Sunday Worship, December 4, 2022 - PREPARING FOR PEACE

Texts: Isaiah 11: 1-11; Matthew 3: 1-12

    So... here we are in the midst of a terrible war in Europe, three days from the anniversary of a day that will live in infamy, the commemoration of the tragic conflict that tore our nation apart one hundred and fifty years ago, anger and hostility all around us over issues such as unemployment, the economy, and health care, to name just a few, and we are supposed to think about peace.  How do we do this in the midst of all that is going on around us? On top of that, it’s the so-called holiday season and everyone is rushing around, and we find ourselves caught up in the general anxiety around us.

    We listen to the words from the prophet about wolves dwelling with lambs, lions and kids feasting together, and think of Currier and Ives images of Christmas from times past and nod our heads thinking, well, it sounds nice but let’s get real.  We just know that this is not possible.  For many of us Christmas is a suspension of reality, a time when we might, just possibly might move beyond our own preoccupations.  Now, this isn’t to say that our preoccupations aren’t valid.  They are.  They most definitely are. We are now in the third Advent Season reeling from a pandemic that promises to bounce back. For many in our society peace is an illusion, something unobtainable because of all that has happened to them.

    And, to be truthful, for many of us, hearing older people tell us that this time is not so bad compared to their memories of this time or that just doesn’t cut it.  Most of it is ancient history to us:  Depression, bread lines, World War II, economic downturns in the 1950s and 1980s don’t seem to matter in reality; what we know is that we are suffering now.  I’ll wager that if many churchgoing Americans were asked about the prophecies we read this morning without knowing the source, they would regard the passage from Isaiah as either drivel or some foreign threat.

    So, we’re back at our original question.  What do we do with such passages about peace and love and all the rest?  I think unless we begin to prepare for peace in our hearts by taking the first part of the passage seriously, peace is just an illusion.  The first part of the Isaiah passage makes it clear that it is only when justice and equity rule that peace is possible.

    Historically, this passage from Isaiah was written in a terrible time for the people of Judah and Israel.  The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians; Judah was threatened on all sides.  Monarchs and their advisors did not have very long life spans, to put it kindly.  Many were murdered or they died in battle; the common people were lucky if they made it to the age of forty.  Corruption was all around.  The country was falling apart.  Let’s fast forward several thousand years, except that our political leaders aren’t usually assassinated.

    The passage in Isaiah is juxtaposed against the one that has John promising fire and retribution if the people do not repent.  I daresay that most of us would not want to be in his company.  He was abrasive, to say the least; he was clearly impolitic, his comments about Herod marrying his brother’s wife cost him his head.  Usually, telling an audience that they are a brood of vipers is not the best way to win friends and influence people.  This guy was no Dale Carnegie graduate, to be sure.  So, why is this passage in the lectionary focusing on peace?

    Both of these passages tell us that there is no peace without justice, without our society being one of equity and righteousness.  The world was smaller back then but political leadership wasn’t much different.  We just have Madison Avenue or K Street vet and prep business and politics, that’s the only difference.  And those places are more interested in image making rather than justice and equity.  And people know it.  That’s one of the reasons there’s so much anger.  Add to that our demand for instant results and little wonder that we are in any shape to prepare for peace or equity.

    Preparing for peace takes work and patience, and patience is a quality we sorely lack as a society.  We forget how much time and work it really takes to get anything accomplished.  The other day I was looking for a watch to replace my old one that has given up the ghost and I happened to notice some commercially knit items on the rack close to the watch counter.

    Curious, as I always seem to be, I looked at the label: made in you know where.  And I overheard some woman say, “better than handmade.”  I had to bite my tongue not to say, No, not better than handmade, faster, cheaper, yes, but what counts is the special quality that hand knitting brings to an item.  Preparing for peace is like knitting, it takes one stitch at a time but in the end, there’s a scarf, a hat, with the knitter’s special stamp on it:  love.  Without that quality, we will not be able to have peace, much less prepare for it.

    As we continue throughout this Advent season, let’s look at the many little ways we can build a society that is prepared for peace.  The little things that we do for each other -- the thoughtfulness of getting Advent calendars for the children and caring for the elderly, the care we have in thinking about making a gift or a decoration, the way we just sit and listen to each other; these are ways of building peace because peace comes from our relationships with each other based on the respect we have for each other as our equals.  In the end, treating everyone with respect serves to create a world of justice and righteousness where equity and mercy rule.

    Let us pray:  God who gives us all good things, help us to respect each other, have patience with all the little troubles that seem to arise, and to build a society where all have access to equity and righteousness, justice and mercy. In the name of the One who is our peace, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.