This morning’s sermon – enjoy!
We Shall Be The Ones Of Peace
Rumi once said,
“Love calls – everywhere and always.
We’re sky bound.
Are you coming?”
Today we lit the fourth candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of love. Year after year this candle reminds us of the true meaning of the Christmas season. By now I am sure we are all stressed to the max, trying to simultaneously clean our houses for guests, prepare food for Christmas dinners, do last-minute shopping, (finish Christmas Eve sermons) and finish wrapping our gifts so that everything is in order by the time the clock strikes midnight on December 25th.
No? Just me?
Over the past several days, I have found myself saying often, “I just need to get through Christmas.” But “getting through it” is not what it is all about, is it?
This fourth candle that now burns brightly on our Advent wreath is a wonderful reminder that love really is all that matters this time of year. Everything else – clean houses, perfectly presented elaborate meals, presents and stocking stuffers – is secondary. Love, to steal a line from The Beatles, is all you need.
This year, especially, we have been reminded that love is all you need. Many of us are still trying to process the tragedy that happened in Newtown a little over a week ago. Suffice is to say we are all holding on to our loved ones a little bit more closely right now and letting go of the things that really do not matter.
Last Sunday during our worship service we said a blessing over all of the prayer shawls that had been completed and were in storage at the church. This week almost 30 shawls were packaged up and mailed, through various agencies and connections, to Newtown residents. On Thursday night I received a message from one of the recipients of the shawls. I had mailed two shawls to this family – one for the parents and one for their six year old daughter. Attached to the message was a picture of their daughter wrapped in her pink and purple shawl. Her dad thanked me profusely and said it was the first real smile he had seen on his daughter’s face in a week. The next morning I received another message of thanks, this time telling me that she had insisted on sleeping with her shawl that night and asked if she could take it with her to school that morning.
I believe that there is good in this world. I believe in the four candles that now light up our Advent wreath; I believe in love, I believe in compassion and I believe that Jesus’ life and ministry taught us how to be good people.
I will not be naïve and say that there are not bad people in the world; I sadly acknowledge the evil that surrounds us and realize that it is not always easy to heed the call to love; but I truly do believe that each and every one of us has the strength within ourselves to be the face of Christ in this world. God gives us that strength. And we can spread God’s love throughout this broken world.
We heard a reading this morning from the Book of Micah, one of the later books in the Old Testament. It is thought to be written by a prophet from Moresheth during the reign of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Micah was prophesying during a dark and distressful time – Jerusalem was under siege and the kings were suffering. The infrastructure of the nation was completely unstable and the people living there saw no hope in their lives and in the world.
The beautiful thing about this book, however, is that Micah never lost hope. Despite the circumstances that they were living in, Micah believed that better times were ahead. He acknowledged the despair of their world, but he held fast to the truth that God promised a world filled with hope, peace, joy and love – and he believed that this world was within our grasp.
I am here to do the same this morning.
It is neat to reflect on these prophetic passages from the Old Testament during the Advent season and look at how these prophesies were revealed through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In a way it gives more meaning not only to the Christmas story, but also to the Christian story. Jesus fulfilled prophesies spoken hundreds of years before his birth.
Let’s look at this morning’s passage from Micah, for example:
But you, O Bethlehem … from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord … And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.
When you think about this passage in the context of Christmas, you immediately think that Micah is talking about Jesus. It would make sense to connect Mary’s labor to the phrase, “she who is in labor,” and connect Jesus to the baby who shall be brought forth and one day lead God’s people and bring peace to them. It is intuitive from a Christian standpoint to think that the prophesy Micah spoke was fulfilled in the New Testament and that the story is now complete.
And in a way – that is true. “[Jesus] shall stand and feed his flock … and he shall be the one of peace.”
But I also think that may be a complacent way to read this passage.
Sometimes I wonder if we are closing the books of the Old Testament too soon; I wonder if the story is, in fact, still unfolding before our very eyes and within our lives. I wonder if we, too, are called to fulfill these prophesies of the Old Testament. The story did not end with Jesus, it couldn’t have; if it did our lives would not have meaning.
Jesus has come and gone and we need to continue to be a fulfillment of these prophesies – in our lives, today.
These ancient texts of the Old Testament are only relevant in our lives if we put ourselves inside of them. Think, for a moment, how much more meaningful this morning’s reading would be if we replaced every “he” – every implication of Jesus – with the word “we”. What shape would our lives take if we decided that we, too, wanted our lives to also be a fulfillment of Micah’s prophesy?
Let’s look at the passage again; what if God said, through Micah …
From you shall come forth for me ones who are to rule …
And we shall stand and feed our flock in the strength of the Lord …
And they shall live secure, for now we shall be great to the ends of the earth;
And we shall be the ones of peace.
We shall be the ones of peace.
I am not taking away from the Christmas story, from Jesus’ divinity or from the fulfillment of prophesies through Jesus’ life. But God needs us, too, to be peacemakers here on earth; God needs us here, today. God needs us to help fulfill the prophesy that better times are coming. God needs us to bring love and joy to those in despair. God needs us to knit prayer shawls; God needs us to be Church School teachers and Lay Shepherds; God needs us to be teachers and first responders and volunteers in the community. God needs us respond when opportunities for mission and service arise. God needs us to love the people around us, even when that is not an easy thing for us to do.
God needs us not to ignore the pain in the world, but to be part of the healing that desperately needs to happen.
This morning’s Gospel reading comes from the Book of Luke. It is known as The Magnificat, which means in Latin my soul magnifies. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sang, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Mary sings this song after her encounter with Elizabeth. She gives great glory to God, who is using her as a vessel of his ministry, to fulfill prophesies of hope, peace, joy and love in this world. She thanked God for entrusting his people to her care, to tend to the work that needed to be done in the world, to bring love to God’s people.
Let us do the same thing in our own lives.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has given strength to people in this world to do good things, to bring hope, peace, joy and love to those who cry out in pain.
Let us, this Christmas season, be a fulfillment of the prophesies spoken by a man in Moresheth nearly 3,000 years ago. Let us, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church (and friends around the country and around the world who one day may read this), remember that the story of a faithful people living in relationship with God is continuing to unfold here on earth, today. Let us stand tall and, with the strength and love of God, nurture and build up the people in our lives.
We shall be the ones of peace.
Thanks be to God!