|Advent 2: Peace Candle
Shouting and Shutting Up” a sermon by Rev. Keenan Kelsey, Noe Valley Ministry, December 4, 2022
Matthew 3:1-12 3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[a] 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Luke 1:5-16,18—20 5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God during his section’s turn of duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know that this will happen? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
What things make for Peace? Tranquility? Harmony? Freedom? Security and Calmness? An end to war? These are our typical ideas, for sure.
And yet here we have John the Baptist. Just when we were thinking that the hope we claimed last week might bring us to peace this week, in barges this rude, demanding, accusatory wilderness man. REPENT he shouts with fiery speeches of Fid’s wrath and baptism by fire. “You brood of vipers” he snarls at the Jewish holy men “you may be descended from Abraham and keep all the Jewish laws, but that will not make you eligible for God’s kingdom.”
This does not sound like peace.
Admittedly, the Biblical understanding of peace can be problematic. Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace, yet on one occasion he said to the disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). But later on, the last time they ate together, he said to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
Here is our confusion, I think it is not in the desire for such peace. It is in the definition.
The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom and shalom has never been about tranquility. It is about justice
Can such shalom be achieved Through a system of political treaties?
Through the investment of international capital in different countries?
Through the big banks, through money?
through universal disarmament in order to guarantee peace?
No, through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety.
What peace is Not is the absence of conflict It is. an ineffable divine reassurance within the heart of conflict: It is about a reconciliation with God that results in wholeness, in a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed. John echoes the prophet Jeremiah who insists that unless there is an end to oppression, greed, and violence in social relationships, there can be no shalom. In other worlds, there can be no true peace without justice.
. Christians have all too often called for ‘nonviolence’ when they really meant tranquility. Nonviolence, in fact, seeks out conflict, elicits conflict, exacerbates conflict, in order to bring it out into the open and lance its poisonous sores. It is not idealistic or sentimental about evil; it does not coddle or cajole aggressors, but moves against perceived injustice proactively, with the same alacrity as the most hawkish
“This is why John the Baptist shouts: Repent. Change your ways! The faithful are not being faithful. Fight for the shalom
–So–How does this happen? Where is the part of the story that we can put ourselves into? Where does this story become our story?
I think it is in the second reading today, the story of John the Baptist before his birth.
In it we find an old priest, Zechariah, soon to be father of John the Baptist. –He is going about his business in the temple when he is visited by an angel. Just to be clear, we aren’t talking about the little chubby baby angels of bad Hallmark cards. . . No, angels in the Bible are terrifying. They scare the dickens out of people. I mean, why else would the very first thing out the mouths of every single angel in the Bible be “don’t be afraid!”, like their heavenly employee manual says, never attempt to deliver your message from God until you have calmed the human down first.
the imposing arch announces that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth. As in, Zechariah’s very old, very barren, wife Elizabeth. would conceive a son named John). But instead of just shutting up and nodding his head deferentially, Zechariah apparently thinks he knows better and so he questions the angel’s authority. He’s like, Um, are you surebecause seriously…my wife is old….like, OLD old. To which the angel says “human, please!” and — don’t miss this part because it’s amazing – Gabriel proceeds to made Zechariah completely mute until all these things had taken place
I think we should wonder why exactly Zechariah didn’t believe an angel who came to him saying that God was giving him and his wife a child – the one thing they had prayed so long to get.
I wonder if Zechariah was reluctant to believe this good news – not because he thought he knew more than both God and angels –but because he thought he already knew his own story. ‘’
Maybe Zechariah was so used to he and Elizabeth being the “childless old couple” that, even as he prayed for children, he had actually foreclosed on any other story ever really being possible for them. His narrative was set and he knew the ending. I wonder if maybe his enforced period of silence was actually what allowed him to receive a new story.
As his elderly wife’s belly grew large with a miracle child – he couldn’t say a word, he just had to receive it. As Elizabeth’s cousin Mary visited and told of the child she herself carried, and as Zechariah’s child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb – he could not say a word, he just had to receive it. As the transgressive fecundity of God that would change the entire world grew in the unlikely wombs of an old lady and a virgin teenager – he could not say a word, he could only receive it. It was as though God said “you want to see what I am about? Well then…Shut up about your old story and receive this new one”
Maybe that is the invitation for us as well, that we too might take opportunities to just be quiet and listen for a new story or at least new way of understanding the old one.
Because maybe that old story of who you are and what you’ve done and what you can never do is simply not the final edition. Maybe, just maybe, this is what repentance means. Believe the impossible Good News. There is peace, there is justice, but only if each of us reconsiders our options. Repent!
Maybe your old story is one destructive relationship after another – or a lifetime of rejection. or maybe you are gay or gender-fluid, but for decades you’ve tried to be straight not knowing that anything else was possible. . or maybe you have stopped doing things because the tumor is rowing larger. Or maybe your story is that you are weak or incapable.
But maybe when our opinions and neurosis and pride and expectations cause us to expect only the worst …maybe when we just shut up and sit in this quiet of Advent, we might begin to see where something else is possible. Something holy and waiting to be born in an unlikely time and place much like the birth of Jesus itself.
What was the point of John the Baptist if not God telling this faithless and heart breaking world that a different story is possible. What was the Christ event if not Telling us that God was, God is and God will continue redeeming all of creation through means that we would never come up with …though means like pregnant old ladies, shouting prophets and messiahs born amongst sheep and straw and loving the enemy and forgiveness of sins and self-giving love and resurrection of wounded bodies.
These are things we just can’t perceive when we are too busy telling worn old stories about ourselves and others and the world itself.
It was a gift really…this muteness of Zechariah’s. Because in his silence he got to see a story unfold around him that he never could have come up with himself.
So maybe when we silence the narratives about ourselves and others and the world itself that run on repeat in our heads, that we have believed were the truth for so long, we get to embrace the terrifying beauty of what’s possible without what’s possible being imprisoned to what’s come before.
Perhaps, Advent is an invitation to be prophets of a different story.