Looking for Words of Hope and Peace

Looking for words of hope and peace. The season surrounds us and we look for it everywhere we go...or so we should. But we turn today to our Scriptures to look for hope and peace. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find something that may not seem quite so peaceful, the promise that Christ is coming to separate persons. We would look at that as the good from the bad, or maybe the faithful from the unfaithful. So we look to Matthew and we say, "Matthew, how is this hopeful if in Christ's coming he will separate people?" and we worry what will happen if we are the ones separated out. It doesn't seem like a very good message of hope for us, except that God's justice is coming. God's justice does prevail over the human designs that we put together, for power will not stand when God brings justice into the world again through Christ's return.

If we look at the Gospel of John, who also talks about separating the wheat from the chaff, we ask, "Who is he talking about in that?" In John's Gospel, he's talking to the Jewish worshipers and separating those Jewish individuals who are not coming into the reformed way how things are panning out at that time, remembering that Jesus came to reform his own people, his own faith, the Jewish faith. So there's this idea that, in John, it's the separation of the faithful Jewish folks from the unfaithful Jewish folks.

Matthew is specifically pointing to the Christian church in this case, and he's talking about Christians who are unfaithful. He's talking about that separation. And so that puts us even more on the spot and makes us wonder, "How is this hopeful to us?" Well, fortunately, the lectionary text also gives us some words of hope coming from our Old Testament lesson. And if you look at that for a moment, those of us who are waiting for the birth of the Christ child hear this in a way that reinforces the babe's coming. 'A root shall come out from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might.'

When we hear that as Christians, we understand that to be Jesus who is coming, the child, the baby Jesus who will grow up and be that person, that Savior, that Redeemer for us. And if you continue to read on in that passage, it says that God's justice is coming, God's mercy is coming, and everything will be changed. Human precepts for a world order will be changed, but also the natural order of things. We hear in there about the wolf lying down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a child shall lead them.

For us as Christians, we impose Jesus into that child. And though that might not be technically correct, it's okay for us to do that, for we are proclaiming that Jesus is the child come, Jesus is the Redeemer, the Savior that God has promised. But if we look at Jesus, the child who came at the manger scene, we have some of these very animals that happen to be lying down together, although I don't see any lions or leopards. And that has not been part of the tradition of my growing up. Maybe you have a nativity that may have a few of those wild beasts, but we tend to have the more docile creatures. Kind of a statement of a fore-coming of Jesus that yes, even the natural order is changing and even animals are at peace in his presence.

The hope for us that we can pull from these two Scriptures is though in Christ's return, Christ may be coming to possibly separate the faithful from the unfaithful, we have a promise that in that time God's reign is coming. The reign of Christ is coming to change the whole world, to upset the human precepts of power and justice to be God's power and justice and even the natural order. It's really a vision of utopia, or heaven on earth, kind of the kingdom at hand and how God will change things. So even though we may have some fear and anxiety and trepidation over what Matthew is warning us about, for those who are not prepared, we have God's hope standing here on the other side.

Now, if we get to Paul's message, it is really, in a way, talking about how Jesus is for the Gentiles as well. And so they're not standing outside of this covenant that is with God's chosen people, the Jewish realm, but that Jesus is there also for the Gentiles. And it is in Jesus that we receive our hope, hope for these very images like we hear about in Isaiah, and hope for the kingdom to come.

So even in the midst of disturbing passages that may convict us or may give us anxiety or fear about Christ's return and what will be, we have that juxtaposed with its image of hope and an image of peace. I can't imagine something more peaceful than lions and lambs lying down next to each other without the lamb being eaten. That would be an amazing sight for me. And I haven't been to a zoo where that is true. Let me know if you've been to one. Maybe in the petting area with little baby lions and tigers. But it's an image of serene peace. And if that kind of peace is coming into the world, I can't see how we can't be a people of hope because that is an image that is something that is against the natural order of everything that we know. And to recognize that even with that coming peace, if we can see that vision of what God is bringing into the world, then too we will have hope for even human precepts and levels of authority and power being changed to match what God's vision for the world is today.

So let us focus on those images realizing that yes, there are passages here in Advent that may stir a little anxiety, may get us to do some preparation or some repentance, or to go out and do things specifically with bringing glory to God in mind. Let us do those things and let those messages be able to be an inspiration to us in that way. But rest in the knowledge that a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of hope, and a kingdom of love is coming...and part of that is already here in us through Christ.

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