The Peace of Home
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There is something about new life that brings new possibilities, isn’t there? Newness brings about a sense of “anything is possible” in some way. For sports fans, when the new season starts, everyone is in first place. Every team is unbeaten. When a child is born, the possibilities seem limitless don’t they? (don’t they?) We’re looking at the introduction of John the Baptist this morning. Jesus’ cousin. The question that is asked at John the Baptist’s birth is “What then will this child become?”
Not long ago I talked about the questions that faith asks of us. The question that I want each of us to consider this morning, dear family, dear children of God, is “What then will this child become?” I want us to consider this question about ourselves. Advent is not simply about marking time or counting down the days to Christmas. It’s always interesting to note how things of faith are being talked about or treated in general in the public square. I was noting this year at the grocery store that chocolate calendars are being called “Christmas/New Year’s Countdown Calendars” (I’m not too perturbed about this by the way. The church doesn’t necessarily need chocolate makers to help us mark Advent.) What the church does need to do is to recognize that the season of Advent is not simply a way to mark time. The season of Advent is not simply a way to count down the days until Christmas – with all the excitement and trepidation and all the other emotions that might go with such a countdown. The season of Advent is rather a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. In another way, Advent is an encapsulation of what it means for the follower of Christ to follow in the ways of Christ – hope, peace, joy, love. Christ.
So we ask the question, “What then will this child become?” How is this time of preparation going? We ask it honestly and we look at our hearts honestly. We look at situations within our circles of love and care honestly. We look at situations in society and geo-politically honestly. We’re talking about coming home for Christmas. We’re talking about God with us as being at home with God. Last week I talked about home like this - “Home is a place where you are accepted, safe, cared for, caring, free of judgement, free to be yourself, free to be vulnerable. In a word, loved.”
At the same time we realize that for many, our experience of home is not always like that – at least not all of the time. For many, our experience of home is not like that at all. Someone has described our experience of home like this:“We are often afraid to go home, afraid of home. Maybe we’ve experienced pain there; maybe we have felt unfairly judged, neglected, or unloved. Despite our desire to have home be positive for everyone, there are many who would be afraid of going home… as we worship, we can acknowledge that hesitancy. We can confess the times when we have not provided the sense of home that we wanted to, that we haven’t been as hospitable as we could be.” We think of the lines from the song “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Let is begin with those to whom we are closest. We recognize that we have failed in this, that we fail in this.
The prophet Malachi spoke into a situation where the people of God were failing at this. They were not offering their all to God. “What’s the point of following God?” they were asking. Those who do evil, prosper. Those who do evil, live well (and if we think this we really have to reconsider how we define “living well”). “Where is the God of justice?” they asked (and not even asking the question of God, but of each other). We like to look at our world and say “Why doesn’t God act?” Which, when you think about it is an extremely proud question. Wondering why God makes us wait as if God were up there to serve us, that “God should meet our expectations and our timetable” as someone has said. That what we want should be God’s number one consideration, that God is answerable to us. We need to flee from this sort of thinking, repent from it, turn from it. The people of God are asking “Why does God not act?” and they’re asking the wrong question. The question is being put to them by God, “Are you ready for my coming?” Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?
The gospel is bad news before it’s good news. Here’s the good news dear friends. In the middle of all these situations and these questions, let us hear the voice of God. “I have loved you,” says the Lord (Mal 1:2a). In the middle of all these situations and questions we have an invitation from God to come home. We have in invitation to be at home in the house of God which is the house of peace. To be at home in the Prince of Peace. We look within for peace and we look without for peace and in the middle of our looking we hear the voice of God saying “Here I am.” This is how Malachi 3:1 starts, though it’s usually translated “Look” or “Behold” or “See.” “Heneni” is the Hebrew word. “Here I am.” It’s the word Isaiah calls out “Here am I send me.” it’s the words that Samuel calls out “Here I am.” Here God is saying “Here I am.” In the middle of questions about justice and peace, God has acted, God acts, God will act. The invitation to live in the peace of God is one to live in trust of our loving, just God – to not have all the answers or know a timetable and to be ok with that. It is to recognize that the peace that we crave, and that we pray “Let it begin with me” for, has been made possible in the one who came to the temple and who is coming again. It is to recognize that the Prince of Peace is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap – purifying and cleansing. I learned something about silver refining preparing for today. Silver refining is a long process. The one who does the refining often gets burned. There’s suffering involved. You can’t walk away from it – the process needs to be constantly attended to. New life in Christ. Being made new in Christ, who takes away the things that keep us from being who we are intended to be in Christ. “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…” This means more than one thing but one thing it surely means is that God intends for his people to prepare the way for Him – that God intends for his people to present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Not our own righteousness by any means, but in the righteousness of our Prince of Peace.
Of course this messenger is also John the Baptist. Jesus himself says so. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Make his way straight, and we know from our lives how crooked we can make his way. Prepare yourselves for the coming of Jesus.
Who is our peace. We need to start there of course. We’re talking about preparing ourselves, but the preparation itself is based on the one who brought peace, who brings peace, who will bring peace. We may look at the angels’ song of “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours” and say “Well where is this peace?” The fault is not God’s. Listen to how Paul puts it in Colossians 1:19-23. Let us hold fast to the Hope of the One who is our Peace. He himself is our peace, and this peace is not just for our own sake. Christ himself is our peace and in him and through the Holy Spirit of God we are called and enabled to be diffusers of peace.
The same way that in some church traditions incense is diffused during a worship service. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” Jesus will say. The way of peace has been made so that we can be makers of peace. We are to be diffusers of peace, a sweet smell of Christ that reaches up to God, and that reaches out to all we encounter. This is where peace begins. Look at the song that Zechariah sings speaking of God – “Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we being rescued from the hands of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:72-75) Our deliverer. Our refiner. Then these wonderful words – “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”(78-79)
He is our peace. He is my peace. Is he yours? If not pray “Lord Jesus be my peace.” It’s a good place to start. It certainly doesn’t end there. Luke writes of John the Baptist and the message of peace is coming from the desert. “What good can come out of the desert?” we might ask. The people of God are formed in the desert. Luke gives us a list of leaders who represent political power, social and religious power. Anyone knowing the self-serving, violent, manipulative, cruel actions of these rulers would understand that peace has not come through institutional power. We would understand that peace has not come through institutional power and arrangements. We’re reminded too that the peace that Christ has brought is for everyone (and indeed all of creation), and that it has come for a particular time and a particular place. Like Sunday December 5th, 2021 in Toronto Canada or wherever you might be worshiping from. Prepare the way of the Lord, whose way is peace. How can we think of peace and the table that the Lord has prepared for us to come around today without thinking of the line from that famous song – “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” You are our peace. God. Make me a channel of your peace, God. Make me an instrument of your peace, God. How can we come around this table without thinking of the time when the one who hosts it said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” They are part of the family, in other words, and in being part of the family, the peacemakers are coming ever more to bear the family resemblance – to reflect the ways of our Father. “What will this child become?” is the question I want us to ask of ourselves this morning. May our answer be “A child of peace.” Who in our lives do we need to make peace with? Who in our lives do we need to take steps toward reconciliation with? Make that peace. Take those steps. It might not be successful because like an invitation to a table, two parties are involved – one to make the invitation and one to accept it. Our invitation to peace might not be accepted. Make it anyway, just as Jesus makes the invitation to live in him. Is there someone you need to talk to? Talk to them. Is there someone you need to pray to God for; that reconciliation will happen; that relationship will be restored? Pray to God for that person. Let us reach out as we’re able this season with invitations to those closest to us – family, neighbours, friends. Invitations to tables, invitations to worship. Invitations to peace. Let us be a people are preparing the way of the Lord, which is the way of peace, the way of our Prince of Peace. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gifts.