John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
68 “Bless the Lord God of Israel
because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
70 just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71 He has brought salvation from our enemies
and from the power of all those who hate us.
72 He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and remembered his holy covenant,
73 the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted 74 that we would be rescued
from the power of our enemies
so that we could serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
for as long as we live.
76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.”
On this Second Sunday of Advent we lit the Candle of Peace in the Advent Wreath. YET, in so many ways peace seems so distant. Political unrest faces us on all sides. What will the future of this great Union look like in the next few years. From there we are faced with pandemic uncertainty. “2020” has become the newest “verb” in the English language – some using it to indicate complete change or shut down, the end of a plan. Beyond its inconvenient connotations, the pandemic brings illness in many forms. I just got word that a pastor who had come through the Board of Ordained ministry while I was on the board passed away at 50 years old from a rapid onset COVID. More and more each of us can identify that COVID is coming very close to home. With the pandemic we have seen a rise in familial strife. The pressures of lost jobs, remote learning, remote teaching, and so many other changes have increased stress on the family. Suicide rates are up, domestic violence has increased. Continuing with the theme the financial pressures have multiplied for many. We are assaulted from outside and from within. The violence in our culture seems to multiply. Yvette Christy says, “This Advent season must be a season of waiting with a holy expectation for the inbreaking of God into all places, every hard place, every troubled place, every violent place.” We need the Prince of Peace!
In our scripture this morning we are hearing the prophesy of Zechariah at the naming of he and Elizabeth’s son, John. Even though prophesy was from Zechariah (who was a Priest, from a priestly family, as well as Elizabeth who was from the tribe of Aaron) this word is primarily about Jesus. As the dawn of a new life from heaven is being foretold, I love the reason given in verse 78 – “Because of God’s great compassion the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” God sent his son into this world when hope seemed so distant. The prophecy was clear, God’s intentions in Jesus were to light the darkness, overcome death’s shadow, guide us into peace. It is important to notice the word “guide.” This implies an active process, not an accomplished state of being. God wants to guide us today into peace.
A powerful image from my growing up related to when I delivered the Denver Post newspaper. I like the Post because it was delivered in the afternoon, except on Sundays. On Sunday it had to be delivered by 6:30 a.m.. Not my favorite time of the day! I remember a particularly chilly early spring morning. Because the work was rather strenuous, I had chosen a little lighter jacket. After riding my bicycle the mile to get the papers and the mile back I delivered my route. When I got back to the house it was still dark. It was then I realized that I had forgotten my key to get back in. After carefully weighing the consequences, I decided not to wake my parents to get back in the house. Instead, I curled up on a chair on the patio and waited for dawn when my folks would be getting up to get ready for church. I was never so glad to see the dawn. That story reminds me that God wants us to experience the dawn of peace in our lives. (Though God would not mind at all being awakened in the middle of the night to start the process!)
The definition of peace in the dictionary begins with “not at war, or public order and security.” It isn’t until further down in the list of possible uses that we begin to see the Biblical meanings emerge. Peace is used 97 times in the New Testament and focuses on two aspects: harmonized relationship with God and human beings, and amongst the people. It is speaking of a peace of heart that engenders peace among people.
For the believer, especially during Advent, we are aware of the promise in Isaiah 9:6 - “A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” The image of the great God coming to earth in Jesus Christ is powerful. As I was planning the service for this week I could not get a song out of my head, so we used it this morning. “He is Our Peace”. The song gets it’s lyrics from Ephesians 2:14. “He is our peace, who has broken down every wall. He is our peace, He is our peace. Cast all your cares on him for He cares for you. He is our peace, He is our peace.” Verse 78 is reminiscent of Malachi 4:2 – “But the sun of righteousness will rise on those revering my name; healing will be in his wings.” God’s great compassion seeks to healing the heart. As we walk in the paths of peace we realize that peace comes from the presence of God fully embraced in our lives.
This last week I had the privilege of visiting with Huella Darling in the hospital the day before she passed away. Her mind was as sharp as ever. I sensed in her a true peace about her situation. She shared that she was ready to join Martin in their heavenly home. After a shower on the day she passed, she said it was going to be a good day. She got her good day.
As I have thought about what embraces God’s presence in my life, it is evidenced by the fruit my life exhibits. In Galatians 5:22-23 the Spirit says through Paul, “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.” Unlike Paul’s lists of the gifts of the Spirit, these fruits are to be in all our lives. Peace should be a fruit in each of our lives. Paul even puts it stronger in Colossians 3:15 when he says, “The peace of Christ must control your heart.” [emphasis is mine] We need to focus and concentrate on Christ and the peace of Christ. We need to be very intentional about following Jesus’ leading in the paths of peace. It will change our lives completely.
This brings up back to peace among “the people.” A great number of references to peace in New Testament are leaning toward peace amongst people. From 1 Corinthians 14:33 we hear, “God is not a god of disorder, but of peace.” God desires peace among his creation. In the announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” A person with peace in their heart and life engenders peace in others. James 3:18 says, “Those who make peace sow seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.” The realization is that we are all in this together – all of humanity, worldwide. We each have a part in travelling the paths of peace. But it isn’t our peace that prevails. We have a mighty and compassionate God who seeks to live peace into our lives. In the face of all the unrest that assaults us daily, God seeks to give us peace. Our part in all this is to “Seek peace and pursue it.” 1 Peter 3:11 It is our task to follow the lead of our Savior in the paths of peace.
Once again, “Because of God’s great compassion the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.”
It is God’s great compassion that desires for each of us to discover that peace that passes all our understanding, and to let that peace rule in all the situations of life that confront us.
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:16 Amen.
Pastor Ross Kershaw