Peace/ The Promise Unfolding – November 29

A sermon based on Luke 2: 1-18
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 29, 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott
As you can see by the Christmas tree and hanging of the greens, Advent is here! A part of me thought it would never arrive. Another part of me is somehow surprised it has arrived so soon – even though the past ten months have felt like a decade! Either way I am not sure I have ever been so happy as an adult to see the Holidays show up. There is so much unrest in our lives on so many levels that it seems especially good to have finally entered the season of peace, hope, joy and love– the season of the promise of what can be. This is the time of year when humanity lives into that promise by acting loving and thoughtfully, almost as a matter of course.
We can use ALL the inspiration, cheering up, love and thoughtfulness we can get! And the holidays certainly offer much of all of that in the way of stories and sights and sounds and acts of goodness. The wonder of it is that that’s all brought to us by humankind turning toward the incarnation of God who is love, and lifting up the lighted lighter side of living in the darkness of winter and in the darkness of life. We live into the promise by being the promise . . . bringing so much more love and light into one another’s lives this time of year. That inspires me every year, and gives me extra hope. I hope it gives you hope too– here in the long dark shadow that’s been hovering over most of 2020.
Advent, of course, has long been the season that anticipates and prepares us for Christmas, – the day we celebrate the first arrival of the incarnation of God in the form of a human named Jesus. The very first Christmas – way, way back when– also arrived in a very difficult age AND with much longer and darker shadows. Jesus was born into and lived out his life in times and places far more turbulent than 2020. Diseases ran rampant – not just for months, but years and years– with little knowledge of causes and cures and no vaccines were on the horizon. There was very little (if any) governmental compassion for the masses afflicted by the disease or those being oppressed.
In the first century . . . Palestine (where Jesus lived) was occupied by a conquering nation that took what it wanted from the land and the people and sought TO control virtually every aspect of life. Rome stifled decent. It crushed the poor (which included most everyone). It enslaved people, and maintained “peace” with violence and might. Roman armies and Rome’s appointed overseers and henchmen sought to infiltrate much of society. Rome controlled local kings (like Herod) and governors (like Pilate) and even religious institutions (like the Temple) and their hierarchy (like high priests).
The truth of the matter is, when Jesus arrived much of life stunk to high heaven. So, it is probably no accident that we have a Gospel story of high heaven sending Jesus to arrive amidst the muck and filth of a stable. As a metaphor it fits the times he arrived in – it was a terrible mess. Amazingly from that mess out grew the great promise of Jesus Way, His Way of living into the Truth and Light and Love that is God’s call to us.
Jumping ahead two thousand years to 2020 we find ourselves in a time that feels a mess too, a big mess. We are tired and weary from all that’s unfolded as Covid has relentlessly haunted our lives and the economy. And our nation has had so much political unrest and division and ineffective leadership (at multiple levels) which has left us all reeling regardless of partisan preferences. There may be no major military war afoot, or an overwhelming oppressive force like Rome crushing most of the citizenry day in and day out, but there’s much violence in words and in actions. For a number of people (especially the marginalized) it can be as daunting as living in ancient Rome. For the rest of us it may not be as bad as Rome was but it is still a very disconcerting, disturbing and disorienting time. We feel threatened. As a consequence, there is little or no peace and we find ourselves like those who first anticipated Jesus’ arrival, waiting to be saved from this lesser way of being, waiting for a Prince of Peace to bring in the Reign of Christ. We long for the great promise of Jesus’ Way of Truth and Light and Love.
That promise is the Good News. The bad news, however, is that we will wait in vain if we are expecting the Prince of Peace to supernaturally intervene like a super hero. The Reign of Christ, the Way of Jesus requires those who are on that Way, the subjects of Christ (us!) to do the work needed for God’s realm to come about, for Christ to reign. We are the ones who must disrupt the status quo and intervene with love.
I point out every Advent that these holidays prove we can do it. We amp up love this time of year and that makes a world of difference. And that is the Good News part in play, it’s the promise unfolding. And see, unlike First Century Palestine, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and continuing experiential reality give us something the ancients did not have. Among many other things Jesus’ existence caused, and causes, this annual Holiday Season love-fest which evidences how successful human intervention with love can be. This time of year, we set aside the more standoffish and fend-for-yourself cultural ethos of the other eleven months and replace it with loving our neighbors. We aim for peace for everyone. We do it with good cheer, with gifts, with donations, and with uplifting messages in music and decor and stories. And most of all we do it with good and loving conduct.
The truth is we act more like Jesus, we follow His Way in Advent and Christmas. And what do you know, it makes such a huge difference. All of it brings us closer to the Heavenly Host’s proclamation of “Peace on earth good will to all.” And it is to ALL that the peace is promised and proclaimed. As the angel put it in our lesson, it is brought as “good news of great joy for ALL the people.”
I know that sometimes, even often, it may not seem like it but slowly over time that loving stuff we do in the Holidays in response to Christmas has blended into the rest of year. Bit-by-bit humanity has inched toward betterment as a whole. The type of terrible and cruel oppression that Rome governed with is no longer the mainstay of nations, indeed much of that conduct is now criminal under international law. While there are still cruel and terrible government actions, much of the world and many governments and leaders espouse the ideals of ending it, and keeping it from rising.
There are varying degrees of success and much back sliding, but the oppressions of marginalized groups, including women and children and those of differing race, religion, ethnicity and sexuality, those oppressions all have targets on their back. Slavery is abhorred, and banned and rarely officially allowed. It happens, sadly, I know, but most of the world seems to now ache as God has ached all a long for it to end. There’s a long list of other threats and oppressions that much of the world is continuing to work on breaking down, sexism, racism, heterosexism, poverty. Justice is being sought. Kindness is being loved. Oppression and cruelty are targeted for demise by many, many people and nations and leaders. It has taken far too long to end them. But it is happening. Incrementally.
Another bit of proof is the way most of the people in the world have worked together to help end the Covid crisis. Healthcare and other essential workers have tended to the well-being of others most of 2020, many of the rest of us have helped too following protocols trying to not spread and not get the illness. The bottom line is if we look we can find that the promise of peace set in motion that first Christmas is continuing to unfold. We have a lot of work still to do.
This love-fest stuff we do at Advent is both that work and the promise being fulfilled. We need to it now for sure. But we also need to bring as much of it as we can forward into 2021 from January to December. The promise of this season is not miracles magically appearing. The promise IS as many of us as possible acting in concert toward well-being – toward peace on earth good will to all. We do this during the Holidays. We need to do it all year. We can. And we should. Advent, Christmas, God and Jesus all call us to it in the days, months and years ahead– all of them. Peace on earth depends on it It depends on us. AMEN.