Are you ready for peace?
Church: St. Nicholas Park Christian Church
City, State: Jacksonville, FL
Advent is time of year when we get ready for something that is coming. In the secular world we call it getting ready for “the holidays.” Of course Holidays is a religious term…it means Holy Days. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about in our society regarding saying “Merry Christmas” vs. Happy Holidays. In Advent Christians get ready for to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world and into our lives. On the one hand we are getting ready to celebrate something that has already happened in history. On the other hand we are preparing for a renewed discovery.
Perhaps only religious holidays have such a deep preparation period a getting ready with the hope of being renewed by the event. America doesn’t start on July 1 to ask itself deep questions about its life in order to be better prepared to celebrate on the Fourth and to be renewed by the Declaration of Independence. As a nation we don’t even read the document, we just drink beer and set off fireworks. No pondering the deeper meaning of Independence Day. No personal self examination as to what does it mean for me to be an American. There is a kind of audacious shouting “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free!” attitude.
But as Christians when we get ourselves ready to celebrate a Holy Day we get ready not only for the party but we get ourselves ready with the hope that that which causes us to party will be come more apart of us.
Can you imagine celebrating Christmas and never once reading the document that begins “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled…?”
Christmas does happen without the story some places. Last December Linda and I were in China on a church delegation. We were surprised to see Christmas decorations in many places, stores, streets and hotel lobbies. One of our hosts, a Christian pastor said, “We call it “Business Christmas”.”
For us, those of us seeking to be faithful Christians, Advent is not just a celebration of Christmas presents, the “Business Christmas.” But, but a preparation to be renewed by God, who in Bethlehem showed that his business is to be present in our lives.
Now, the Business Christmas sometimes makes us say… is it that time of year already…I just put the decorations away…I don’t know what to buy by loved ones for Christmas. Sometimes it seems as if “we’ve just been there and done that.”
But the Christian experience of Jesus coming into the world Does not lend itself to a, “been there done that” attitude. The Christian experience of Jesus coming into the world is a constant new discovery. One way that we prepare for this renewal is to look back in time to what life was like before the event and to discover there what about Jesus makes life better.
Advent is not unlike some marriage counseling. When a marriage reaches a rough patch and a couple finds that they have trouble getting along a marriage counselor will sometimes ask them to go back in time and tell stories about what their relationship was like when the fell in love, what attracted them to each other in the first place, what made them feel like getting married in the first place. Going back to those past events can help renew the present.
During Advent, individually and corporately we go back in time and remember what it was like for us before we knew the peace of Christ. What longings were deep with in us?
One of those longing is expressed by the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah speaks of a longing for peace: a peace the Messiah would bring:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse
(A reference to David’s father, sometimes we hear it expressed, The House and lineage of David)
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him…
The wolf will live with the lamb
The cow and bear shall graze and their young shall lie down together,
The lion shall eat straw with the ox
They shall not hurt of destroy
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
This image of the peaceable kingdom expresses well the longing that is deep with in our world, a longing that can be met by the coming of Jesus. We long for peace. Are you ready for peace?
But let’s go back before Jesus to another great religious figure. Let’s go back to the Buddha. The Buddha lived 600 years before Jesus. Buddha not only describes peace but taught how to acquire it. Basic to Buddha’s teaching about how to acquire “peace” was to overcome desire. The cause of most of our unhappiness he taught is found our deep desires.
As a child on Christmas morning I often was disappointed. My expectations were so high that not even the tremendous amount of new gifts I received could meet my expectations.
Jesus seemed to understand this universal human truth when he said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”. And later. “Do not worry about your life, what you will wear, consider the lilies of the fields they neither toil nor spin but even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…strive first for the kingdom of God”
Jesus suggests that peace is found not in our possessions but in being possessed by God.
This is why we always turn to John the Baptist during advent. Actually there are two reasons to turn to John. In part we turn to him because throughout history he was perceived to be the forerunner of the Messiah, so before we celebrate God’s chosen one coming into the world we do well to look at this man who came before Jesus. There is another reason to go back to John. In modern America’s Christmas we do well to turn to John.
He is the antithesis of the consumer based Christmas. “John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, (picture that on sale at Old Navy), and his food was locust and wild honey, (You thought fruitcake was a bad idea?)
John offers an alternative to the secular celebrations we all get caught up in. He keeps it simple. He suggests an alternative to the question “What do you want for Christmas?” His inquiry is, “What can you give for Christmas? Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; whoever has food must do likewise.”
Barry Shwartz wrote a book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. His contention is that we lack peace in our lives because we live in a world of too many choices. While some choice is necessary and healthy too much is debilitating. Think about car choices. When my grandfather went to buy a car he could choose any color for his Model T that he wanted as long as it was black. Today there are dozens of manufacturers from around the world with multiple models in numerous colors. It can be overwhelming
The problem with excessive choice is that every “yes” we make involves many more no’s. When I go to the ice-cream shop I may be glad that they have Chocolate Almond my usual favorite but it also means I have to say no to Butter Pecan, Moose Tracks, Coconut, Chocolate Chip and 33 other flavors that I would like to eat.
Consider at trip to the supermarket: you have the choice of 85 varieties of crackers, 230 kinds of soup 120 pasta sauces and 175 kinds of salad dressing. When you go to the typical store you have 30,000 items to choose from.
Too many choices!
Schwartz says about choice,
“There are a lot of people walking around, really, really dissatisfied with their lives, unable to put their fingers on what it is that’s so troublesome. And because this notion of choice is sacrosanct in this society that would be the last place they looked…So I come out and I say, “This thing that we worship, maybe it’s not an unalloyed good.”
Schwarz encourages people seeking peace in a world of choices “to love constraint and to accept the power of non-reversible decisions”. In other words, “Seek less and love what you’ve got more”. John the Baptist, living in the wilderness, a simple life style, preparing the way of the Lord, calling us to repent, challenging us to give away rather than to acquire more. John the Baptist is an example and a good place to turn during Advent because he points us toward peace.
Are you ready for peace? Personal peace?
Of course it is not just our own personal peace for which we long. We long for world peace. There are too many places where there is a lack of peace. In our communities there are neighborhoods where gangs and guns create havoc. There nations where warfare seems constant. There are members of our nation who are off in places of war.
We long for peace between peoples and nations. The apostle Paul longed for just such a peace. For Paul the peace that Christ offers is far more than a personal peace that provides the promise of eternal peace. For Paul the peace Christ offers makes peace possible between people. Listen to how he describes it in Romans. Read Romans 15:4-11
When we find the peace that great teachers like Buddha and Jesus offered. Then we can begin to look toward peace with others as in the world that Paul describes. Paul discovered a radical application of Jesus’ teaching about God’s New Society. For Paul the logical conclusion to the kind of just society that Jesus described was to apply it to a world in midst of national ethnic conflict. Jesus brought Jew and Gentile, that is to say all people together in harmony.
But in Paul’s time and ours the world is at war. Most war is a result of our seeking after that which won’t grant peace. We war for food. We war for land. We war for oil. They say we will soon war for water.
And we don’t go to war just for material things. We war for power. We war to preserve our way of life.
Do you remember when President Bush said after the 9/11 attacks that they attacked our very way of life. That is exactly how we felt but is also how many in the Muslim world feels. Some Muslims are committed to a conservative reading of the Koran. They practice a form of Muslim faith that restricts the role of women, that abhors the use of alcohol, that sees the western world as consumer driven and sexually obsessed. To them the western world with its inroads through media and economy and military might are attacking their way of life. We war over our way of life. Our desires lead us to war.
Paul had been a devotee of Judaism and a purist. He tried to persecute Christians because he saw Christians attacking a conservative Jewish way of life based on his strict reading of the law. But on the road to Damascus Paul realized the silliness of such a battle. He discovered that Jesus offered another approach. Paul came to Jesus who taught “not an Eye for an Eye but turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy”.
Paul lived in a world where Rome asserted its military and cultural power over the world and he had the outrageous sense that he could change that world through the work of the church. So Paul set out to build new churches in the major cities of the Roman world. John Crossan points out that most of Paul’s church starts were in Rome’s provincial capitals. It was as if he was creating a counter culture, establishing an alternative society through the church.
Listen again to what he writes to the church, the alternative society in Rome: May God grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus so that together you may with one voice glorify God. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you Christ has become the servant of the circumcised (that is Jewish people) in order that the Gentiles (that is non-Jews) might glorify God May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing For Paul, Christ’s peace is not just for our personal salvation but will bring peace to the world.
O I know that we get worn out living in a hate filled world. I know it seems like war is the natural state of humankind and it cannot be overcome. I know that war seems inevitable.
But let us learn a lesson from a Muslim leader who wrote on September 14, 2001 these words of encouragement. :Abraham Lincoln, your assassin failed. Slavery is dead. John F. Kennedy your assassin failed. Your death did not make us warmongers and haters it make us love each other and other nations. The Berlin wall has come down, and we are all now Berliners. Martin Luther King Jr. your assassin failed. Your dream is coming true. Robert Kennedy you assassins failed. Civil liberties are enforced. Malcolm X your assassin failed. African American Muslims are abandoning racism and joining mainstream Muslims. John Lennon your assassins failed. We can imagine that we love each other as if there are no countries and no religion, too, and yes all we need is love. Anwar Sadat your assassins failed. Egypt and Israel are at peace. Ishaak Rabin your assassin failed. Israelis and Palestinians are determined to make peace.”
To this list I would add that I am confident that one day will we will be able to say: Jesus on Nazareth, your assassins failed. The Jew and the Gentile, the whole world is at peace.
Is that too much to imagine? Is it too idealistic? Jesus taught us to become like children.
Perhaps we should learn from one little girl who didn’t think world peace was an impossible ideal. She was working on a homework assignment. Her father asked her what she was doing. “I’m writing a report on the condition of the world and how to bring world peace,” she replied. “Isn’t that a big job for a young girl?” her father asked, “Oh, no,” she answered, “and don’t worry. There are three of us in the class working on it.”
Are you ready for peace?
If Christ’s presence is God’s present of peace for each one of us. Are you ready to work with others for peace in our world.
So, is it possible, just possible with peace in our hearts and peace in the world we could have an outbreak of peace here at St. Nicholas Christian Church?