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Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
December 1, 2019 –First Sunday in Advent
Happy New Year. As you can see in your bulletins, the colored print has moved from the green of Ordinary Time to the purple of Advent. We return to Year A in the Lectionary’s three-year cycle.
And we go back to the second chapter of Isaiah to find a utopian vision of Zion, a mountaintop, as an end-time reality.The pilgrimage hymn in this Sunday’s Call to Worship psalm calls us to claim this salvation in our present lives through worship.
Taken together our Hebrew Bible texts give us a firm footing to embark upon the Advent season. They underscore how Advent points us to a future reality that reaches backwards, like a breaking dawn over St. Simons Island, to embrace us in our present acts of worship, even while we journey toward the consummation we know will be ours through Christ at daybreak on Easter.
Your bulletin cover is from Saint Simons Island, Georgia and we are looking to the eastern horizon at daybreak on January 20, 2014. A new day is already upon us but it remains to be seen what will come of it. Jesus tells us that no one but God knows when the fateful day of the coming of the Son of man will be, so he tells his followers to keep watch…be attentive…wait expectantly…be prepared.
And Paul tells us that the time to wake up is already here for us to be awake. This may sound…at first …like he is contradicting Christ, but the two are saying the same thing. Now is the time for us to be in readiness…open to the spirit that opens to us.
We need to get our decorations up and our shopping done to be ready for a day full of celebration at Christmas. We need to remember those we love and all those who have loved us as we carry the lessons they have taught us into the present day…and pass them on.
While you cannot see them distinctly in the picture, there are oaks behind the lighthouse and in John Wesley preached under those oaks in 1736. He came to the Colony of Georgia to serve as the first chaplain for the settlers there.
While we cannot say his tenure was a resounding success, it certainly prepared the way for the great movement that grew up around his ministry after he returned to England, humbled and watchful.
The days of Isaiah cannot be said to be the greatest days in the history of Israel, either, but they, too, prepared God’s chosen people for a time when they would have to keep their faith in their hearts and their heritage in their memories and their eyes open.
Then they would have to live out God’s promises to Abraham as an act of faithfulness…an act of living worship…to prepare the way for the Promised One. It was about them, but it was greater than them. He would come out of them but be greater than them.
Paul performed his ministry after the resurrection, but he has to reach back into the past to understand what is to come…and what he is to do about it today. His joy is in the journey…and it is drawing him home.
Today we lit the first Advent candle for peace, the yearning of all the ages. Isaiah sees a day when swords would be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
This has been the cry for so long. We all pray for peace but I think there has been less than a week of peace all during my life.
Maybe part of the problem is that we see peace as a destination rather than a journey.
President Kennedy spoke of peace in a new way when he gave the commencement address at American University in 1963. This came a little less than eight months after the Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States and the Soviet Union stood for 13 days on the brink of a nuclear exchange in full sight of an anxious world.
The speech was written in secrecy out of concern that if even its gist became known he would be attacked by anti-Soviet hardliners.
He said, “First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable – that mankind is doomed – that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.”
The Book of Life that we read is full of strife…from Genesis to Revelations…but again and again it turns as it does today to visions of peace…to images of swords being beaten into plowshares.
This might sound like idealism, but it is an increasingly necessary goal for our world when the nuclear threat is no longer a bilateral problem but one that presses against us from many sides.
So Kennedy went on. “Our problems are manmade - therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again.”
So he places the power to achieve the everlasting goal in the hands of the people of his day, just as Paul writes to us this morning that the hour has already arrived for us to find our salvation. “Let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.”
Kennedy pressed his point much like Paul would. “There is no single, simple key to this peace – no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process – a way of solving problems.”
This thinking is as bold a truth for us in our private lives as it is in international relations. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Do you know who said that? The author of Proverbs understood that and this proverb is in the part of that ancient work known as the Proverbs of Solomon…so that makes it older than what we have read from Isaiah today.
So we do not arrive at a place called peace. We journey in peace if we are to know peace at all. We know that from our nation’s history and from all of history. If we want people to deal with us justly, we must be just in our dealings with others. If we want peace, we must do justice.
Great leaders in history have shared that insight with countless generations. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace where there is no justice.”
At American University, President Kennedy put it this way: “"When a people's ways please the Lord," the Scriptures tell us, "he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with them." And is not peace, in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights - the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation - the right to breathe air as nature provided it - the right of future generations to a healthy existence?”
Jesus gathered his disciples around him as he faced the great crisis of his mortal days and said these powerful words of farewell to them.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If you look up the word “maundy” in the dictionary, I think you will find the only reference to a verse in the Bible, and it is to John 13:35, the scripture I have just cited to you…words spoken on Maundy Thursday.
And in Chapter 14, Jesus drives the point home again. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
We live in a world where our lives are mediated in a way that previous generations would not have imagined. All this media has to pay for itself and it does by hijacking our train of thought so that we find it hard to watch a whole movie without interruption or read a whole article, much less a whole book.
It is not easy to find a sense of peace in that kind of environment. I pray you have found one of the ways to do that this morning…by coming to church, reading the old, old story together, singing hymns together and spending an hour in worship together…with each other …and with a God who loves you… and a savior who was willing to give you the most precious gift he brought: the greatest life ever lived.
We begin our journey through Advent remembering the gift of peace. It was Peace that he left with us. It was peace that he gave to us. And he did not give as the world gives…he gave freely…inviting us not to simply have a transaction with him…but to have a relationship with him…
…a relationship that survives our distractions…our shortcomings… our failures.
…a relationship that endures all things…even when we abandon him out of fear or in search of worldly powers and pleasures.
…the gift is already under our tree …whether we have put one up this year already…or not.
Do we have the faith to accept the grace with which it has been given? Do we have the faith to believe we are good enough to deserve it? He does…and so does the God who sent him…and blesses us all. That hour has already come.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.