Sunday, December 5

Advent 2 Worship

Today was the Second Sunday of Advent. We lit the candle of peace, and the theme was peace. In addition to the Advent Song There's a Voice in the Wilderness, we sang our first Christmas carols of the year: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and It Came upon the Midnight Clear. We even sang the last stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem as a response to our prayer of confession. The choir sang an introit and an anthem, and I introduced my sermon by praying a "psalm" by Edward Hays (Prayers of a Planetary Pilgrim).

Here's a video of the service, and below that ("read more") is the complete text of the sermon.
A Meditation on Advent 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.
—Micah 4:3
O Prince of Peace,
whose advent we seek in our lives,
come this day and show us
how to beat our swords into plowshares,
tools of life instead of instruments of fear.
May your love strip us naked
of all weapons and strategies of conquest,
which are not the tools of lovers,
wise ones and God’s children.
Let us not lust for power
but rather strive for the insight
to be guided on the Way of Peace.
Let us not yearn for a victory
that requires a sister’s sorrow
or a brother’s shamefaced defeat.
With tears, black suits and dresses
and tolling funeral bells,
let us attend life’s victory parties
that are won at such a cost.
Let us be Advent adventurers and peacemakers,
hammering swords into shovels,
filling holes and leveling peaks.
Let us be disarmed and vulnerable,
for only through such open hands and hearts
can Emmanuel come.*
Isaiah 9 promises light for a people lost in the shadows, because, he said, “a child has been born for us, a son given to us… and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David.”

There are other promises of peace surrounding the coming age, but one of the most meaningful is found in Micah 5—the prophecy that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem—which says that he would “be One of peace.”

But the most beautiful prophecy is unique. Mainly because it’s not unique. It’s one of those rare prophecies that’s repeated. We read it at the beginning of Isaiah 2 and again at the beginning of Micah 4. It’s not exactly the same—but the best parts are repeated word for word. “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.”

This prophecy is so beautiful that there’s actually a statue of it in front of the United Nations building in New York. But peacemaking isn’t just for nations. It’s the calling for all who follow the One who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”—sons and daughters of the One who turns instruments of death into implements for growing food.

In the midst of a culture obsessed with weapons and armed to the teeth, disciples of Christ find our identity in other ways and make an impact on the world using other tools. These are not power tools; they’re hand tools. And not just hand tools—they’re word tools; they’re heart tools.

But more than anything, our world needs wisdom tools. Wisdom and peace are not opposites—of course they’re not. But we seldom think of them as going hand-in-hand. But think about how much different our world would be if, instead of striving for power, we prayed for wisdom and did all we could to obtain it, to respect it, and to preserve it. This might be not only the path to wisdom, but also the path to peace. The Book of Proverbs (3:17) tells us that wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

The Bible doesn’t tell us to get rid of ambition. For the most part, it’s okay with people being comfortable in life. But from beginning to end, the scriptures make it clear that hurting others while getting ahead is wrong. Whether we’re talking about an individual, a church, or a nation, we cannot know true inner or outward peace if we have to hurt others to get it.

The psalm I read by Edward Hays talks of us becoming Advent adventurers and peacemakers. This is a great image, for we do sometimes speak of this season as a journey. But in terms of what’s before us, perhaps it really is more of an adventure than simply a journey. For the road is difficult. There are many obstacles along the way. This is because it’s difficult to be a disciple. It’s hard to promote our meek side and downplay our tough side. Making peace is a challenge.

And yet, the closer we get to Bethlehem, the farther our steps take us from fear and selfishness—the farther we want to distance ourselves from petty conflict and drama. And yet Bethlehem is not our true destination. The stable and the manger are important signposts. But they’re not our home, just as they weren’t Jesus’ home.

To kneel at the cradle of the One born in Bethlehem is to share in the presence of Christ. It is to fully comprehend what God intended by words such as “a little Child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6) and “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Ps. 38:11). But the Child has not yet spoken for himself. He has not yet taught us the price of peace and the cost of discipleship.

As it turns out, the road to Bethlehem is simply the road through Bethlehem. Just as the path that leads to the Lord’s table also takes us away from it. The table, too, is a resting-place for the saints of God. Here, too, we know what it is to be in Christ’s presence. We find strength in better understanding what it means to be a disciple. But we also know that God has more to say to us, other places to lead us; and that there’s yet more and truth to break forth from God’s holy word.

The bread of heaven inspires us and the cup of salvation fortifies us to continue along the path of peace. Because we know we don’t walk this path alone, we can let our guard down. We have the presence of Christ and we have the belovèd community. And so, as we continue our Advent adventure, let us take a look at ourselves and make our confession to Almighty God.
—©2021 Sam Greening, Pilgrim Christian Church

*Advent Peace Psalm, Edward Hays, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim: A Personal Manual for Prayer and Ritual (Leavenworth KS: Garden of Peace, 1989), p. 130.

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