Bible Reading: Luke 3:1-6
Bible Reading: Micah 5:2-5
It seems such a strange thing to be talking about "peace" today,when the gospel reading is about John the Baptist - "Thunder in the Desert". He is the man who shouts at Kings, calls the Jewish leaders a "brood of vipers" and generally kicked up a storm that rivalled anyone - before or after. My guess is, in fact, that if you invited a character like John the Baptist home for Christmas dinner, you would be most unlikely to end up with a "peaceful" meal. (Locusts and wild honey never made for a peaceful meal anyway)It seems such a strange thing to be talking about "peace" today,when the gospel reading is about John the Baptist - "Thunder in the Desert". He is the man who shouts at Kings, calls the Jewish leaders a "brood of vipers" and generally kicked up a storm that rivalled anyone - before or after. My guess is, in fact, that if you invited a character like John the Baptist home for Christmas dinner, you would be most unlikely to end up with a "peaceful" meal. (Locusts and wild honey never made for a peaceful meal anyway)
Maybe "Turmoil Sunday" is a better name for this week than "Peace Sunday"
One of the key words of John's message is "repent". It's a word that gets pretty short shift in many churches these days (with good cause) other than some excellent cartoons and jokes about people standing in sacks on street corners, preparing us for the "End of the World"
"Repent" John cries.
"What?" we ask in the very late 20th Century.
"Change your direction. Turn around" explains a John the Baptist speaking more our sort of language
You see to "repent" means to stop walking off in that direction over to your right, and to turn around, and head back in that direction, over to your left. It's the same concept as being "converted". It's about changing a lifestyle. Going a different direction
So is that a message of "peace" or is that a message of "turmoil" Or is it a message of both?
As we know here at Kippax- for whatever reason it comes- a change of direction is for some exciting, for some it is nerve-wracking, for some it is energising, for some it is confusing. These things are going to come out in any change of direction for an individual or for any group of people.
So imagine the feelings brought out by John the Baptist, as he talks -sorry, shouts - about a change that takes in every part of a person's life! But shout he does, urge us he does, berate us he does and ultimately it is a message of God's peace!
It has been said that all human souls are restless, until they find their peace in God.
So how might we find our peace in God this Advent? And how might we help others to find peace in God?
I wonder if I could suggest 3 "conversions" that we may try to make (again) this year. Conversions that I believe will help us find and experience a godly peace.
Firstly, let us each be converted to God
If we are to be people who know, experience and live "peace", then we must again live our lives by the one who is called the "prince of peace". It is so remarkably easy to go through this entire time of Advent, of Christmas, even so much of our lives without deliberately connecting to God.
In our different generations, or social groupings, or outlooks on life we tend to do this in different ways:
Long-term church people, people who have moved through (& out) of the church, and people who are only just beginning to dabble with Christianity each of us express it and discover God in ways that are different. If we are to assist people in converting or turning to God, we must help them discover how that happens in their lifestyle, in their culture, in their groupings.
But let each of us come back again to "the peace that the world cannot give"
Secondly let us each be converted to the value of others.
Maybe the reason that John the Baptist's "peace" is so "turmoil" bringing, is that it assumes that all people are valuable. It says that if we are to prepare for God, then in our "turning around" we will be raising up the low, we will be removing the rocks which prevent people from walking on the road. It says that no-one is able to be discarded as unimportant.
It is not a "smile sweetly and pat-them-on-the-head" sort of peace-making;
it is a "work-with them-in-the-messyness-of-life" sort of peace-making
It is a Sir Ronald Wilson sort of peacemaking
And thirdly, let us each be converted to unity.
John's cries in the desert must have seemed strange - they imply that the paths that go off in all sorts of directions can come together to form "straight paths" - and that we are to make those paths. But then again, John was talking about the person who would later pray that all his followers would be a united as were he and God the Father: Single in purpose, single in love Even though it meant that Jesus had to drop a direction that he may have preferred, and even go through a process which he clearly hated, still for the sake of unity with God and love for all of humanity, he did that.
Does God bring turmoil, or peace?
Or does he invite us into the turmoil so that we can know peace?
Maybe all of them.
But in all of it, the prophecy of Zechariah about John the Baptist still stands: "God will shine on those living in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the paths of peace" Be comforted. And live lives of comfort.
And turn around, for the prince of peace is there