12/9/12, Let Peace Begin With Me

Baruch 5:1-9, Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11, Luke 3:1-6


The gospel we read for the first week of Advent told us of Jesus speaking to his disciples about a vision of the last days.  A time of destruction with this present world coming to an end is anticipated.  Followers of Christ, however, are promised that when such things happen, our liberation is near at hand.  Even in the worst times of darkness, there is reason to hope. And HOPE is the promise of the first week of the Advent season.

From the Old Testament reading today, the prophetic voice of Baruch offers the exiled tribes of Israel this promise: Your eternal name will be Peace through Justice, and Honor through Devotedness.”  PEACE is the promise for this second week of the Advent.

The setting for this week’s gospel isn’t much happier than last week.  John the Baptist, who was an odd duck even in that society, had emerged from his desert experience and took up the prophetic mantle of being a voice crying out in the wilderness.  The wilderness was remembered as the place of desolation through which God had led Israel to a new and promised life.  John’s wild appearance and bizarre eating habits may have been threatening but his hearers recognized that his message was one they had better pay attention to.  His words to them were simple:  Repent and Prepare.

What does it mean to repent? To repent is to acknowledge with regret that a present course of action is not working.  More than regret though, repentance is to turn away from that way of being and go in a new direction. This repentance is essential before one can do the next necessary thing: prepare.   To prepare is to get ready for something that is yet to come.  John’s message is to make ready the way for Our God.

It seems to be significant that the setting of this story finds John wandering around preaching

in a wilderness.

 

Most of the Hebrew nation, held under the dominating and often violent rule of the Roman Empire, experienced life as a desert, an empty forsaken place where life was just HARD.  A daily struggle to survive was for many of them a way of being.  Bitterness at their situation was a common feeling, along with the sense that God had abandoned them.  There was a great longing for peace. For them, peace would be the absence of violence and oppression along with adequate provision of daily needs.  When such peace exists, humanity is free to develop its potential as the image of God.

Into this setting came John, preaching the need for repentance and preparation.  2000 years distant from this story, we now understand that John’s words were meant to introduce the coming of Christ to the Jewish people as the messianic figure for whom they had been waiting. 

Although they probably didn’t fully understand what was being asked of them, John was indicating that these people needed a willingness to turn from old ways of being religious in preparation for receiving a new way of being in relationship with God.

As we consider this story during Advent 2012, we might ask, “What does John’s message say to 21st century Christians in America?   What does the desert represent to us?”   While we in the United States have a hard time even imagining  the physical deprivation and societal violence that the Hebrews lived with, we have our own spiritual desert experiences.  Perhaps we wander in a spiritual wilderness as a result of living at the opposite end of the survival spectrum.  Whereas some may struggle for survival due to lack of food, shelter, or love, many of us are buried under the pressure of our excess of possessions, fractured relationships, and overwhelming busyness. In common with the people to whom John preached in the wilderness, we long for peace.  We want war and oppression to cease.  We want justice for all people. For ourselves we want inner freedom so that once again we can find that connection to God that true peace brings.    John was pointing to the coming of Christ as the way of peace.  That way required preparation 2000 years ago and today, we are still being reminded that we must take individual and corporate action to prepare for that way of peace.

John indicated to his followers that they needed a willingness to turn from old ways of being religious in preparation for receiving a new way of being in relationship with God.  Likewise, all of us who hear these scriptures are called to repent of whatever old way of being is no longer working for us.  Along with repenting, we must actively prepare the way for peace to take its place.  The prophet images this preparation as filling in the valleys and leveling the mountains, straightening out the twisted paths and making the rough roads smooth.  In this season of Advent preparation, can you think of low places in your life into which you constantly fall?   Are there mountains that you just can’t get over?  How about twisted roads that always seem to take you on a detour from your intended goal, or rough places that put holes in your shoes?  Repenting of these hindrances is preparing for the way for peace in your life.

Each of us knows what “repentance” or change of ways means for us personally.  We know what our hindrances are.  For some of us, it means resolving the emotional violence that unresolved conflicts with others do to our souls.  For some of us, it means letting go of the excesses of our lives: excessive possessions or excessive busyness.  Whatever it is that disturbs our peace also keeps us from fulfilling our potential as the image of God. 

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. When peace is with us, then we are able to be the channels of God’s love that bears peace to our restless world. So as we mark this second week of Advent with a focus on peace, may this familiar prayer resonate within us.   (Play here “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” sung by Susan Boyle, from her album, The Gift.)

 By Sandi DeMaster