Second week of Advent-Peace
Sermon – December 6 – Advent 2- Peace
There is an interesting difference in the two readings this morning. The passage from Mark clearly makes use of the writing of the Prophet Isaiah. Mark begins the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Isaiah, at least in the translation I use says “A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
I won’t spend a great time attempting to explain the difference. Is it a matter of translation and use of punctuation? I can’t tell you. Or is it that Mark sees that John, acting as a prophet is a voice in the wilderness, calling on people to do something now.
On the other hand, Isaiah is writing to people in exile. This passage comes from the section of Isaiah written while the Jewish people are in exile in Babylon. They are people in crisis. They saw themselves as God’s chosen; to always be protected by their God. So how did they come to be conquered and removed from the land promised to them by God?
So in a figurative way, they are in the wilderness, and they are being told prepare the way of God.
Don’t forget who you are; hold fast to what you have been taught. God has not forgotten you.
Exile is near an end, but the people still have work to do. They have a role to play.
It is a similar story in Mark’s gospel. John proclaims the coming of God; the coming of Jesus. He is a prophet living on the outside; the wilderness. He looks nothing like someone from proper society. He is found in the wilderness, dressed wildly, with a strange diet.
And yet, this is the person people turn to for promise that God is still active in their lives.
God continues to surprise; god continues to do the unexpected.
What do we take from these stories? In both cases the people of Israel are dominated by empires. In one case the people are in exile; they experience pressure to give up their traditions. In Mark we know the people of Judea live under the conquest of the Roman Empire. They are nominally ruled by a puppet king.
Isaiah says Jerusalem has served her term and paid her penalty. But it is necessary to make straight a highway or God.
John calls for a baptism of repentance. To be made new once more in preparation for the coming of Jesus.
I often wonder what to do with these images. One could – and many do argue – it is a call to get back to basics. To renew those things we as a society seem to have forgotten. That can be a temptation. Heck, even the Romans in early centuries of the first millennia expressed concern for the apparent weakening of their mighty empire and started talking about returning to their old practices and values. Concerned they had diluted what made them powerful in the first place, they started talking about making Rome great again.
That type of thinking can and often does lead to blaming so-called outsiders; scapegoating elites. It often becomes an attack on diversity. I don’t find that useful. But, if we consider again, the idea of reading scripture through the lens of a call to compassion; a call to love one another; to do for others what we would have them do, then perhaps we can work with this.
What does God desire for creation? What does God see as possible for humanity? How have we failed to live out that vision?
Today we reflect on what peace means for us in God’s world. There is the peace we find in our selves. The peace we must often struggle to achieve in our own lives as we battle despair and anxiety; anger and jealousy and fear for what might be in store for us and our community. How do we find a path that enables us to live a life of love and generosity while also reconciling our anxieties and our passions?
Yes, finding peace within ourselves is critical. Any work we do for the world can easily be disrupted if we haven’t cared for our own mental, physical and spiritual health. God certainly desires us to be at peace with ourselves.
But we cannot ignore the needs for peace in our society; in our world. And this is not a peace built merely on an absence of conflict. It is not a peace established by shaming one side in to staying silent; or being coerced into cooperation through the threat of violence. That is not a true lasting peace established through God’s love and compassion. That is a peace built to favour an empire that benefits from the status quo.
At the time that Mark wrote his Gospel, the world around the Mediterranean was living in what is often referred to as the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. There was little in the way of conflict. Of course Rome had recently destroyed Jerusalem in response to an uprising. It had made an example of that city and the Jewish people. Things were peaceful again; for the empire.
No. I believe the peace God desires is one based on love of oneself, God and your neighbour, one based on compassion and a desire for real justice. One where those who are often left on the outside looking in have a voice that is heard.
One where we hear someone crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And we hear and we listen knowing this is God speaking to all of us.
That I believe is how we can prepare for the coming of God’s kin-dom. We prepare by living lives based on compassion and love; striving for a world of true justice where everyone is valued and where all voices are heard. Where no one is silenced in a bid to maintain order and a status quo that favours a few. That is the peace God promises.
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