Advent: Light the Candle of Peace – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, December 9

The Voices of Advent are calling: “The best deals of the year… interest until 2020….60% off……buy one get one free.”
     There is one more voice calling during Advent: “Are you on the right path? Think about your life.  Is it what it should be? God’s anointed one is coming and he will set our hearts on fire.”
     Last words are not from the mall but  from John the Baptist. He directs our attention to Jesus and his coming kingdom,  a kingdom of peace.
     Peace (shalom) is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Peace is described as a condition of the community where there is wholeness, security, harmony, well being.  
     In the book of Leviticus , peace is present when there is enough to eat, the fields are full for the harvest, and when you lie down to rest, no one shall make you afraid. 
     For the Jewish people, the dream of peace was not always possible because there were wars and enemies and animosities  with their neighbors.  Peace was always seen as a possible reality  through the power of God.
     There were around 500 POW camps here in the US in the 1940’s during  the Second WW.   One camp was in the  farmland of Iowa outside of a town called Algona, Iowa.  There are no buildings still standing from the camp but what remains is a priceless gift from the prisoners themselves.  Six prisoners led by  Edward Kaib  made over 60 figures portraying the birth of Jesus.
     They worked on it for about 6 months and supplied the materials themselves. When they returned to Germany, the figures were left with the town.
     This nativity scene was displayed for the first time Christmas 1945 and has been viewed every Christmas since. The local UMC has provided a home for the figures and annually shares the story of this action of peace. Over 2000 visitors come each year to see the figures and to hear the story.
     The German prisoners constructed it as a way to remember their families and traditions so far away.  For the people of the town, it became a symbol of the common faith that they shared with the prisoners.  Enemies on the battlefield- also brothers and sisters in Christ. 
     Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that Christ is our peace. Christ has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.  Christ reconciles all to God. He announces  peace to those far off and those who are near. We are no  longer strangers, but members of one family.
     Through Christ, barriers and walls are coming down. Possibilities of peace are appearing.
     In our relationships, we have the tendency to divide up people into”us” and “them.” “Them” are seen as being very different from us, and can even be seen as inhuman.
   In Rwanda in the 1990’s  the hatred and fighting continued between the two ethnic groups of  Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus in their conversations and in public communications referred to the Tutsis as “cockroaches”;  they were no longer  seen as people. When the genocide of the Tutsis happened, it was viewed as a  necessary extermination.
     We call our enemies names in order to separate ourselves.  Jesus restores our true names.
    Maya Angelou wrote a poem entitled:  “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem “ where she writes about our names for one another.
     This is the ending of the poem:
“It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother, Peace, My Sister, Peace, My Soul.”
     Jesus said that those who are peacemakers are blessed, that they are God’s children.
     Instructions for being a peacemaker are found in Matthew’s Gospel:  “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. God makes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteousness and unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what more are you doing then others?”  
     In the midst of conflict and disagreements, are there ways to bring together those who have been estranged from one another?
     Peace making has been happening in Mississippi.
     In Jackson Mississippi two United Methodist  churches sit yards apart separated only by a grove of pine trees, Forest Hill UMC  and Middle Brook UMC.  Through the years the issue of race has also separated them, one being known as the “ black” church and one as the “white” church even though they both were United Methodist  congregations.
     They have now become partner churches and throughout the year they get together for worship and for outreach to their community. And every Advent, they meet in the pine grove to sing Christmas carols, and decorate a Christmas tree that they planted together.
     They have watched the tree grow and they have watched their friendship and understanding grow-  that tree has become a tree of peace. It started out as a seedling and has grown to be 6′ high.
     It really started out as hope that the peace of Christ which passes understanding would be known in their community and that prayer has been realized.            
     When we think about what we want for Christmas,  I hope that you think about your own desires for peace.
     Think of a  situation in your life or somewhere in the world.
     What can be done where there is discord between individuals, in neighborhoods, between countries?  Pray that you will be guided to do something that will work toward peace.
     While visiting family over Thanksgiving, a friend of mine saw a picture that had been posted online of some of her extended family. She said that the picture brought happiness to her because there were people seated together at the table who have had problems being in the same room with one another let alone sharing a meal. 
     She said that she doesn’t think that they have ever sat at the same table!   She believes that when they were passing the potatoes perhaps they were also passing around a tiny hope of peace.  It is a beginning, a start towards healing in the family.
     As we work for peace, these are some of the tools that we can use:
  Do I need to ask someone for forgiveness?  Can I take a step toward forgiving someone else? Are my words harmful/ hateful when speaking about others? Do I earnestly pray that peace will actually happen?
     In Coventry England there has been a cathedral there, St. Micheal’s, since the 14th. century. On a night in November 1940 in a bombing raid , the city of Coventry , with the church, was devastated.  All that was left of the church were the outside walls and tower.
    The decision to rebuild the cathedral was made the next day and was encouraged by their pastor Richard Howard. He wanted their actions to be “signs of faith, trust and hope for the future.” He scratched a message on the remaining wall: “Father forgive.” He was asked why he didn’t write “Father forgive them”  and he replied that  they all needed forgiveness and God’s mercy.
     It was  noticed that two of the  medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. The beams were later placed on the altar and  the  words ‘Father Forgive’ were inscribed on the sanctuary wall.  This has been the church’s guiding prayer.
     The Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1960’s  with the old sanctuary now an out door plaza.  You walk from the ruins into the new chapel, a visual reminder that Christ can indeed bring peace. They have dedicated their building to all the civilians who have died/ been injured in any war.       
     The church has an outreach of reconciliation  providing spiritual and practical support  to people all over the world in places of conflict.   From their  days of despair grew a great desire to work for peace.          
     One of my favorite services is the Christmas Eve candlelight service. It is the epitome of peace.  Quietness, beauty, the warmth, the light which seems to hold such promise. On  that night the light encompasses  all of us. I want to hold on tightly to that feeling of calm and serenity. 
     However the work of peace begins in the daylight.  We are encouraged to  be ambassadors of reconciliation.
     Wherever we are, we are to work for peace as much as it is up to us, and as much as we are able.
       Jesus is breaking down the walls of hostility that have kept us separated from one another and offers his peace in all our relationships. 
     What we thought could never be mended, never be restored can  be made whole through the peace of Christ.
     We should pray for those who disappoint us and disgust us, those who seem so different from us, those who have wounded us., those who are unforgivable.
     We should pray for the people of Bethlehem of the West Bank, and the folks who live in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.
     We pray that seeds of peace will grow in Washington D.C. and in Afghanistan, in Israel and Lebanon, in the Congo and in Somalia, in North Korea and South Korea, in gated communities and in traveling caravans, over there and right here, in them and in us.
     The angels sang about peace on earth on the day that the Prince of peace was born.
     Teach us the melody of peace, O God, enable us to be your peacemakers. We pray for peace between neighbors, peace within families, peace within every heart. O God, may we light the candle of peace, not just today but everyday. 

[For our Advent sermon series on “Light the Candle,” this 2nd Sunday focused on lighting the candle of peace. The Chancel Choir sang this beautiful arrangement of the song, “One Voice” and invited our congregation to join them. Peace happens when we sing in harmony together.]

Light the Candle of Peace!

Small Group Questions

Isaiah 40:1-5 & Mathew 3:1-12

December 9, 2018

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, we hear lots of holiday noises that want our attention to buy things. There is a lot of busy and frantic activity during this time of year. On this 2nd week of Advent, we hear a very different voice, this one coming from John the Baptist. He is calling us to turn from our old ways and embrace the future that God has in mind for us, a future that is filled with peace!

What helps you to hear God’s voice especially during this very busy time of year?

In the sermon, this definition of peace was offered: Peace (shalom) is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Peace is described as a condition of the community where there is wholeness, security, harmony, well being.  

Is this definition of the biblical understanding of peace similar or different from the world’s understanding?

In Jackson, Mississippi, two United Methodist Churches one that was known as “the black church” and the other one known as “the white church” were separated by a small grove of pine trees. They decided to begin to work together in outreach ministries to the community and have now become partner churches. Every December, they gather by a pine tree that they planted together in the pine grove and decorate it. They call it a tree of peace.

Share a time when you experienced God’s peace bringing people together.

We were invited last week to do some “fridge journaling” during Advent where we keep a notepad next to the refrigerator to remind us whenever we open the fridge door to jot down a time when God helped you through a challenging situation.

Be open to opportunities to share one or more of these times with someone who could use a little hope in their lives right now.