Peace is NOT Impossible

A sermon based on Isaiah 11:1-9
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 3, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Many of you probably saw my note in the Parish Visitor pointing out that this is our fifth Advent together. I have felt very privileged to serve with you these four plus years. Actually even after the first year of a long Narnia-like winter, I’ve been planning to stick around for the duration. I think First Congregational United Church of Christ is doing wonderful work and my plan is to be here as long as it is healthy for us both. God willing, and the church willing, I hope to be here a few more five-year periods.

This time of year Ohioans still ask me what I was thinking leaving the warmth of the Florida Conference to end up in the cooler climes, of central Ohio? My answer typically tends to emphasize how churches in Florida, California and even Hawaii were being considered, but we picked Mount Vernon because this loved-soaked church has a deep love center and a serious interest in aiming toward the well being of all–which is exactly what I hear as God’s call. If my punny side should want to chime in I might add that my first serious job as a restaurant manager was trying to make sure each person had their piece . . . of pizza. Now my serious job is trying to make sure each person has their peace on earth and helps others get peace on earth. (Forgive that awful piece of pizza pun, but I have held back for four Advents, and couldn’t hold back any longer).

I didn’t put that pun in the newsletter, but I did note in the Parish Visitor that Advent and Christmas (this glorious Holiday season!) is a time when millions of people embrace the idea of peace on earth good will to all. I love being a part of that as a minister in a place where Christmas matters, where peace on earth has literally been brightly proclaimed from the top of our church all year long. Where it has been proclaimed on our peace pole for years on end. Where peace on earth is the focus of our summer day camp for children. Where peace on earth is at the heart of our community leadership to overcome racism and sexism and homophobia and poverty. Where peace on earth is the very first thing we focus on every Advent.

And it is the embrace of that idea– peace on earth– during the Holidays that has for eons created seismic ripple affects that put into action peace-full efforts. Last week I pointed out that from Thanksgiving to Christmas– during the Holidays (the Holy Days) we love a lot more. We crank love up. It shows in our caring actions toward family, friends and neighbors for sure, but also to those Jesus calls us to love, those covered in last week’s Lectionary text from Matthew 25: the least among us, the poor, sick, imprisoned and strangers. Jesus taught that those who provide that care inherit Christ’s Reign.

While every year we hear complaints about Christ being taken out of Christmas, the truth is that the bright glowing core of this time of year IS Christ’s abundant love in us, in our desire and caring actions for others’ well-being far and wide. Far from being taken out of Christmas, Christ remains at its heart–in our hearts. No amount of trying to draw focus on the supposedly correct Christmas Greeting or Starbuck’s cups, can fog up the fact that Christ remains very much in Christmas, because well being of others remains what most focus on in these Holy Days. Peace on earth good will to all is our common aim and desire. And well- being far and wide is actually the very definition of shalom, of the peace in our Bibles. For Christians this is the peace in the Gospels, especially in the Advent and Christmas stories.

Advent Sundays have four themes, peace, hope, joy and love. They are all interrelated. The Christmas give HOPE that the well being of all– peace– is possible. THIS gives us JOY, and it causes us to respond with LOVE which is the desire for the well being of others and actions toward it. And as I said PEACE is well being far and wide . . . unconditionally.

I mentioned in the newsletter that while we are all very much aware that the birth of Jesus is being anticipated in Advent and celebrated, we sorta gloss over the remarkable fact that the very first presence of God incarnate is portrayed in the most non-violent of beings, a vulnerable baby. Most humans desire the well being of every baby all the time. In that sense, babies are virtually universally and unconditionally loved. Not only is that how we are supposed to love the Christ in everyone, but babies are dependant on others to keep them alive and thriving like we are supposed to keep the Body of Christ alive and thriving.

If we think about it, the infant themes of this season give us these simple, short, sweet answers to how peace on earth good will to all can be achieved. It can be achieved by giving each person unconditional love and by helping Christ to be nurtured and thriving in others . . . and the world. That might sound trite and naive, but think about it, isn’t that what we all hope and pray God will do for us? The Bible’s main theme is that God loves us always unconditionally and is present to us in ways that nurture us and help us grow with God as individuals and as a people.

Why does God do this? Because God loves us and wants well being for us. That is our due in God’s view . . . well being. And provision of what is due is the very definition of justice. And all that we are doing in Advent and through Christmas is about that sort of justice, getting and giving that which is due. It is important for ourselves for sure to have justice, but it will not be God’s shalom – peace on earth– until all have justice, that which is due, well being . . . peace.

As Advent rolls in I am reminded that at the end of each calendar year we welcome and celebrate baby Jesus’ arrival as well as the promise that the incarnation of God in him offers. And that each secular calendar new year starts in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas. We start each new year with the chance to stretch the love and good will we experience at Advent and Christmas into our new year.

And as I preached last week, we can– we literally can– stretch love and good will not just to the end of Christmas season but all year, into Epiphany and Ordinary Time and Lent and Easter and beyond. Peace on earth good will to all could be . . . should be . . . our intense mantra and aim. . . all year. While I dispute the idea that Christ is ever out of our Christmas Season, I do have to concede that Christ sure seems to diminish as an influence on the culture as each new year unwinds. The bright glowing core of this time of year, Christ’s abundant love, is in high relief in our desire and actions for others’ well-being. And it is a great misfortune that is it not as intense a way of always being in the community like it is during the Holidays. Christ certainly remains in our hearts, but is less at heart in what our communities do together.

My hope, my prayer – GOD’S HOPE, GOD’S CONSTANT CALL is that one day the bright glowing core of this time of year, Christ’s abundant love in us, and in our desire and actions for others’ well-being far and wide lasts all year long. I get that this is not an easy thing. But I find much hope in humankind despite a history of great violence, unrest and unpeacefulness. Most of us embrace the ideas of justice, love and peace.

Our text from the Old Testament is considered by some as a specific prophesy intended by Isaiah to be about Jesus. When I hear that to mean Isaiah said it in a soothsayer super natural sense, I have my doubts. But that does not mean I do not believe there is Truth it in. Not only in our Christmas stories but in Jesus’ life we can fairly claim, as Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, that the spirit of the Lord rested on Jesus, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (And by “fear” the text can be heard to mean awe). We can also claims Jesus’ delight was in the awe of the Lord. That he doesn’t judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he judges the poor, and decides with equity for the meek of the earth. Jesus also wore righteousness and faithfulness like a belt. That’s a lot of fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. But we do not have to hear it as a magical foreknowledge. It is what God and God’s people have long wanted in good leaders . . . especially in Holy ones.

And what Isaiah –and all of God’s people– expect as the result from such leadership is the miracle of peace. The peace on earth good will to all Isaiah describes is so widespread he uses powerful poetry and metaphors in some of my all time favorite verses:

The wolf shall live 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. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox . . . They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Beautiful images. All of them about creation-wide well being. Complete well being. Shalom. Peace on earth good will to all. The last line of our lesson tells us why and when all this peacefulness will occur “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Our Lord . . . our God . . . the God of Jesus . . . is Love. When we all fully know Love– the desire for the well being of others– then and only then will shalom– peace– the well being of all exist. This time of year we are soaked with love! We can see, hear, and feel the promise. A sense of shalom is washing into our lives, not yet as waters cover the sea, more like soothing waters covering our ankles as we wade into waves of God’s Reign breaking in. Even that ankle deep sense of love, that bit of knowing love of God brings us hope and joy and love … and the wonderful tingle and sensation of peace. God’s unending call is that we step deeper into the sea of Love and swim in and linger in it longer so we can keep moving deeper and deeper soaking more and more of us. So that one day we will dive on into peace so fully that humankind will not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain and the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.