THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
2nd Sunday of Advent
Luke 1: 68-79
Philippians 1: 3-11
Luke 3: 1-6
God of Peace
What does God’s Peace require us to do?
What is our role in Christ’s mission of peace, justice, and reconciliation?
“Peace,” like “Hope,” is a word that changes through time.
As someone living in North America after the 1960s, I can’t help but conjure images of tie die-shirts, bell bottoms, and Woodstock when I hear the word “Peace”: this kind of peace is inactive. It is achieved by not taking part in war.
For others, for those who have lived through real life war and ceasefire, “Peace” must have a very active meaning. “Peace” is not simply achieved by a lack of war, it is achieved by taking intentional steps toward peace.
When we think about “God of Peace” and the Advent of Christ’s Peace on earth, do we think about an “inactive peace” or an “active peace”?
Is God’s Peace, made known in the arrival of the Christ Child, a kind of sleepy, restful, peace?
Or are we meant to be stirred into action?
As we explore Luke’s Gospel together this morning, I want you to just keep this question in the back of your mind.
Today, on this “Advent of Peace” Sunday, Luke invites us into the prophecies of Zechariah, and his son John the Baptist, to consider how God uses not Jesus, but the ones who go before Him to announce the coming of Christ’s peace. The Advent of God’s Peace.
In our reading from the 1st Chapter of Luke’s gospel this morning we heard Zechariah’s prophecy of John’s life and task when John was just eight days old:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior[a] for us
in the house of his servant David,
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The first thing we can say about these words of Zechariah is that John the Baptist, from the age of 8-days-old, already had a little bit of pressure on his shoulders.
It seems a bit much for an 8-day-old, but, of course, because God chose Zechariah and John for these purposes, that is exactly what happened!
John, Son of Zechariah grew up to be John the Baptist.
A man who was Christ’s prophet.
A man who prepared the way of the Lord.
A man who taught the people and gave them peace.
And according to Luke’s words from Chapter 3, this is exactly what John does: John goes and does what all preachers should go and do. He teaches the people about the coming of Christ, and about the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that Jesus has in store for every person:
[John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
John went into the region around the Jordan offering baptisms; he went around telling people that God loved them and that the same God who sent Isaiah was going to send the one that Isaiah prophesied for all of those years ago:
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
“Every valley shall be filled… every mountain and hill shall be made low… the crooked shall be made straight… the rough made smooth…”
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God”
And we—living after the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—recognize it as the Advent message:
God is coming!
God loves us so much that God is sending His Son to teach us and to die for our sins
Everyone shall be offered salvation!
Within the reading we’ve heard from Luke Chapter 3 this morning, the words of John the Baptist are the exciting part. No question.
These are the words that cause people to turn around; to give up addictions, and vices, and habitual sins.
These are the words that cause people to mend broken relationships, to seek forgiveness over hatred, to seek peace over turmoil.
These are the words that call people all over the world to leave behind the lives they know and to become faithful followers of Jesus.
These are the words that change lives, and bring “peace” to troubled souls.
But, they’re not where this reading began, and they’re not the only place we can find out what God’s Peace is like.
Luke actually begins Chapter 3 with these words:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler[a] of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler[b] of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler[c] of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Why these words? Why this history lesson?
Well, in these words, Luke grounds John’s prophecy in real time and real place.
Luke sets this story in the reality of history.
And believe it or not, this historical placement actually helps us to celebrate John’s message and the Advent of Christ in a way parallel to the enthusiastic words but different from them.
Luke says: I’m going to tell you the most amazing, life-giving, Hopeful, Peaceful, Joyful, Love-filled story you’ve ever heard! This story is going to change your life! But before I do that, I’m going to tell you exactly when it takes place.
It takes place in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler.
Luke says: you can go and look this stuff up! Everything I’m about to tell you really happened!
This story didn’t happen “Once Upon a Time” it happened in Judea in the 1st Century.
You might say: well, fine, but next to the enthusiasm and excitement of John’s message why does the history matter?
The history matters because the Lord foretold by John.
The Son of Man.
The Prince of Peace.
Emmanuel, God with Us.
The Christmas Child.
He is coming here!
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
At Advent, we celebrate the Good News that Jesus Christ is coming into the world once again.
We focus on the future. On the as-yet-not-yet of Jesus Christ. But we still proclaim the truth that Jesus has come into the world, that He is coming, and that He will come again.
As followers of Christ, much of our task is to wait and to be patient for Christ to return, to keep working to “make his paths straight.” But it’s also to celebrate the Good News that the man Jesus of Nazareth was right here.
Jesus walked our streets.
Jesus worked, and paid taxes, and ate with his friends.
Jesus was right here in our world. Taking part in our lives.
The other reason that this history matters is because it reminds us that the God of Peace is the God of specific peace. Or rather, “many specific peaces.”
That the Lord who brings about peace on earth brings about peace in our world and in our history.
It may be true that final, lasting peace will only be had in the Kingdom to Come but it’s also true that Christ knows human turmoil and suffers with us in the work for human peace.
Jesus knew a nation that groaned under the threat of empire.
Jesus knew and foretold what was to take place with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus knew what it was like to live between the tension of God’s Peace and the “pax romana.”
And we too know what that is like.
We know what it’s like to live in a world that does not know true justice.
We know what it’s like to live in a world of brokenness, of war, of disease, of anguish.
And we know what it’s like to live in a world where the Romes of our day tell us that it’s all under control.
The 1st Century Roman world inhabited by Jesus and John was a world of “pax romana” of “Roman Peace.” A world where:
As long as nobody made waves.
As long as nobody caused any unrest.
As long as nobody strived too far for justice, everything would be just fine.
Sure, Judea was in bondage. Sure, Israel’s king was a Roman vassal. Sure, Judeans lived under the constant threat of Rome’s armed soldiers, but as long as everybody played nice there would be no need for those swords to ever come out of their sheaths, but, of course, they did.
The “Pax Romana” looked like Peace but it wasn’t real Peace. And it sure wasn’t God’s Peace.
In the two-thousand years between those days and today, the “pax romana” has gotten more sophisticated and less “Roman” but it hasn’t gone away.
We’re incredibly fortunate to live in a part of the world that is more peaceful and more just than others, but many of us still do not know “real peace” or “real justice.”
“All animals are equal but some are more equal than others” – that’s according to George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. And these allegorical words are, sadly, still true.
There are still Canadians who are more or less “equal” than others.
Whether because of the colour of their skin.
Whether because of their heritage.
Whether because of their beliefs.
Whether because of the part of the country they live in.
No one who loves peace and justice and Christ can truly say that a prosperous nation, a nation like Canada, is practicing real justice where some live in luxury and some live in 3rd world conditions within our boarders:
Canadian towns without clean drinking water
Canadian towns without adequate health care
Canadian towns with overdose and suicide statistics as heartbreaking and extreme as any ghetto in the world
Christ alone knows us, and sees us, and loves us, and the rest of us do our best. But if we’re honest, our best often isn’t good enough.
There are people in our own affluent nation and in all nations around the world, who do not know true peace.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that even though we are broken in our humanity, even though each of us struggles with sin, God has come close to offer us His Peace.
And perhaps even more amazing than that, is the reality that even though the world remains broken, even though the world remains sin-sick, Christ’s peace has succeeded against so many brutal empires throughout history:
The Empire of Slavery and Segregation in America.
The Empire of Apartheid in South Africa.
The Empire of labour exploitation in South and Central America.
And in hundreds of other places.
It has been Christ and those who call on His name and his peace who have made changes that none other thought possible.
So, which “Peace” is it to be this Advent: active or inactive?
Does Christ’s arrival invite us to take a rest from the politics of the world or does it call us to gird ourselves for the work of justice?
I leave this up to each of you, in your prayers.
Whatever we decide, the thing that unites us as followers of Christ—as those who have heard the words of John the Baptist and wait with expectation for the coming of Christ—is the name of the one we wait for.
Christ has come.
Christ is coming.
Christ will come again.
Christ will bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love and the world will know that God is Love once more.
And indeed, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”