Thursday, January 31, 2008

“Peace at Last”

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-13[1]

We all have some sort of “icon” for Christmas. Depending on which generation you grew up with, it may have been Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” or Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or Sebastian Cabot in “Miracle on 34th Street.” I’m a Charlie Brown kind of guy, especially when it comes to this time of the year. I grew up on the television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas”! My favorite Christmas tunes come from that show— like “Christmastime is Here.” I have the music on my iPod if anyone’s interested! Of course, for Charlie Brown, the Christmas season is a time when even he and Lucy can see eye-to-eye. Peace on earth prevails for at least a small moment.

Unfortunately, there’s precious little peace on this earth. You don’t have to talk about wars abroad—there are car-jackings in Houston and Mall shootings in Nebraska to demonstrate the absence of peace in our world! But the sad truth is that you don’t even have to turn on your television—all you have to do is venture out from the safety of your home! Between all the noise, the traffic, and the pushy shoppers, I would have to say that the “Christmas” season seems to have even less peace than other times of the year.

The lack of peace in this world is one of the major reasons why our Jewish friends and neighbors have not accepted Jesus as their Messiah. As the prophet Isaiah tells us, when the Messiah comes he will bring with him the justice that makes for peace—he will defend the cause of the poor and needy (Isaiah 11:4). The vision of peace that Isaiah describes is so powerful that it transforms all life—even so-called “natural enemies” in the animal world will live together in peace. In similar fashion, this coming one would be the “signal for the people of all nations to come together” (Isaiah 11:10, CEV). It’s unfortunate that we’re a long way from that kind of world. These days, we even fight when we award the Nobel prize in recognition of peace-making efforts!

I think that it’s important to view the lack of peace in our world as an important dimension to our celebration of advent. Advent is a time of waiting for the coming one. What that means is that there is a future dimension to faith—it’s here but not completely. Jesus is the one who came to bring the justice of God that restores all things and creates true peace in this world. But the work has only begun in his day. We still look forward to the time when he will complete the work of peace. In the meanwhile, there are “signs” of the peace of Christ around us.[2]

I think a striking illustration of that kind of “hidden” peace can be found in a 2003 film called Saints and Soldiers. It’s a story based on actual events—the massacre of American prisoners of war near Malmedy, Belgium in December 1944. The film follows four fictional “survivors” of the massacre who have to try to make it back to safety with only one rifle among them. Fortunately, one of the four, “Deacon” Greer, is a sharpshooter who never misses. At a particular farmhouse, they encounter some German soldiers. “Deacon” shoots at one of them, and the man who never misses actually does miss—not once but twice. When the soldier surrenders, “Deacon” recognizes him as a man named Rudi whom he had befriended when he served as a missionary in Berlin before the war! These two men, who would have ordinarily been trying to kill each other on the battlefield, spend the evening talking about old times and sharing their faith! To the amazement of the other G.I.’s, “Deacon” and Rudi share a faith that transcends the lines of language or nationality or even war.

What those G.I.’s didn’t understand was that their friendship was a sign of the peace that Christ has brought into the world. After their chance encounter, the two soldiers go their own ways—they release Rudi in exchange for information on how to get to safety. But for a few hours, the peace of Jesus the Christ overruled even a war that encompassed the whole world!

The lack of peace around us does not rule out the promise that Christ is the one who is bringing peace to the whole world. As Paul said, Jesus came to confirm the promises to the Jewish people of God and to glorify God among the rest of us by demonstrating his mercy (Romans 15:8-9).[3] As we celebrate the signs of peace that are evident, we look forward in hope to the day when “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10).[4]

The hope of advent is that in Jesus the Christ God has already started reclaiming the world for his own, and he will not stop until he finishes the task. The joy of advent is that the light of God’s new day is already dawning, and we can see the glimmer of peace already peeking through the clouds.[5] The urgency of Advent is that we are called to join with the risen Lord in making this peace a reality[6]—but the “night” is indeed “half-spent,” which means we must invest all that we are in seeking the kingdom of God.

[1] © 2007 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 12/9/2007 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 84-85, 98-99, 293.

[3] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 138, says it this way: “the church … has to see an expectant and hopeful Israel by its side as its partner” in hoping for the ultimate fulfillment of these promises. Cf. also ibid., 139-144.

[4] Cf. Isa. 11:10; 40:5; see also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 77, 80, 83, 86, 93, 100, 135; cf. further, Jürgen Moltmann, “The God of Hope,” in The Gospel of Liberation, 31: “Paul sighs with the entire waiting creation. How can we then sigh only for ourselves?” Cf. Further, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1:31.

[5] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 77, 192-93, 217-19.

[6] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 65, 83-84, 316; see further 163-189, and 282-88 for concrete implications in all aspects of life.

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