Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 1:67-80
December 7, 2014
In the title of this message, I tried to include the two things Isaiah talked about in our reading for today: “Light” and “Peace.” “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!” and “For unto us a child is born …and of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end.” I believe Isaiah put those those two things together for a reason. And I’d like to attempt to do so as well.
Coincidentally (or not!) today is Pearl Harbor Day. 73 years ago, the world was changed for ever. Peace, which is our Advent theme for today, was banished from this earth for 5 long and frightening years. Some of you remember where you were that day – just as people of my generation remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, or where they were on 9/11.
Of course, World War II finally ended in 1945, but it seems that ever since then, peace has been a fleeting thing. That war – which itself grew out of the tension in the world following the previous World War – that war was followed by conflicts Korea, Viet Nam, the Middle East, the Balkans, and in numerous other places. (Does anyone remember the Falkland Islands?) In the most recent years, we’ve had Desert Storm, and since 9/11, we’ve had what was called the “War on Terror.”
Well, it is the Advent season, and I don’t want this to be all doom and gloom! But as we think of Peace as an Advent theme, as we see this second candle burning before us in our Advent Wreath, we might find ourselves asking, “Do we really have peace – even today” And as we consider that, what I’d like us to remember is that “Peace” is not simply the absence of conflict. Some people can be in turmoil event when there isn’t any actual conflict going on around them. Isn’t that true? And let me say also that “Peace” is not conditional to the absence of conflict. We can have peace, even in the midst of conflict. And that is the good news of Advent!
This second candle reminds us that we can have peace no matter what the circumstances. And that is good news! Because there does seem to be an unending state of turmoil in our world. And I’m not just talking about what we’ve seen in recent weeks. I’m not just talking about the protests in our cities and the increasingly strained racial relationships! I’m not just talking about the ongoing fighting in so many places in our world. I’m talking about how many around us face personal difficulties – even in this “Season of Peace.” How do we have peace in such times? How do we have what Paul called the “Peace that passes all human understanding.”
Well, it was mentioned in a meeting the other night that the themes we use for our advent wreath celebration go together. And as I’ve thought about that, I realized it’s true. You can’t have peace without hope, and you can’t have joy without peace. And when we have those things, then we are more aware of the Love, which Paul told the Corinthians, “binds all things together.”
So, the first part of having peace in difficult times, is having hope in difficult times. That was our first theme, though Mr. Darryl felt led to “jump the Advent gun” last week and begin with “Joy.” And that’s good! But if we think of “Hope” first, we see from Isaiah’s prophecy that Hope comes from the “Great light” he prophesied about so many centuries ago. Notice he was speaking about the future but writing as if it were in the past. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” That makes it apply to all ages. So, in that light we have hope, and in that hope we have peace, no matter what the circumstances. Do you see how that works?
Of course, Isaiah goes on to be more specific about that light. For the people then, and for us, the great light is that “…unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’” And “…of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.”
Again, that means peace in the future kingdom of Jesus, and it means peace in his presence in our hearts today. That’s important to remember, because in this age (and certainly many other ages!) we might indeed find ourselves asking, “Where do we find our peace?” “This world is in a mess!” “What do we possibly have to be joyous about?” Well, remember what Jesus had to say about that. On the eve of his most difficult time, he told his disciples, “In the world you will have (what?) tribulation.” “But,” what did he say? “Hang in there”? “Keep your chin up”? “Tough it out”? No! He said, “Be of good cheer!” That sounds like a Christmas line, doesn’t it?”
And that’s one of the problems with Christmas time. We tell people they should be happy because it’s Christmas, without telling them why. Sometimes We say, “Be joyous!” And it’s almost as if it’s “Be joyous for the sake of the season.” But that’s not what Jesus said. He said, “Be of good cheer, for I have (what?) overcome the world.” That’s the Good News!!
So then, the real question in Advent, and the one I really want you to focus on this week, is not “Do we know what these themes of Advent are,” – Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love – but “Do we have them?” If we don’t, this is all just a nice celebration full of lights and decorations and traditional readings and songs. And those things are good! But, let them remind us of what we’re celebrating. Ask yourself, do you have the peace that passes all understanding? And do you have it because you have “seen the great light?” That is the source of our Hope. And that hope is what takes us to that place of Peace.
Eternal God, in this season of hope and peace, may we know that hope and peace ourselves. Help us to step aside from the busyness of this time and to see that light once again, and to know the true glory of this celebration. For this we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Amen.