a guilt trip on those who wanted to broker a temporary peace by letting them know that by vowing for “peace in our time” they were kicking the idea of war down the road for their children to fight. And as a persuader, we all know he was pretty effective because the war was not put on hold. They fought and they won.
The Peace Candle that we light today is with thoughts of Christ coming to earth as a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger in Bethlehem. That baby who was the ultimate miracle child later grew up to be someone who was not a “peace in our time” sort of leader. Although Christ was not a soldier of war who came to lead the people against the Roman army, he was a revolutionary of sorts. Yet Christ was something so very different from what the people of the time understood about God, and who God was. Christ was someone who according to John the Baptist, he, John, was not worthy to carry or untie, as the translation might read, the sandals of. We read the verses about John today in preparation for the coming of Jesus. Today we study the story of the grown John the Baptist to better understand what sort of leader Jesus was. John understood that Jesus was the actual Messiah, and he also knew his own role as the one who was sent to point the way for that Messiah. In the scripture lesson that we read for today, we see how John begins the battle that Jesus will engage with the religious leaders of the time by calling them a brood of vipers: A den of poisonous snakes.
As John looks at these Jewish leaders, who by the way are usually at odds and are not seen as working together even though they are mentioned together here, [john looks at them] and sees their motives for coming to him as, well let’s just say as less than sincere. John knows that they are not coming to hear his message of repentance. They do not want to be baptized, to be cleansed of their wrongdoings. They want to see what the people are seeing in John, and when they come, they hear that John is proclaiming the fact that the Messiah sent from God is coming, and they don’t like it at all.
See if you are talking politically or at least politically in terms of church politics in their time, these leaders don’t want anything to change. They pretty much like how things have been going for them. They are able to call the shots in the temple. They are making out pretty well financially, and they have the people under their thumb with all their religious rules and regulations, and they are feeling pretty good about themselves. They for sure don’t want anything to change. They are all about peace—their peace/piece of the good life in their day.
And here comes John, pointing the way to Jesus who is about to step into the spot light and change everything. John as he is telling how much more important Jesus is than himself, is also telling how Jesus is coming to bring the real baptism which is not with water as John is baptizing, but with fire and with the Holy Spirit. In these verses John tells us that Jesus came to bring a different kind of peace, it is the peace that will come when he has separated the wheat from the chaff; the believers from the unbelievers, the true followers from those who only give lip service to a belief in God in order to manipulate others into doing their bidding.
Yes today we light the candle of peace and perhaps this is the time to hope for peace and believe that peace can happen, but when you look at the life and teaching of Jesus and even the disciples and John who pointed the way to Jesus, we see more than someone who was a pacifist who wanted peace at any cost. The more you read the scriptures and study the words of Jesus and those who knew him, the more you understand the words of Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus came to earth to end the rule of Satan, to conquer sin, to pay the ransom price for our salvation, which he did on the cross.
The peace that Christ came to bring is the Peace that passes all understanding, the peace that only comes when all the evil has been removed. We have the opportunity to know that real peace when we give ourselves fully to God. When we accept Christ into our lives we have all the things these candles stand for at Advent, we have hope, joy, love and peace. And when we do that in the fellowship of other believers, we have the strength and encouragement of each other that Paul writes of in the passage we read in Romans.
We all know that we live in troubling times, yet I am not so sure that we couldn’t use that same statement in almost any time of history. There have been wars and strife and trouble in our world throughout history. There have been villains and ruffians and con artists in all places at all times; evil abounds and will until Christ returns. This issue is not if it exists, but how we handle it. Our peace comes by having a personal relationship with Christ and a resolve to be in the world, but not of the world. Our peace also comes in reaching out and sharing Christ’s peace with those around us. May each of us take the opportunity to do that this week. Amen!!