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Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

       “I thank my God every time I remember you,  4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,  5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight  10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,  11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:3-11

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“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.”  61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.”  62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.  63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed.  64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.  65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea.  66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:  68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,  70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,  71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,  73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us  74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,  75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,  77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,  79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”Luke 1:57-80

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Today begins the second week of Advent (already!) and we are well on our way to Christmas. In case you missed last week, we have started an Advent series called Close To Home that features a collection of home-related texts, artwork, and songs for the Advent season.

Advent

Last week the focus was on Homesickness, which talked about the feeling of being homesick on a number of different levels, and the fact that there are so many people in our world today who are far from home in one way or another – people we can reach out to with the welcome of Christ. There are also people who are home who feel homesick in other ways, like missing loved ones or missing family get-togethers.

Last week I shared with the other churches my own feelings of homesickness that I experienced a few years ago, after Mom passed and Dad came down with what would be his final illness. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh since 1976 but I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and about five years ago I was feeling homesick for Philadelphia in the worst way. I wanted to be part of the sights and sounds and smells of that noisy, crowded city just one more time. But when I went there I found the city quiet. The stores were almost deserted, Reading Terminal (the old train station) was gone, and there wasn’t much traffic either in cars or on foot. It was a little spooky. So I bought a cheese-steak from a street vendor (thank God the street vendors were still there!) and sat down to wonder what on earth had happened to my hometown.

Of course we all know it’s the passage of time. Things don’t stay the same. I don’t think what I was feeling was nostalgia, so much as it was just wanting to go home again, and coming to the realization that home isn’t there any more. Not the way I remember it anyway.

People here in Pittsburgh feel the same way about Kaufmann’s clock and Jenkins Arcade. It’s not that we want to go back to living in the 1960s. It’s just that home – as we remember it – isn’t there any more.

The thing is, for those of us who know and love Jesus, home does not lie behind us but in front of us. Back 1500 years ago, St. Augustine said “we are restless until we find our rest in thee” – and that’s really what it boils down to. As Christians we are not going back home, we are going forward home. That’s what Advent is all about. That’s the foundation.

Speaking of foundations, this week our Advent focus is on Laying the Foundation. My husband the carpenter could tell us all about the importance of laying a solid foundation.

Foundation

A good foundation takes time and thought and planning. In this week’s readings we see God, the master builder, laying the foundation for our salvation and for our forever-home. And now, finally, the building has begun and progress is being made!

Our heavenly home – the Kingdom of God – has been in the process of being built for some time. The building began when God created the heavens and the earth; but in a metaphorical sense, the first chapters of Genesis were more like getting the deed to the land. The actual building begins with the people of Israel, as Zechariah says in our passage from Luke today:

“[God] has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…” (Luke 1:69-70)

This foundation has been in the process of being laid for four thousand years if not longer. Like any master builder, God takes time. God builds a family from the descendants of Abraham; God defines how to be the family of God by giving the laws of Moses. (The Greek word for this BTW is oikonomos – literally the “law of the house” – which is where we get our word economy from.)

God also includes plans for a redeemer who will come from the house of David; and God sends prophets to let God’s people know what the plans are and what to expect. For example in Micah 5:2 the prophet says:

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

Here in our reading from Luke for today, Zechariah is saying the time has come.  The home God is building will be a place where God’s people are redeemed. It will be a place where God’s people will be saved from enemies and anyone who hates us. It will be a place where God’s mercy can be found, where God’s people can serve God without fear, where God’s people will be holy and righteous and above all, saved from sin. It will be a place of light and peace and love.

When Zechariah says all these things, his neighbors’ jaws hit the floor. It’s important to hear what Luke is saying here about the neighborhood: when Luke says John and Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives were witnesses to these events, he’s pointing out that these things didn’t happen in a vacuum. They didn’t happen in the privacy of someone’s house. The whole community is present. The whole community is witness. The word Luke uses in Greek is perioikoi which literally translates “anybody who had houses nearby”! Nothing was done quietly or in secret. The events of John the Baptist’s birth were very public, and the prophecy was talked about through the whole neighborhood. Luke says people were “amazed” and “fear came over all their neighbors” and news of these events spread – using whatever the people of those days used instead of Facebook – and reached all the way “to the hill country of Judea”.  Everyone who heard it asked “what will this child become?”

Neighborhood

What will this child become? His father, Zechariah, said John would become “the prophet of the Most High” who would “go before the Lord to prepare his ways and to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.”

This was talked about all around the region. What I wonder – and what the Bible doesn’t tell us – is how much of all this people remembered 25 or 30 years later when John began his public ministry. Did they remember the miracles that took place at his birth? Did they remember the miracle of Zechariah being able to speak again? Were people still watching to see what this child would become? Or had all that cycled out of the news by then and been forgotten? I’ve often wondered the same thing about Jesus: after all the angels and shepherds and wise men had gone home, how many people remembered these events 30 years later?

I raise these questions because often times things that happened in our lives 20, 30, 40 years ago – things having to do with God – should be remembered and talked about.  For some of us maybe it was a trip to a church camp, maybe it was a time that we went forward to say “yes” to God, or maybe it was a time in nature when we sensed God’s presence, maybe it was something we read that changed how we see things. Whatever it was, these things are important – they are part of the foundation God builds in our lives, and they should be remembered.

But back to Luke’s gospel. This is where the Christmas story begins: with the fulfillment of prophecy, with the fulfillment of God’s promises, and with work progressing on God’s blueprint.

But… all these things in Luke’s gospel happened 2000 years ago. When we look around at our world right now, and what a mess it is, and how much the churches and people of faith are struggling, people are starting to wonder what happened to that blueprint? Where are the heavenly construction workers? Why does it seem that progress on our heavenly home has slowed to a crawl?

This is where the rubber meets the road with our Christian faith. Two thousand years ago Jesus came to earth. Two thousand years ago Jesus lived and died for us to open the door to God’s kingdom – as Zechariah said: “God has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them…”. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross, fulfilling the words of John the Baptist, who “[gave] us knowledge of salvation… by the forgiveness of sins.”

And ever since then we’ve been waiting. Empires have come and gone… kings have been born and died… wars have been fought… thousands of years have passed… and still we wait.

Waiting

As one theologian recently pointed out, our faith in God’s promises – our trust in God’s promises – is what makes us Christian. Even though 2000 years later the world is still a mess, and the quest for greed and power still rules history and human life, and tragedies still happen all too frequently.

Luke’s gospel can too easily be read or heard with a sentimental holiday glow about them. It’s important to keep his words in context. Zechariah’s prophecy was spoken to a people whose nation was occupied by a foreign army, and was ruled over by a family of collaborators (the Herod family), where everyday life was a struggle just to find food and to stay healthy.

It is into this world that Zechariah speaks God’s promises. Into our world.

In Luke’s gospel, God’s promises are accompanied by miracles. Zechariah and Elizabeth, like many prophets before them, had been unable to have a child after trying for decades. And when they finally are told by God they will have a baby, Zechariah doesn’t believe it! So God tells him “you won’t speak again until you give this child his name” – and it happens exactly that way. All the circumstances around John’s birth are so extraordinary that the neighborhoods are buzzing for miles around.

The words Zechariah speaks will remind everyone who listens what God has done: God has sent prophets over the centuries; God has raised up David as king, and David’s family as the royal line; God has saved the people from enemies; God has shown mercy even in times of rebellion; God has given his people a covenant of love and faithfulness. And then Zechariah adds what God will do: God will save the people from their sins, God will show mercy, God will bring light to those in darkness, God will guide us into peace.

Those of us who have been attending the Zoom Bible study have been sharing insights about the meanings of names in the Bible. Zechariah is another to add to the list. His name means “God remembers.” And isn’t that really what we want to know? We want to be assured that God remembers us and sees what’s going on around us, and is still working.

the-god-who-remembers 2

One of the great mysteries of God’s plan is that salvation comes to us not by power but by forgiveness of sins. Jesus never promised to give us military or political victory – as another prophet by the name of Zechariah once said, “not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” Forgiveness opens the door of our hearts to God’s Spirit.

God’s plan is not just to save us: it’s to save us from and to save us to.  We are to be saved from sin, and death, and hate, and enemies. We are to be saved to mercy, and holiness, and righteousness, and peace.

In God’s kingdom these aren’t just words, they’re actions. The Holy Spirit makes these things real in our lives. And then, as we begin to find each other, and share, and gather into communities and into congregations, all of a sudden there’s a different way of “being” in the world. It’s not the kingdom come just yet, but it’s a sign of the kingdom, a sign of the kingdom that is most certainly coming.

In the meantime we still live in this dark world. We live in the “valley of the shadow of death” as King David put it – but we fear no evil, for God is with us. Emmanuel, God with us. God’s Son our Saviour Jesus is making the way and speaking hope into our dark world. The light of Advent has entered in. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 12/5/21

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