Summary: This is a sermon for the second Sunday of Advent, focusing on God's peace. It is part of a 4 week series from "rethink Church"
Peace…strength to hold on
Many of our Christmas songs have something in common, let’s see if we can find it in these samples of lyrics– “peace on the earth good will to all, prince of peace”, “sleep in heavenly peace”, “peace on earth and mercy mild”, “with peaceful wings unfurled”, “peace! peace! Jesus Christ was born to save”, and “wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth” are we seeing a theme here? Yeah, many of our Christmas songs tote peace - and that’s just the Christian ones. Sometimes during this hectic season we feel anything but peace.
This time of year seems more tension filled instead of peaceful. We feel unsettled about things. The “musts” of the season usurp our normal routines and we often feel out of control. There are so many expectations and emotional triggers in this season. From all the “have to’s” of the season that we put on ourselves or allow others to put on us – things like we have to have a Christmas gathering, and it has to be perfectly decorated for, perfectly cooked and perfectly hosted, we have to get so and so such and such a gift, we have to make sure uncle Sam does not sit by Uncle Ed or there will be fireworks, but that means we have to rearrange the rest of the seating we thought we had worked out, and we have to have this or that food cooked perfectly and the table set just so for Christmas; to the anxiety that is produced in us in this season, things like are we going home or not and if we do how will we survive it and if we don’t how will we live it down, family quarrels that seem to be magnified because of the tension already inherent in the holiday, being alone for the holidays or going through the holidays for the first time with that empty seat at the table, to putting financial or emotional stress on ourselves – peace you say?
This scripture this morning begs us to put things into perspective, which is easier said than done sometimes. We need to keep what I call an “eternal perspective” in our lives, instead of a temporal or circumstantial one, especially when they are in the midst of turmoil. Does not deny the turmoil or its impact on our lives, but acknowledges the temporariness of it – even if it goes on for the rest of our lives, that is a drop in the bucket next to eternity! Even more than that, keeping an eternal perspective affirms the continual presence and ability or the prince of peace in our lives.
When we allow the prince of peace to rule our lives, John the Baptist tells us that he will make a clean sweep of our lives, changing us from the inside out. And that’s where some of the tension comes in. The whole place is clean to the casual observer, but when someone comes in and puts the white glove to it, or sticks the broom under the bed or dusts the corners, not so much. We like our little dusty corners – the habits we enjoy even though they destroy our bodies or minds or spirits or relationships, the petty grievances we hold on to for so long, the hurts we nurse that keep us immobilized, perhaps in fear, the self sufficiency that relies on self above God and all the ways that works out in our lives, the secret sins that we do not want to acknowledge, let alone give up. The Holy spirit trying to come in and mess with all these kinds of things and really clean house as our friend John suggests, gets us kind of worried and tense. Yet in doing that, in keeping our focus on God, that is where we find the peace our hearts long for. This peace that seems so allusive to us, so distant at times, really exists within Kingdom life, but we don’t have to wait for that life as if it were a distant dream. This peace can be manifested in our lives and in the world when we put into practice the way of peace. When we put into practice the way of peace, we will find peace with God, peace with others, and peace in our actions – from home to our life together with friends, family, associates, and far beyond. We will experience a deep, abiding sense within that we know our purpose and that by God’s grace we will live into God’s dream for us. It starts with pausing in the midst of the cacophony and chaos that surrounds us and focusing on Christ. We have a popular saying in most churches, which I’ve heard a good bit in the Methodist church lately. Trying to keep ourselves and our lives and our churches focused and going in the right direction, we often say we need to always, “keep the main thing the main thing.” But that’s not exactly true. There’s one slight problem with that idea, as good as it is: I submit that for the Christian, for God’s church, the main thing is not a thing! The main thing is actually a person. So kingdom life – this place where we can have true peace in the midst of chaos in our lives and world - exists when we keep the main character the main focus. It seems natural around Christmas that Jesus would be central, yet so often we lose that focus in preparing for the holidays.