“What Can’t Wait? Peace Can’t Wait”
Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12
Second Sunday of Advent – December 8, 2019
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’…But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
The theme we are exploring this Advent season is “What can’t wait?”
And today, on the Second Sunday of Advent, you have affirmed that some things can wait.
On the Advent board in the hallway, you affirmed that buying stuff can wait,
and stress can wait, and madness can wait, and even laundry can wait – at least for a while.
And you also affirmed that there are many things that cannot wait this December,
like time with loved ones, and caring for others, and laughter, and singing, and peace.
Peace cannot wait this Advent season…
Not when you’re feeling afraid or anxious…
Not when you are exhausted and the kids are crying and you are really in need of some rest…
Not when you’ve been in an argument with a loved one and you’ve both said things you regret…
Not when you are utterly lost in life and do not know which way to go…
Not when you’re waiting for some medical diagnosis and you can’t sleep or sit still…
Not when someone you love needs for you to apologize to them…
Not when our country is polarized and our earth itself is in distress…
There are many things that can wait this December 2019, but peace?
Peace cannot wait.
A journalist asked recently on social media: “What does peace look like?”
The responses to the question varied widely. A lady named Donna wrote:
Peace looks like “reading books, learning more about our world
and (understanding) its (many) people(s) and faith(s).”
Ed from San Jose, California wrote:
Peace looks like “compassion and love for all earthlings!”
Tanya from Morocco replied: Peace looks like “sharing candy” with a friend.
Beth Marie from the Midwest wrote that peace looks like “long drives on the prairie.”
Someone who calls herself Earth Girl replied:
Peace looks like “Enjoying nature and its smallest creatures!”
TractorMama’s view of peace is: “Children at play with no worries.
Not enough children get peaceful play,” she claims.
Paul from Iraq, who has had more distress in his family than most of us, writes that peace looks like
the ability “to visit where my parents were born and not be killed for doing so.”
Episcopal Bishop Thomas Ely shares that peace looks likes the conversations he enjoys in Jerusalem
with his Jewish, Muslim & Christian friends. (#mypeaceis, huffpost.com)
What does peace look like for you?
For me, peace looks like children sleeping at night, all safely tucked in their beds.
Peace sounds like music by Johann Sebastian Bach, or like the thoughtful anthems sung by our choir.
Peace feels like parts of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all (others) doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Black Elk was an American Indian, one of the leaders of the Sioux nation. Some years ago, he wrote:
“The first peace, which is the most important (peace),
is that which comes from within the souls of men (and women)
when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers,
and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka…”
In the Sioux way of life, “Wakan Tanka” is the term for “the sacred” or “the divine”,
translated as “The Great Spirit” or “Great Mystery”. (wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakan_Tanka)
“This center (of the universe, this Wakan Tanka) is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.
The second peace is that which is made between two individuals,
and the third (peace) is that which is made between two nations.
But above all, Black Elk wrote,
you should understand that there can never be peace between (individuals and) nations
until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men (and women).
(Black Elk in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, 1953)
As the Dalai Lama has been known to say:
“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.”
Wayne Dyer, a best-selling author of practical psychology and spiritual renewal, wrote:
“Peace can become a lens through which you see the world. Be it. Live it. Radiate it out.
Peace is an inside job.” “Anytime you’re filled with resentment,” he claims,
“you’re turning the controls of your emotional life over to others to manipulate.”
“My purpose (in life)” he wrote, “is to help people look at themselves and begin to shift their concepts.”
“Remember, we are not our country, our race, or religion. We are eternal spirits.
Seeing ourselves as spiritual beings without label is a way to transform the world
and reach a sacred place for all of humanity.”
Seeing others without labels is certainly a way to begin to transform the world
and to reach a more sacred place for all humanity.
John the Baptist knew that if the people of Jerusalem would open themselves
to the possibility of peace, if they would re-orient our lives,
if they would turn away from that which was not good, not healthy, not truthful, not righteous,
and turn themselves toward that which is good,
then the ground would be laid for the Messiah to come, for the peace of the Messiah to reign.
Repent!, John the Baptist cried out, for the kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent!, turn around, re-orient, and the peace of God will come to you,
the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding will be yours,
the peace which is meant to flourish in our own hearts can then radiate to the world around us.
What is working against your sense of personal peace this December?
The busyness of your calendar? Some big project at work?
Some relationship issue with a family member? The illness or decline of a loved one?
We all have situations in our lives which will cause serious concern,
which will cause anxiety and make us stay awake at night with worry.
Whether we are talking about inner peace or peace between nations,
Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in (peace).
And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at (peace).”
Former President John F. Kennedy wrote:
“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions,
slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
What does peace look like?
According to the prophet Isaiah, peace looks like shared wisdom and understanding,
with knowledge of and fear of the Lord.
Peace looks like righteous judgments for the poor and equitable treatments of the meek.
Peace looks like no hurting or destroying on all of God’s holy mountain.
Can we imagine such a world…with no abuse – ever – of anyone,
not of any spouse or child?
Can we imagine a world where no one would be labeled a “bully” because there would be no bullying?
Can we imagine a world where there was no threat of murder or assault,
no concern over suicide, where, for everyone in the world,
the threat of the loss of life or limb was not a concern.
The best way the prophet could describe this kind of world was to imagine the natural world
in a whole new way: The wolf will lie down with the lamb,
the lion will lie down with the calf, and the young child shall play near the cobra’s den.
This vision is so stark, so surprising, so “unnatural”, that it begs our attention,
and for centuries artists have worked to represent its beauty.
The prophet describes a transformed natural world in order to help us envision
a transformed human society, which begs the question:
What is our “natural” state as human beings?
Are we created for violence? Were we built to make war?
Or are these things antithetical to our true being?
Could our true being, our “natural” human state, be one of hope, peace, love, and joy?
Shirley Guthrie, who taught theology at Columbia Theological Seminary for 40 years,
asserted that Jesus was the “natural”, fully human person.
Jesus was created in God’s image, as we are, but he lived wholly according to that image.
Jesus lived in right relationship, always, with God and with others,
which is how we were all created to live.
Any sin, any brokenness, any violence of word or of deed, anything that would separate us
from God or from others, is “unnatural”.
Imagine the world living as if our “natural” state is one of blessedness, as in the garden of Eden?
Imagine the world living as if killing and warfare, corruption and inequity,
any violence of words or of deeds, were deemed “un-natural”, not even human, less than “human”.
When Jesus died on the cross, he forever condemned sin and violence as a means to an end.
He condemned forever the destruction of others for our own gain.
In giving his body and blood on the cross, he showed us a still more excellent way,
the way of self-giving love and sacrifice.
The message from Isaiah today is that we still hope for the ideal, we still strive for the ideal.
We do our best to live as “natural” human beings,
those for whom sin and brokenness and violence is “unnatural”.
Yes, buying stuff can wait this Advent, stress can wait, madness can wait,
and even the laundry can wait – at least for a while.
But the peace of Jesus Christ that surpasses all understanding cannot wait.
The world needs this peace this Advent. You and I need this peace this Advent season.
So come quickly, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church