The Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Welcome to the Second Sunday in Advent. Last week we focused on the theme of Hope. This week we will be focusing on Peace. Seeking to explore how we can experience peace in this time of reflection.
This morning we lit the second, purple candle on the Advent wreath. This candle is often also called the "Bethlehem Candle." It reminds us of Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem before Mary gave birth to Jesus.
This second candle also reminds us that after all of the division, destruction, and dispersion of the kingdom in the Old Testament, there might finally be peace on Earth - Jesus is coming, and so is his Kingdom of Peace.
There are many challenges to achieving peace in our world today. Of course, there are the obvious ones like the ongoing conflict in Gaza, along with the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine. But, in truth, we don't have to go that far to recognize there is a lot of tension and discontent, even in this nation.
The world is an uncertain and unsure place and there seems to be little reason to expect that peace will come upon us in this turbulent time through any human action. So what can we learn about peace from our readings this morning?
Well, as I talked about, in My Musings, in the Weekly Update, this week, sometimes we can misinterpret what it is that we are looking for when we are seeking peace.
Sometimes we are looking for the absence of conflict, for an idyllic place where there is no strife and no struggle. As Christians, we understand that is what the Heavenly realm will be like. That is the kind of peace we expect once Jesus has come the second time and established God's Kingdom here on earth, sometime in the future.
In many ways, we are living in what might be considered a middle time. We know that Jesus came around 2,000 years ago and we are expecting that he will come again. We say that every week in the communion service don't we?
"Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself, and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.
He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.
Then we go on to say:
Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
We know that with Christ's coming the Kingdom of God will be inaugurated and there will be peace, brought by the Prince of Peace, Jesus. We see a picture of that kind of peace in the reading from Isaiah this morning. Isaiah is predicting that after all that the people of Israel have been through there will be a restoration.
Unfortunately that restoration was very short lived. As Christians, we understand that we will see a more permanent restoration in the coming of the Messiah, with the second coming.
But that hasn't happened yet and the world is still in that turbulent place awaiting the coming Kingdom.
So, where does that leave us, in this middle place, with all that is going on around us in the global conflicts and political strife of our world? Well, if peace is not going to happen externally perhaps we can look to an internal peace. Is there any way we can join the Lord in developing a sense of peace that exists and continues even with all the external conflict?
Maybe we are looking for the kind of peace that comes because of the waiting. Perhaps it comes from how we understand our relationship with the Lord.
Our Collect for this morning indicates that the dire warnings of the Prophets were proclaimed to wake the people up. To awaken them to their own need for change and renewal:
"Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer."
Psalm 85 gives us a picture of a restoration that can happen for us personally: "You have forgiven the iniquity of your people and blotted out all their sins.
"I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him."
Now, it has to be said that the Lord's promise of his return does seem to have taken a long time. But 2nd Peter helps us to understand that:
"Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
If we feel like we are waiting then we have to remember that God is waiting too. He is waiting for us, and our behalf. 2nd Peter makes it clear that God is not being slow, he is being patient. He is patient because he doesn't want anyone to perish. But we also cannot forget that he is waiting for our repentance.
The way to peace with God is through repentance. It is by seeking to bring our lives in line with the Lord's will and purpose that we will experience peace.
Let's look at 2nd Peter again: "what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" and then a couple of verses later: "Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation."
There it is again that word peace, when we have peace with God, our lives will be different, they will have a much greater sense of God, of goodness and righteousness. Now, that sounds wonderful but I guess I have to say that it still feels a little amorphic, you know a little generic and vague.
It is sometimes helpful to draw on other scriptures to understand the ones we are reading, so this morning, I would like to remind us of John 14:23-27
"Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word,and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
So, this is an internal peace that is based in our understanding of our relationship with the Lord. It is dependent on our relationship with the Holy Spirit. "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you."
We read in our Gospel lesson, from Mark, this morning about the work and purpose of messengers. Just as God sent John the Baptist, and all the other prophets, ahead of Jesus to proclaim his coming, so Jesus has gifted us with the Holy Spirit.
John proclaimed a Baptism of repentance and the people responded by being drawn to him and seeking baptism. We too have the gift of the Holy Spirit which draws us to the Lord and we seek Baptism in the fullness of God's work in our lives.
We have the opportunity for a peace that resonates through us because we know where we stand with God, through Christ, and the Holy Spirit
But, we have to remember, that this is not just about us. That would make Christianity a self-centered and self-serving life. We need to remind ourselves, on a daily basis, that when we have experienced the peace "which passes all understanding" we will find ourselves compelled to share it.
One of the wonderful things about Christmas is the giving of gifts. We seek to find something to give to others that will bring them joy, that will lighten their life, and that will help them to understand how precious they are.
We have that kind of gift that we can give away to others every single day. We have the gift of peace, and we can share it with joyful abandon because know it will never run out.
To paraphrase what Jesus said: "Peace I give you; the peace of Christ I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
What a wonderful gift we have been given and what a great opportunity we have to share it with all of those around us. In a world crying out for peace, we have it in abundance.
So, we can say with confidence:
"The Peace of the Lord be always with you."
Bishops & Father Mike