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“All I Want for Christmas: Peace”
Luke 3: 1-6
December 5, 2021
Second Sunday of Advent
The Christmas clock is ticking. The advertisers make us feel anxious with their constant bombardment of ads, emails, commercials, newspaper inserts, the catalogs we get day after day-----they’re all shouting the same news, blaring it in capital letters, making sure we get the message: Time is running out! They barrage us with the number of shopping days left, and this year, they scream, there is less time than usual, because of shipping delays and post office tangles!
We may feel like the days until Christmas are flying by, and we have so much left to do! Shopping, decorating, cooking, baking, writing Christmas cards, trying to remember whom we might have forgotten on our gift list. All of this conspires to rob us of the peace we should feel this season, and it keeps us from observing Advent: the time when we should be preparing our hearts for the arrival of Christ.
Do you remember how it felt when we were kids? December days dragged, as we awaited the holiday. Did any of you have Advent calendars when you were growing up? My sister and I had an Advent calendar made out of fabric, and it hung on the wall next to our stairway. The calendar had a pocket for each day, and inside each pocket was a Hershey’s kiss. My sister and I took turns untying the little ribbon and opening the pocket and eating the chocolate inside. It seemed to take forever for the days to go by, and having to wait every other day for your turn to get the Hershey’s kiss was agonizing!
Perhaps at this time of year, we should remember what it was like when we were children, when the season passed more sedately. Perhaps we should slow things down, and be patient. After all, the word Advent means to wait for what it coming!
Every year, the church focuses on different things than the world. While all around us there is the flurry of activity, the church says, slow down and wait. Instead of thinking so much about shopping and buying gifts, contemplate the gifts God has for you, gifts that come every Advent: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. Our Advent theme this year is “All I Want for Christmas,” and each Sunday we are focusing on how all that we want in this season is fulfilled in those gifts. Last week, we opened the gift of Hope. This week, we are going to unwrap the meaning of Peace, and see how we can receive this gift that we all need and long for.
Our lectionary text today may seem like a strange text for Advent. John the Baptist seems out of sync with what we expect in this season! But every year on the Second Sunday of Advent, the lectionary gives us John the Baptist, this rough-hewn fellow, hollering about repentance. What is this all about?
Last week we heard the prophecy that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, pronounced when John, the forerunner of Jesus, was born. This week, we see the fulfillment of that prophecy. Between Luke chapter one and chapter three, we have skipped forward in time about 30 years! John and Jesus both are grown men, and this passage finds us with John in the wilderness, as he prepares the way for Lord. Zechariah’s prophecy echoed the words of Isaiah that find fulfillment in this passage: John came to prepare the way, to tell US how to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. And on this Second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace, we find that the way to level the mountains and valleys in our lives, to smooth the rough places and have peace, is ---- get ready for this --- to repent.
Now I know that the idea of repentance is not what we want to hear in this season. Isn’t repentance relegated to Lent? This month, we want angels and mangers, sleigh bells and silent nights! But what we must remember is that in order to have joy we must have a clear conscience. In order to have peace, we must have a pure heart.
Sometimes we think of peace on earth as being something beyond our power: something dealt with by nations, heads of state, ambassadors and diplomats, something great and grand and beyond us that we hope for but that doesn’t really touch our lives. But peace begins within, with each one of us, in our own relationships. We all can work for peace in our interactions with others, and when each person is working for peace, that spreads in acts of love and kindness that grow exponentially in ways we can’t imagine.
Think about the people in your life with whom you do not have peace. It might be someone with whom you had a quarrel, a friend from whom you have become estranged. Or it might even be someone in your own family, a parent, child, sibling, or cousin. It seems that around the holidays, the time when we should be warm and loving toward one another, things are often just the opposite. People come together with high hopes for a Norman Rockwell kind of gathering, but the reality often does not meet the expectation. People are tired from traveling, stressed from the busyness of the season. And sometimes grown adults become like children when they are back in Mom’s house: sibling rivalries re-emerge, old quarrels are reignited. Tempers fray when the hoped for “perfect Christmas” doesn’t turn out as planned.
How can we welcome Christ aright if we are at odds with others? Anger can rise up like mountains; broken relationships create vast valleys, all impeding the way of the Lord, becoming obstacles that stand in the way of Christ coming to us. This is when the call of John the Baptist comes. “Repent!” he cries out. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” This passage challenges us to examine our hearts and repent of the wrong that we find there. When we examine our hearts, are there sins we need to confess? Wounds that need to be healed? Arguments that need to be put aside, so that we can be reconciled to one another?
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was raised by a tyrannical father who disapproved of her marriage to fellow poet Robert Browning. After the wedding, the Brownings relocated to Italy, where they lived the rest of their lives. But despite the fact that her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost every week, she wrote them a letter. Not once did they reply. After ten years, she received a large box in the mail. When she opened it, she found all of the letters she had sent her parents over the years. Not one of them had been opened.1
What a tragedy that her parents were so hard-hearted that they forfeited a relationship with their child over stubbornness and a need to be right. If they had read just one letter, they might have had peace with their daughter.
My friends, there will always be things we could argue about. Disagreement over politics and ideology is nothing new, but today we have allowed those differences to divide us, to rend the fabric of families, to cast into camps loved ones who should be together. Perhaps the divisions are more pronounced because we have forgotten the thing that should unite us: the love of God in Jesus Christ. The knowledge that no one has the perfect answer, that all of us are faulty, that truth and justice and righteousness are found not in any human institution but only in the Lord our God, and that we find our hope, our peace, our meaning, our truth, our salvation in him.
So as we think about gathering with loved ones for the holidays, perhaps we should cultivate the spirit of humility. Perhaps we should look less at the faults of others and more at how we can change our hearts to be more like Christ. Perhaps we should examine our lives to root out prejudice and preconceptions, to let go of old grudges, to allow wounds to heal, to seek to listen and understand before speaking and judging. If we want the mountains and valleys leveled, the distance breached, the obstacles overcome, we should heed the words of John the Baptist and repent.
So this passage that at first seems out of sync with the season is really a word of good news for us this Advent. For when we follow the call to repent, we can open our hearts to reconciliation. We can correct what is crooked and smooth out the rough places that might impede the path of Christ. And we can receive the gift of peace.
The Christian writer Frederica Mathewes-Green said, “Initially we fear looking squarely at our sins, lest we get overwhelmed. But the reverse turns out to be true. The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we realize the height of God’s love. The constant companion of repentance is gratitude. . . .Seeing our sin becomes, paradoxically, an opportunity for joy. Then we are free indeed: free from any need to hide, to conceal or impress, to make excuses for ourselves, to demand our fair share. Free to love God with abandon, free to love others without bargaining and conditions. Free to love even those who hurt us because, ultimately, nothing can hurt us. Knowing our own sin, we pray for all other sinners, asking God to show them the mercy he has given so abundantly to us,” she wrote.2
The children’s carol written in 1955 says it beautifully:
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, family all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.3
My friends, may it be so for us in this Advent season and always. In the name of the Prince of Peace, Amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church