December 4, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalms 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13
It is fitting that our advent candles are placed within a wreath, because though each one represents a separate virtue, they are all interconnected. Last week’s candle Hope is, as Bob shared so well, dependent on Faith. To the degree that we believe, we can trust; we can have hope. Today Eve and Peter represented all of us as they lit the candle of Peace. Throughout history there has been a lack of peace and yet we hope for it; we pray for it. If we ever truly achieve Peace, we will have Joy and Love will reign – our other two Advent candles.
Advent is a time when we prepare ourselves for Christmas. And at our Christmas celebration we will pray together, “Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth! Good will to all!” We’ve heard, we’ve prayed, we’ve sung these words so often that we might not even be conscious of what we are asking. Peace on earth! Good will to all!
One day very close to Christmas, a young boy was coming down the hallway at church. He had in his hand a little ceramic tray that he had made in Sunday school. It was to be his Christmas gift to his mother. He had worked hard on it and he was very proud of it.
As he ran down the hall, he tripped and fell. The tray crashed to the floor and broke into several pieces. The little boy was devastated. He began to cry loudly and uncontrollably. He was absolutely heartbroken. People tried to comfort him with all kinds of counsel: It was just a tray. Not worth much. No big loss. Besides, you can make another one. It’s nothing, forget it. You can give your mother something else. Don’t worry about it.” But none of this helped. The child was inconsolable.
Finally his mother arrived on the scene. Quickly she realized what had happened. Kneeling down beside her crestfallen, distraught son with his broken gift, she hugged him tightly and said, “Well, now, I think this is fixable. Let’s pick up the pieces and take them home. We’ll put it back together and see what we can make of it.” The little boy hugged his mom and smiled.
Isn’t that exactly what the Christmas message is about? Peace on earth! Good will to all! The world is broken into many fragments. And God stoops down beside us. He hugs us and says, “Well, now, this is fixable. Let me help you pick up the pieces. We’ll put it back together and see what we can make of it.” Peace on earth! Good will to all!
So how do we cooperate with our God to heal a broken world? Peace is particularly interconnected with Justice. On December 14, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood outside a California prison where Vietnam War protesters were being held and said, “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.” He was observing that the antiwar movement (peace) and the civil rights movement (justice) were mutually reinforcing efforts. “I see these two struggles,” he said, “as one struggle.” Without justice, peace will be an elusive goal. And without peace, injustice is bound to continue.
Last year, at an audience with children of the Peace Factory, Pope Francis, echoed Dr. King’s words:
“We are all equal – all of us – but this truth is not recognized, this equality is not recognized, and for this reason some people are . . . happier than others. But this is not right! We all have the same rights. When we do not see this, society is unjust. It does not follow the rule of justice, and where there is no justice, there cannot be peace. “ Pope Francis continued, “Peace firstly means there are no wars … but it also means that there is friendship between all, that every day a step ahead is made for justice, so that there are no more children who are hungry, that there are no more sick children who do not have the possibility of receiving healthcare. Doing all of this means making peace. Peace involves work . . . True peace is built every day. It is built every day with our work, with our life, with our love, with our closeness, with our loving one another.” The words of Pope Francis.
The psalm that Maureen read this morning began, “Give us your love of justice, O God”. This is a difficult prayer, because as Pope Francis said, we are all God’s children and of equal worth. We all deserve to be happy. God’s vision is not that some of us go hungry while others are satisfied, that some live in beautiful homes while others are homeless, that some enjoy the benefits of quality healthcare while others need to decide whether to spend their meager income on heating oil or medicine. When we pray for peace we need to be aware of what we are asking. God’s response will likely be, “okay, so if you really want peace, then you must work for justice.” Injustice and peace cannot coexist. We need to pick up the pieces of this broken world, and work together to put it back together and see what we can make of it. Dr. King said something very hard to hear and think about, but I believe, very true. He said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.” And if that isn’t difficult enough to accept we need to also focus on ourselves as peaceful agents for justice.
It was not the riots but peaceful demonstrations that raised the consciousness and pricked the conscience of this nation to support civil rights for its black citizens. It was loud but peaceful protest against the draft on the campus of Kent State University that began to erode support for the Vietnam War. It was one lone Chinese boy who, rising from the midst of protesters in Tiananmen Square and standing in front of a moving tank whose orders were to clear the square, that demonstrated to the Chinese masses the power that they possessed. A genuine prayer for peace is an implicit commitment to work for justice as peaceful people. Peace can be built every day in each of us. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
As we await the Prince of Peace we need to remember the words of Jesus who said, “The peace I give you is a gift the world cannot give. To be a peaceful person requires overcoming ambition and pride. To have power to bring about peace through justice we need to reject the desire to have power over others. Joan Chittister addresses this by saying, “Ambition wilts in the face of peacefulness. The peaceful person knows the grace of being content with who he or she is. No titles or tenure are needed to assure such a one of her or his worth; therefore no one and nothing can threaten it. The serenity and satisfaction we feel on the inside cannot possibly be bested by anything outside ourselves. Therefore there is no reason to grasp or claw for it.
“Pride , too, the need to supersede another person, to draw more attention, to consume more of the light in the room than the others do. . .fades in the face of peacefulness. . . Once peace comes to a person, the need for power simply disappears. . .We are enough for us. . .So we say an alleluia for the coming of peace, for the death of ambition, for the passing of pride that enables us to be happy with who we are and what we have.” How does this happen? Chittister gives us the answer that she has found for herself. “By finding within ourselves “the pearl of great price,’ the richest thing there is in life, the sense of the presence of God who loves and companions us through all the pressures of life . . . Then we find that we have changed. We have become peaceful. We have come to realize now that we have all we need. We begin to see that our own role in life is only to spread the peace we have.” As persons of inner peace we are prepared to work for justice and help build a peaceful world.
This is a tall order; a lifetime project. Paul’s prayer to the Romans that was read this morning is one that we can offer each other. “May God, who gives us patience and encouragement, help us to live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for the followers of Christ Jesus. Then we can all join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God.” May Christ, the Prince of Peace grow in our hearts so that on Christmas we will be able to sing, full voice, and without reservation Peace on Earth! Good will to all!