"Did Jesus Really Bring Peace?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 4, 2005
Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:9-15
Recently I was watching the news on television when a story featured the experience of a number of shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving. People were anxiously waiting for stores to open. Some of them gathered as early as 2:00 a.m. When the doors finally opened several people were trampled in the stampede of those eager to buy certain products like the X-box video equipment manufactured by Microsoft. Like everyone else, these shoppers were seen running into the store as though beginning the Marine Marathon.
Around the same time this story was being aired, we learned that the National Zoo had given away several thousand free tickets to people eager to see our newest baby Panda. We later learned that some people sold these tickets on eBay for hundreds of dollars. This caused officials at the zoo to take measures not to honor such tickets. Since both the buyer and seller were now stuck, one wonders how many people actually entered the park to see the Panda?
Then we had the issue of political correctness rearing its head again regarding what to call the tree that was being erected and decorated on the Capitol grounds. Should it be called a Holiday tree or a Christmas tree? Of course, people lined up on both sides of this issue to engage in debate, leaving little doubt in our minds that some people do not have enough to do. The comment, “Get a life” certain has application here. We would not call a Menorah, holiday candles. Always there is someone who is offended, experiencing injustice or being victimized by something. Has the world ever been any different?
This morning the question we are going to consider is this: “Did Jesus really bring peace?” This is the theme symbolized this morning by our lighting the second candle in our Advent wreath.
One cannot read the Christmas story without sensing that Mary and Joseph had their minds anchored in a peaceful trust of God as substantive events were unfolding around them, events that could have easily immobilized them with fear and frustration, or given them the sense of abandonment. They knew peace long before Jesus was born.
We will never run out of things about which to fret and worry. There are times when we are exposed to people’s bitterness, ignorance, smallness and insecurity. There are times when we are lied to and deceived. Sometimes we become our own worst enemy. Sometimes life is filled with the unexpected and we have to accept something very unpleasant over which we have no control and which most certainly is not going to change. If we have not been there, just wait. Our turn is coming.
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” During his ministry he also taught, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does.” Then Jesus defined what he was saying. He was coaching his listeners by teaching them a formula for experiencing peace. He said, “Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27f) He knew there would never be peace as long as we allow external events to infect our spirits with their viruses. Such distractions try to give us this disease repeatedly.
There was another occasion when Jesus spoke about peace with great clarity. He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus’ use of such a metaphor had absolutely nothing to do with violence. We need to be very clear on that. The sword was a symbol well known to his listeners.
Jesus taught that we have a clear choice that will obviously divide people. We can either seek our hope, joy and peace in the world or we can seek this treasure within ourselves, where the world’s rust and moths cannot reach in and destroy. Jesus did not bring peace into our world. Such a possibility for living already existed long before he was born. He was only reminding us to use it more often than we do.
Our lesson today tells us that our physical world will always disappoint us. Peter reminded his listeners that one day the earth and everything in it would vanish. (3:10) Peter is absolutely correct. Each one of us will experience this personally. When we die, the world as we know it will cease to exist.
Peter was telling his readers, “God is extremely patient with you. God does not want anyone to be destroyed. God waits patiently for everyone to turn away from their sins.” (2 Peter 3:9) In essence he was saying “make hay while the sun shines” or make our relationship with God visible in every moment while we can. “Do your best,” Peter wrote, “to be pure and faultless in God’s sight and be at peace with God.” This is how peace grows within us. Peace is a gift we already have. We must allow our peace to show every day regardless of what is taking place within our environment.
When anything in our world destroys our peace, we need to bow to it in humility and gratitude. Each such episode is trying to teach us that we are seeking peace from a place that cannot give it or from a relationship that can never provide it. Jesus said, “My peace I give you. It is not the peace that the world knows how to give.” The world cannot give us anything but opportunities to express what is within us. Even when Jesus faced the cross, he never lost the peace that Peter described in our lesson.
We will continue to witness stampedes in department stores, fraud from people who define themselves with deception and manipulation and circumstances that try to convince us that our eternal destiny is up for grabs. Nothing, however, can take away our inner peace unless we are seeking it rather than expressing it. As we continue our journey into Advent, we need to remember this. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Touch our minds and hearts, O God, by the season that is upon us. Frightening and fragile moments often enter our lives. Voices call for us to respond with frustration and disappointment. Our trust in you brings peace to troubled waters and has the power to still the turbulent winds. May our thoughts this day be guided by the responses of Mary and Joseph. Uncertainty surrounded them yet they remained untroubled. In every moment they showed up without judgment. Let us join them in faith that lets go and trusts your leading. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, how quickly our week has slipped by bringing us once again to lighting another candle on our Advent wreath. We enter worship with the hope that our pace will slow, that our thoughts might become more focused on what is essential and that we might remain aware that we live in your presence, even amidst life’s many distractions.
During the days that lie ahead, may we desire less what this world offers and more of what would teach us understanding and patience. May we think less of what people can do for us, and more on how we might help others feel accepted and loved. May we dwell less on the imperfections we see in others and more on brightening the corner of the world where we live. May we quiet our desire to be surprised by a particular Christmas gift and desire more on trying to inspire others to look forward eagerly to accomplishing their goals.
We thank you, God for the gift of Advent. Help us prepare ourselves for each new opportunity to grow a better version of ourselves than we were yesterday. Help us to remember to give birth to attitudes that produce smiles, to thoughts that maintain a wholesome mind and to habits that keep our spirits forever looking on more generous ways to be of service. We pray all of these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .