The Radical Face Of Peace

Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent everyone! I’m still trying to figure out the audio with this blog – it’s definitely not an isolated problem (I was reading a forum with other people having the same problem), but I am almost positive there is a solution. Enjoy!

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11

The Radical Face Of Peace

Peace.
Der Frieden.
La Paix.
Shalom.
Heiwa.
Salam.
La Paz.
A Paz Galician.
Amaní.
Béke.
Hau.
Hoa Bình.
Iri’ni.
Khanhaghutyun.
Khotso.
Lapé.
Maluhia.
Nabad –Da.
Nimuhóre.
Pax.
Santipap.
Shîte.
Sulh.
Taika.
Tutkiun.

Peace.

It is a word that is spoken beautifully in languages all around the world.

It is a reality that we pray for week after week.

It is a longing that each and every one of us has deep within our souls.

The Gospel of John records that, before he died, Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” {John 14:27, NRSV}

And today the second candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of peace, burns brightly on our altar as a visible reminder that even in the darkest and most painful of moments, God is with us – and God gives us peace in our hearts.

This morning’s scripture reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. The Book of Malachi, which takes place during the first half of the 5th century BCE, is brief narrative (the book itself is only four chapters long) of a dispute between Yahweh (God) and the people. One of the most prominent themes in this book is the corruption of the priesthood. The book describes priests as men who regularly violated laws of ritual sacrifice and neglected their duties to teach and guide their people. Yahweh was upset, Malachi relayed through his prophecy, at both the complacency of the priests and the way they used their office for personal gains. We come into the story today when Malachi says to the people that Yahweh was going to send a messenger to prepare a way for him to come.

See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. {Malachi 3:1, NRSV}

I looked at this passage with my Tuesday morning Advent Bible Study this week. We all agreed that this verse – the first verse of the passage – is very consistent with Advent themes of expectancy and waiting. After all, “O Come O Come Emmanuel – God with us” is the call of the Advent season. We are preparing a place – both in the manger and in our lives – for the Christ child to be born. But then we read on.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. {Malachi 1:3-2-3}

Many of us had a problem with that word “endure” – it just has such negative connotations. Childbirth is something that you endure; injury rehabilitation or cancer treatments are something that you endure; papers and finals are something that you endure. Merriam Webster says that “to endure” means “to undergo (as a hardship) especially without giving in; to suffer.” Is the coming of God really something that will make us suffer, we all asked ourselves? The notion of suffering contradicts an Advent season where we are supposed to be excitedly awaiting the Prince of Peace to come into our midst.

There was a scientist in the room that morning and she further explained and described to us the process of refining gold and silver, which is how Malachi analogized the coming of the Lord. The process did not sound pleasant; in fact, it sounded extremely loud, painfully hot and potentially dangerous without a whole lot of room for error. It sounded like a process that would be okay to purify soft metals with, but people? It just seems to me that God could come into our midst and purify us with a deep tissue massage instead. The Old Testament is a dangerous place to be sometimes.

Let’s move to the New Testament for a second. The Epistle selection for the lectionary this week comes from Paul’s first letter to the church in Philippi. Paul wrote:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. … And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. {Philippians 1:3, 9-11}

This message carries with it such a more positive, loving and gentle description of purifying and refining. Paul tells us that our love of God through Christ, that the waters of baptism, are enough to purify us. It is through our sharing of the gospel, not a painful encounter with the divine, that we are refined as a people of peace, he explained.

So I was left with a conundrum this week – do I preach the pain of the Old Testament or the love of the New Testament? Or, as I asked a friend, do I preach a prophetic sermon from Malachi or a kumbaya sermon from Philippians? I decided not to choose one over the other. It was not because I was feeling indecisive the day that the bulletin was due; it was because I realized that both pain and love are a real part of life. Furthermore, when I really thought prayerfully about it, I realized that both pain and love are a real part of peace.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama XIV once said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

Peace is not an easy emotion to feel, an easy feat to achieve or an easy destination to journey to. Peace is extremely complex. It is easy for us to say with joy, “The Peace of Christ be with you!” but it is much more difficult to actually live these words out.

I wish we lived in a world where we could easily speak Paul’s words to one another, allow our love to overflow and live in peace simply by worshiping God and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I wish we lived in a world where achieving peace came as quickly and efficiently as a Keurig-brewed cup of coffee. I wish we lived in a world where wars would cease and where violence was replaced with constant laughter. I wish we lived in a world where no one ever felt pain – and where people felt peace – both in their lives and in their hearts – every single moment.
But that is not the world we live in.

We live in a world where there is violence, war and unrest. We live in a world people experience pain both in their bodies and in their lives. We live in a world where differences of opinions escalate and conflicts shatter relationships, homes and communities. We live in world where people feel sad, alone and helpless. And let it be known that I am not talking ambiguously about the greater world that exists beyond our walls – I am also talking about our world, our lives. We often feel sad, alone and helpless; stressed and uneasy. We so badly need peace.

The song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” simply, yet boldly states, “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me.” When we sing this song, we cannot afford to sing it with a passive voice. We must act. The Prince of Peace was born into this world to show us the way, not to travel the journey for us. We must be agents of peace in our lives; we must be the radical face of peace to the people around us.

Know that this may not be an easy journey for us to travel. Peace is highly enigmatic; it is not achieved by pushing a button or finding the right medicinal cocktail. Part of the reason that we live the Christian story year after year is so that we are reminded that while Christ came into this world as an child born in a humble manger, he was crucified on a cross and hung between two criminals. Resurrection came at a difficult and painful price; peace often comes at a difficult and painful price as well.

As we journey through this season of Advent, being the radical face of peace might push us in new and challenging ways. We must be willing to confront the adversities that individuals are going through and the conflicts that people find themselves in with one another, acknowledge that their pain is real and seek peace in whatever way is necessary. We may be forced to have difficult conversations, sit in uncomfortable silences, accept things that we do not understand and make compromises and sacrifices along the way. We need to put the needs of others before our own, seek reconciliation and speak always with a humble voice. We need to clean out our wounds completely and not simply cover them with a bandage. We need to be both the face of peace that Jesus brought into this world as an innocent child – and the face of peace that Jesus carried with him to his death on the cross.

Remember this, however, along your journey towards peace. We cannot read the pain of the Old Testament without also reading the hope of the New Testament. There is a reason that I chose to reflect both on the Book of Malachi and the Book of Philippians. Christ did come into this world, he did extend a hand of love and friendship to the people that he met and he did imagine a world where peace would prevail over war. See the reality of the Old Testament; but never let go of the Gospel. See the reality of the pain in our world; but never let go of the Good News that Christ brought into our midst.

The candle of peace burns brightly next to a candle that has already been illuminated in Advent season – the candle of hope. There is hope for peace on earth, I truly believe that. Christ brought that hope into the world – and then called us all to live in peace.

The world needs each and every one of us this Advent season to heed the call to be the radical face of peace.

The third verse of the hymn, O Holy Night, speaks poignantly to this juxtaposition of peace. Hear now the words of John S. Dwight:

Truly he taught us to love one another;
his law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chain shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raising,
let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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