We come to this last Sunday before Christmas and we’re still waiting. We’re waiting for it to be sunnier longer. We’re standing on the edge of the fiscal cliff and hoping we don’t have to make the plunge. We’re readying ourselves for Christmas and all of the excitement that surrounds it. And we’re given this prophecy from Isaiah to consider. We want to run past the apocalypse to the second half: “For unto us a child is born…” It’s a wonderful sight. A grand vision. “And the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful counselor, the mighty God the everlasting Father the Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace.”
Do you hear what I hear? Endless peace, for he will be the ruler and will establish justice and righteousness in the land from this time forward and forevermore. It’s a great and grant vision. So, if Jesus has come to embody that vision, why don’t we experience it? Why do we still have children gunned down in schools? Why are people unemployed? Why are there still wars and rumors of wars? Why is life so dang hard?
That’s the conundrum of the season. We wait for the one to come on Christmas, the newly crowned Prince of Peace and we’re so excited and for a moment our imaginations are stirred along with our hearts as hot wax drips onto our fingers right through hands the leaky paper hand guard of our Christmas Eve candles. And we sing the carols and we pray for it to all happen like magic, like grace. And for a moment, it does. Our hearts open up. We look at friends, family and even enemies in a new light. And when we’re lucky it lasts for a few weeks, maybe a few days, maybe a few hours, maybe until the lights come on. And then we wonder, if the Prince of Peace has come, why is there not peace on earth good will to all?
The easy answer is that we just need to work harder to make it happen. Grace doesn’t happen by magic. Grace happens when we open our eyes and see each other not as shepherds and kings and angels and a homeless couple, but we see them all as children of God. We need to remember the vision. We need to embrace the vision. We need to be the vision.
Here’s something radical for me to say, Jesus came not to take us off the hook, with our own get out of hell free card. Jesus came to accompany us on the road toward justice and righteousness. We remember the story again and again each year so that we can recognize where we have gone wrong and how we need to move forward.
Jesus is not simply the cosmic prince of peace who takes away every sin in the world with the flip of a cross shaped magic wand. No, Jesus points the way to the coming reign of God. In his life and even in his birth, he gives us the method of peace and the tools we need to make lasting change. The followers of Jesus recognize the sin in the world and commit themselves again and again to not settle for the same old tunes of it’s too complicated and it’s too much. That’s what the church is about. Jesus came to fulfill the promise of Isaiah, in himself. But also to instill in us the desire and need to create and sustain a world of peace, each of us.
How do we celebrate the Prince of Peace? How do we seek peace? According to the president of the NRA, the way to ensure peace is to arm the teachers. The problem isn’t that there are too many guns, the problem is that there aren’t enough guns, or so goes the logic. This is related to what Walter Wink called the myth of redemptive violence. If violence has been done to you, you need to respond with superior violence. And it escalates. Gandhi said that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless.
Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it...Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate....Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that….The chain reaction of evil must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” What our friend from the NRA seems to forget is that Columbine had armed security, Virginia Tech had its own armed police force. Heck, Fort Hood was a military base. We need to look for peace elsewhere than at the barrel of a gun.
Isaiah said that the boots of the trampling warriors and all of the uniforms rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for a fire (v.5) How’s that for a recycling and energy conversion program?
Jesus was asked by John’s disciples once if he was the one to come or shall we wait for another. Go tell John, the poor have good news preached to them, the hungry have food, no one has guns, no one fears for their safety. Women and men are declared equal. There is no judgment based upon your marital status, gender, affectional proclivities, skin complexion, physical or mental ability. Go tell John that until all of this comes, then we are still awaiting the prince of peace.
Bolivian President Evo Morales made a speech at the United Nations back in September. It didn’t get covered by the mainstream media, but then again, this pulpit is far from the main stream. I think he gives a good vision for issues that we need to address as a people. Here are some excerpts of his speech:
According to the Mayan Calendar the 21st of December marks the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha & the beginning of the Pacha. It is the end of selfishness & the beginning of brotherhood. It is the end of individualism & the beginning of collectivism... the 21st of December this year.
The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a biocentric life. It is the end of hatred & the beginning of love. The end of lies & the beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness & the beginning of joy. It is the end of division & the beginning of unity.
We have to think about how to shoulder the responsibilities and this means... putting an end to powers - we are not at a time of continuing to praise the powers. We are at the time to free people, to constantly look for economic & social equality among all persons. This is the time to bring dignity to all inhabitants...
He’s starting to sound like a Prince of Peace here.
There will only be social peace when we change these economic policies and put an end to military bases and interventionism. My respect goes to those who resist the military intervention of powers. That is not a solution, that is something we have learned.
He then went on to list nine topics that merited consideration:
1. Global crisis of capitalism
2. Crisis of civilization - world government, capitalism, socialism, community, culture of life.
3. Climate crisis - Relationship of the human being with nature
4. Energy - community energy - energy of change
5. Awareness of Mother Earth
6. Recovery of ancestral customs..., natural cosmic calendar,
7. Living well as a solution to the global crisis because we affirm once again that…we can only live better by not plundering our natural resources.
8. Food sovereignty - security with food sovereignty
9. Integration, brotherhood, community, economy, complementarity, right to communication, community learning, the new human being, a holistic approach, the end of patriarchy, self knowledge, awakening, and of course health - which is so important.
Morales advocates Vivir Bien. Living well. Living in balance with the earth and its people. This is contrasted with living better, meaning climbing up the social ladder and getting more stuff at the expense of the planet or other people. Vivir Bien is what it’s about in this new time.
My friends, living well, being in balance with the earth and its inhabitants might well be the greatest gift we can give and receive this Christmas season. So why not find ways to be more respectful of someone different. Why not be more patient with someone who drives you nuts. Why not give a portion of your goods to programs that inspire hope and recognize beauty and supports health. We do that here through our giving at UBC and this wonderful display of gifts.
But the best gift you have is the gift that is in your very souls. May you be so transformed by the story of the Prince of Peace, that you take on some of that mantra, that mantle, that grace. You embrace your royal calling to bring peace to your part of the world. It may be bringing peace to your part of the city, your neighborhood, your family. Maybe it will be about building bridges between warring factions. In times of crisis, like a hurricane, or a blizzard, or a flood, you see people as equals and you do what you are called to do, bind up the brokenhearted, repair the breach, shovel the snow, put up drywall and offer words and actions of comfort.
That’s what we need more of. This will bring so much more peace than will any well-placed guns. May we embrace the overarching vision of God to be the peacemakers this world has been waiting for.
Katie Cook, who works for the Baptist Peace Fellowship wrote the following poem, which I think expresses this sentiment very well:
Sometimes the Dream comes to us
Like the mystic discernments of the saints
when then could see the Holy City;
like the perception of Don Quixote
when he saw nobility and beauty
where others saw squalor.
Sometimes we catch a whispered hint,
a momentary sign,
a rumor of glory.
Sometimes we see beyond
our enlightened fatalism
and our voguish cynicism
into the true longings of our hearts,
into the Eden that we forgot,
into the why-not that frees our souls.
They, whoever “they” are,
all think we’re crazy,
but we don’t care.
And so we look for ways we can join the baby Jesus in being the Princes and Princesses of Peace in this season and beyond. And as the days get longer, may our strength be renewed and may we live with the energy and commitment and clarity of vision that Christmas anticipates. For today is the first day of the rest of your life.