“Showing the Way of Peace”

~ Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6; Malachi 3:1 ~

Traditionally, the theme for this Second Sunday of Advent is peace. The second candle in our Advent wreath is the Peace Candle. But this second Sunday could also be called John the Baptist Sunday.

There’s John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness, going around proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke wants his readers to know that John comes in the spirit of Isaiah’s words to “prepare the way of God,” and Malachi’s words of sending a messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah. Luke also wants his readers not to miss that all of this is happening in a very specific historical and political landscape – when Tiberius was emperor, Pontius Pilate governor of Israel, Herod ruler of Galilee, his brother, Philip, ruler of a bunch of places that are hard to pronounce, and when Annas and Caiaphas were the priests in the temple in Jerusalem. Thus, John is plowing the ground, if you will, for the seeds of the coming Messiah’s message that will be received in a specific time and place. The Messiah, who will be named Jesus, is coming, his ‘advent’ is near.

Luke plays up John’s story to the hilt, and, in so doing, introduce themes of hope and peace. The passage that Chris read has such hopeful sentiments. It is called the Benedictus (which is Latin for “blessed”). This is the song Luke chose to put on the lips of Zechariah, the father of John, at the time of his birth. If you remember the story Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was to give birth to the man who would foretell the coming of Jesus. An angel came to Zechariah to tell him to name his son John but he didn’t believe the angel and, thus, was struck dumb until John was born. Then when Elizabeth gave birth all the relatives urged her to name him something else but she insisted it be John. When they asked the mute Zechariah he wrote on a tablet “John.” And, suddenly, Zechariah was able to speak again. And so in breaks into song. In typical Old Testament fashion, it is a hopeful prophecy on how God will redeem the people of Israel.

“Blessed be the God of Israel, who has looked favorably on the people and redeemed them.” Zechariah ends the song with this:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Christ to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

All of the words from out texts today brim to overflowing with hope. After many years of waiting, looking, doubting, hope is proclaimed: The light will shine, the dawn will break, peace will come. The coming of God is here, salvation is sure, God is at work. Hope is possible. Hope is sure.

But for many, hope is not sure; it is in fact quite illusive. All these proclamations of hope are just words, they would say. Maybe for some you, hope is not part of your experience. Hope in a new tomorrow is too much to ask. Just getting through the day is all you can expect. The darkness of today’s troubles obscures any thought of a new dawn tomorrow. Today’s wars and conflicts, personal or global, overwhelm the prospect of living peacefully. Maybe hope is a luxury you just can’t afford. But then who ever said hope was easy?

So it is for us today. Even as we wait for the advent of the Christ, our hope is not just in some future event, but it is hope in Christ’s presence with us now. Hope that Christ’s presence with us now somehow enables us to live as he would have us live. Hope that allows us to venture into the unknown territory of God’s grace and forgiveness and live lives characterized by that grace.

How do we do Advent hope? We do it by being people of hope in the face of unrelenting hopelessness. We keep doing it by knowing that this hope is not realized by some pie-in-the-sky miraculous intervention. Indeed, we keep doing the hard work of hope. We act. And in our actions, God works to bring salvation. May we live out this hope in this very real world.

And, thus, in this community, we tell each other of that sign of promise. The hymn we are about to sing encourages us keep going:

Watchman, tell us of the night,

What its signs of promise are.

Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,

See that glory beaming star.

Watchman, does its beauteous ray

Aught of joy or hope foretell?

Traveler, yes; it brings the day,

Promised day of Israel.

May we be the Watchmen and women always looking for the signs of hope.  May we be the Travelers continuing on the journey with the Christ, who guides “our feet into the way of peace.” Amen.


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