Preparing For Peace?

[]The Prophet Isaiah declared to the people Israel, "Comfort, O comfort my people," says your God. They are words of assurance that comfort is coming. This, for the people Israel who, in the 8th century B.C. had their city destroyed and the temples torn down and were taken off into exile in Babylonia as servants. To these people who have suffered, possibly one, two hundred years, these words, "Comfort, O comfort my people," says your God…these words are the assurance that everything will be better soon. Isaiah declares that the penalty for their wrongdoings has now been paid, and God will come and will be with the people and will lead them as a shepherd leads the mother sheep. Words that not only bring hope, but maybe a sense of peace to the people Israel as they still live amidst struggle and not knowing. Words of peace that God is coming and will make all things new. "Comfort, O comfort, you my people."

They are wonderful words of hope and peace, words that are not lost some two thousand years later when we, in the midst of our modern times, see that there is still great suffering in our lives, in our community, in our nation, and around the world. Think about how those words might sound coming to you from God, "Comfort, comfort to you," I say.

How would those words feel to you when you think about those personal difficulties you face in your life every day, that comfort is coming and that God will be bringing something new.

How about for our community, for those in our community who I know have come to me in the last few months seeking help to prevent being evicted from their apartments or having their power turned off or having water turned back on for the family that's been without water for some five or six days….those words, "Comfort, O comfort to you," says God. They may bring some sense of peace and comfort, maybe not so much as me saying, "We'll send a check from the church to help with that," which is part of the love and justice-making that's part of bringing peace. But even those words of hope for those who are of faith, for us who are the people of God, those are words of comfort.

How would those words sound to our nation? I imagine their being spoken over the airwaves today to a nation in great economic distress with foreclosures happening around us and joblessness rising by the day, it seems. "Comfort, comfort you my people," says your God. Is it bringing some sense of hope and peace to our nation? Time will only tell.

How about our world? How do those words, 'Comfort, comfort you, my people," sound to the people of Mumbai, India, where a terrorist attack claimed hundreds of lives? How does it sound to the people in Zimbabwe who are dying of cholera and don't have clean water to drink and many are fleeing the country, going to South Africa where there is not really food or water set up for them but where at least they might escape the deadly disease? How do those words sound to them? How do those words sound to the Sudanese people who have been fleeing for years, fleeing from their country looking for a place where they can find peace and shalom and at least live another day without the threat of military reprisal.

Or the people of Iraq, the regular citizens not involved in any of these things that are going on with the war, but find themselves caught in the middle of the conflict, losing family members and their homes right and left. "Comfort, comfort you, my people," says your God. They are powerful words. Yet spoken by me, they seem so insignificant because of my insignificance. I am not the Prophet Isaiah. But hearing those words from God from the holy Scripture can bring some sense of hope and peace to all of us while we struggle.

Then the words from Mark, speaking of John the Baptist who is proclaiming the one who is coming, the Messiah, the one who we Christians look to as an answer to those words from the Prophet Isaiah, of the one screaming out in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make the pathway straight because the mountains will fall down and the valleys shall rise up, and all the ground shall be made even for a pathway of our God. John the Baptist uttering those same words and calling the people to repentance, preparing the way for our Lord, for Jesus, the coming infant child who would later be proclaimed the Messiah, and the Christ, and Savior of the world, the one who brings us peace as Christians of our time. John the Baptist yells out and implores the people to prepare the way. And part of that preparation is through repentance, renouncing the ways that they have held because they have not been God's ways, and preparing the ways of love and justice which can bring peace to everyone.

John the Baptist is proclaiming for the people to prepare. And last week, we began our sense of preparing, preparing for this coming Messiah yet again. Though we do it annually and it may not feel like it has the same impact each year, the circumstances of our lives change every year. And this might be the year where those words of proclaiming comfort and peace may actually settle upon our hearts, may bring us that sense of peace and love that we have been longing for. And how better to sense that than at a time when we are in turmoil. That's when the peace of God is able to fall on us with full force. That is when we are able to sense all the deep meaning in these four Sundays of Advent, where we proclaim hope and peace and love and joy as coming. And I declare to you that it is coming. And hence for many of us it is already here, just something we need to reawaken in ourselves in the season of Advent, for Christ has already come. And yet the promise of his coming again into our lives gives us a chance for renewal of that sense of his coming and that sense of his presence which is forever with us promised by John the Baptist who said, "I baptize you with water, but the one who is coming baptizes you with the Holy Spirit." And you all have been baptized with the Holy Spirit so that presence is here. That presence is now.

But Advent is a time for us to reflect on that and to reawaken that in our lives because God has never left us. God has always been present with us even in the midst of our deepest struggles. Often it is us who don't leave room for God. It is us who will not allow ourselves to hope. It is us who will not allow ourselves to experience true peace. Yet if we can reframe our lives around a sense of love and justice for our family and our friends and our neighbors and strangers, peace will creep back into our lives again and hope will surround us everywhere we look. But it is up to us to reframe our lives in that way, to repent of the ways that have brought us away from God, to repent of the ways that have brought us doubt, to repent of the ways that separate us from knowing that God is with us always. Changing our lives in those ways and bringing a sense of love and justice to all of our actions can help reawaken the Spirit that is already there.

So in this season of Advent, let us do that intentionally, continuing to remember that we are the ones with the Gospel message to bring hope. We are the ones who are to bring the peace of God, to bring the shalom promised to the Israelites. We can bring that to others if we can only reclaim it for our own lives first. So let us do that in the ways that are possible. Let us prepare the way of the Lord and make those paths straight.

December 7, 2008

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