Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“We Don’t Need to Wait for Peace” Sermon, Year C, Advent 2, December 9, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 3:1-6

Advent is a time of... waiting. A time of waiting. And if you are curious about what John the Baptist is going to say, you are going to have to wait another week. We will not read the rest of that story and hear John speak until next Sunday. We have cut his story in half. We have turned it into a mini-Advent, if you will. We hear in these four Sunday of Advent before Christmas a lot of expectation of a messiah and preparation for Jesus’ birth on Christmas. And in the midst of that, these two Sundays in the middle, the second and third Sunday of Advent, we get the story of John the Baptist. Today we hear of John the Baptist, but we have to wait. Wait until next Sunday to hear from John the Baptist.

Waiting within waiting.

And we are also in this time of Advent, which is not just a time of four weeks that lead into Christmas and the expectation and remembrance of Jesus’ birth. This time of Advent is also a reminder that we are always waiting, and are always in preparation for Jesus’ return. For Christ to come back to us. For his ultimate return to us.

Waiting within waiting within waiting.

And it’s not a passive waiting. This is not idly sitting around and philosophizing while we wait for Godot Christ to appear. We are actively waiting. Actively going about the preparation of this expectation of Jesus’ return and of being about the vocation that Jesus has set for us. So that, when Jesus comes back, we’re not found to be on some decades-long coffee break from what we were supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus.

And we don’t have any direct quotes from John the Baptist in today’s reading, but we do hear a bit of what his message is. He gave this message of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This is a very important message. Important because it is a message that says there is no longer any need for sacrifices to be made. You don’t need to go to the Temple and offer up turtle doves or oxen or whatever else sacrificially to earn God’s forgiveness. There are no longer acts of penance required for forgiveness. And this message is also very important, not just for that, but because of what the message itself is. It is a message of forgiveness. That’s new.

It is not a message of God’s anger, wrath, or need for expiation. It is not a message of what God wants from us, but this is very much a message of what God is doing for us. To us. With us. And what God is doing is forgiving. Forgiving. That’s a pretty radical message and change of message.

And notice the detail of place and time that the writer of Luke gives to set us up for John to appear. It’s almost like zooming in on google maps, the litany that he goes through. It begins with “The fifteenth year of Emperor Tiberius”. That’s the Roman Empire. We are looking now at the whole Roman Empire first. So whatever is going to happen, it is going to happen within the Roman Empire, a big, big area. “When Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea”. We have zoomed in now on the eastern end of the Roman Empire to Judea. And then we zoom in a bit more. “When Herod ruled Galilee”. That has shrunk now to a smaller part of Israel, but it is still a Roman ruler. Herod was Semitic, of that area, not a Roman racially, but part of the Roman Empire. So we start with Empire, then smaller, then smaller, but all Roman. “And during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” Now we get the local religious leaders. It’s happening in the Roman Empire but it will happen to the Jewish people who live in that area that the Romans occupy. Then, “The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah.” Now we have zoomed in on one specific person: John, son of Zechariah. And then these words: “The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”

Not in any of the area that we’ve talked about. John is not localized. He’s in the wilderness. He’s in the wilderness around the Jordan, we know that, but it says he is in the wilderness. He is disengaged from the dominant culture. The word of God does not come to Rome, or the Roman leaders, or to any part of the empire. The word of God does not come to the Temple leaders, or to anyone in the Temple, or to anyone even in Jerusalem. The word of God came to the wilderness. It came to John. John, whose father worked in the Temple, but John himself did not. This word of God comes in the wilderness, away from the all the noise of empire and ecclesials. Away from empire that said “peace through war” and ecclesials that said “peace through appeasement.” The word of God came to the wilderness and the word that came was forgiveness.


Sometimes it’s good to be in the wilderness, because in the wilderness it is quiet. You can hear God in the wilderness. And often, those in the wilderness are the ones who hear God the best. Many times I have said that the problem is not that God has stopped speaking to us. The problem is that God has gotten tired of shouting over all the noise, and so now God whispers and it is up to us to make space for us to hear the whispering. To make a space in which whispers can be heard.

And some did hear. They went to where John was and they heard his message. Jesus was one of those who went out to hear John. To hear his message. To hear about forgiveness. This word that empire will never use because it is not convenient for them. And a word that the religious leaders were not using because there was more adherence to doctrine, or the law, than to the needs of people.


And I am going to pick on a friend of mine. He is a progressive Evangelical leader in Australia. In this last week we have had some dialogue. He came up with a quote a week or so ago that he posted on Facebook. It says, “To be human is to make mistakes;” That is true. I can totally live with that and accept it. To be human is to make mistakes. And then “; to be Christian is to be forgiven.” Which is also true. I have no qualms with that. But I challenged him back saying that it is true, but I don’t think it’s enough. I don’t think it says enough. It kind of makes Christianity a sort of insurance policy, like “I want to be forgiven. How do I do that?” “Well, become a Christian.”

I think that to be human, to be part of God’s creation, is to be forgiven, no matter what the religion is. So we can say “To be human is to make mistakes; to be human is to be forgiven.” Or “to be God’s creation is to be forgiven.” I also challenged because he said, “To be Christian is to be forgiven”, which is true, we are all forgiven but it also an internally directed kind of faith. I said that it is not so much about our being forgiven, but that to be Christian is to forgive. We are called to forgive. To bring God’s forgiveness. To let other people know of their forgiven nature, by letting them know of God’s forgiveness and also by our forgiving those who have wronged us. To offer that forgiveness to others that God has given us. And we could say that another word for forgiveness is peace. Bring forgiven can bring peace. To let go of the guilt, to let go of the shame, to have someone say “Don’t worry about it any more. Let it go.” Or to forgive someone can be to give them the gift of peace, and to give yourself the gift of letting go of whatever bad feelings you have toward that person, of letting them continue to control your life in some way by refusing to let go of the pain. Forgiveness is a great gift of peace.

And this is the Sunday of peace. We lit the Advent Candle of Peace today.

I saw an image a while ago of what peace looks like. It was two images, a very interesting juxtaposition. One was the image of a dove, often a symbol of peace. The dove was on a lake, and the lake was very calm, the sun was out, the sky was beautiful and blue, the trees all had their leaves so beautiful and green, and the flowers are in bloom. And it certainly was an image of peacefulness. Nothing going on in that image that was not peaceful. And this may very well be a good image of what the ultimate realm of God is going to look like, that we are at peace, the people around us are at peace, the world around us is at peace. But not a perfect representation of our world. And the second image was that same bird, that same dove, the image of peace that it offered was this bird flying in a storm. In the midst of the rain and the wind this dove was still flying. That was the image of peace.

Not that everything around us has to be at peace, but us being at peace. Our ability to fly through the storm. And to do so in confidence because God is with us, Jesus is with us. That’s the peace of Christ. This inner confidence of God’s grace that allows us to fly in the midst of the storms of life. Or in another way, since we are not birds and flight imagery isn’t the best, we could say that peace is that which allows us to keep getting out of bed in the morning, making breakfast, getting dressed, and going out and doing that whatever it is that we do. To go out and engage the world every day. There is some level of peace that allows that. Or the peace that allows us to keep handing out coats or making quilts, even though the need for those seems never to be sated. Or the peace that allows us to keep giving to St. Francis Food Pantry, even though the need never seems to be sated. Or the pace that allows us to keep having children and teach them our faith, even when the world seems scary and broken and that everything is falling apart around us. The peace that allows us to keep looking forward in hope. That’s the peace that we’re talking about. The peace of Jesus.

And that is something that we don’t have to wait for.

Let us pray: Jesus, you are our peace, our friend, our forgiver, our guide through the storms of life. Help us to know this not just in our heads as words to say, but to know this in our hearts as words to trust. And help us to turn down the noise of our lives to hear your whispered word of peace. Amen.

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