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December 5 – Radical Peace

Sunday School Activities

O Come Emmanuel – Voices United Choir

Malachi 3:1-4

Advent 2 – Sunday, December 5, 2021

Advent is a good time to remember that the Bible is what one theologian describes as a wilderness text.  A text borne of trauma, displacement, and loss.  The ancient writers who penned sacred scripture — and the vast majority of characters who populate its pages — were not, by and large, history’s winners.  They were the persecuted.  The displaced.  The enslaved. The desperate.  They lived through periods of famine, war, plague, and natural disaster. They suffered starvation, violence, captivity, exile, colonization, and genocide. They were, in countless ways, the outcasts of the earth.  Brave, lonely voices, crying out.

But what did they cry?  They cried their sorrow, of course.  In the wilderness, they cried their rage, fear, horror, and pain.  But here’s the remarkable thing: they also cried their hope.  Their ferocious hope in a God who cares.  A God who vindicates.  Something about the wilderness experience birthed in them a capacity for profoundly life-changing hope.  Hope beyond hope.

This morning we lit the second candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of peace. This candle now burns brightly next to the first candle, the candle of hope. Week after week, we come together in a spirit of prayer calling out for peace – peace in our homes, in our lives, peace in our communities, and peace in the world.

We pray for peace around the world and yet once again this past week news reports of violence and war continue. We pray for peace in our country and yet issues of injustice continue to create turmoil. We pray for peace for the earth and yet still voices must call out for climate justice. We pray for peace in our community and yet incidents of racism and systems of white supremacy persist. We pray for peace in our homes and yet anger and hurt tear apart families. We pray for peace in our hearts and yet sometimes the circumstances of life eat away at us, bit by bit.

But last week one small glimmer of light gave us hope.

And today the second candle on our Advent wreath, burns brightly as a visible reminder that even in the most painful of moments, God is with us – and God offers peace for our hearts, a solace like no other.

Peace.  It is a reality that we pray for week after week. It is a longing deep within our souls.

This morning’s scripture reading from the Hebrew Scriptures comes from the book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. The Book of Malachi, which takes place during the first half of the 5th century BCE, is brief narrative of a dispute between Yahweh (God) and the people. 

We come into the story today when Malachi says to the people that Yahweh was going to send a messenger to prepare a way.

Well, pay attention! I am sending my Messenger to prepare the way for me;

the One you seek will suddenly come to the Temple, {Malachi 3:1, Inclusive Bible}

This verse is very consistent with Advent themes of expectancy and waiting. After all, “O Come O Come Emmanuel – God with us” is the call of the Advent season. We are preparing a place – both in the manger and in our lives – for the Christ child to be born. But let’s read on:

Who can stand firm when that One appears?

That day will be like a smelter’s fire,

a launderer’s soap. 3 The One will preside as refiner and purifier,

purifying the Children of Levi,

refining them like gold and silver—

then they will once again

make offerings to YHWH in righteousness

Other biblical translations use the word endure in place of stand firm. The word endure feels challenging. To endure something doesn’t feel very peaceful. To endure means “to undergo (as a hardship) especially without giving in; to suffer.” 

Is the coming of God really something that will make us suffer? “It’s easy to think of Advent as the leisurely, candle-lit path to Christmas. It is often presented as a time of expectation, preparation, hope, generosity, and gratitude. But there are other more disconcerting forces at work in Advent alongside hope. To use some more challenging language: Advent is also a season of fire and brimstone. It’s a time of judgment, upheaval, and refinement.” 

Refinement. The image of refining gold and silver is how Malachi analogizes the coming of God. And I’ll be honest, this process does not sound pleasant; in fact, it sounds extremely loud, painfully hot and potentially dangerous without a whole lot of room for error. It sounds like a process that would be okay to purify soft metals with, but people? The lectionary is a tricky place to be sometimes.

Whatever Malachi means by “refinement,” it includes identifying and exposing acts of unfaithfulness. Yahweh’s fiery, refining love burns for those who suffer and are mistreated in this world. For those left out in the cold, the divine fire provides warmth. For those who break faithfulness with God and neighbour, the fire singes and purifies. In Malachi, Yahweh’s judgment attacks human indifference, along with its tempting tendency to view oppressed workers and vulnerable people as just another feature of the created order.

Malachi reminds us that the world into which the Messiah comes is at a cosmic breaking point. In Pauline language, creation “groans” (Romans 8:22). Human beings’ excessive and persistent unfaithfulness to God and one another threatens to undue the created order. For the sake of that world, God sends a messenger to announce God’s coming.

But, for Malachi all of this fire and fury is ultimately good news, because it represents nothing less than Yahweh’s relentless and unchanging grace across all generations. 

Malachi reminds us that Advent is a truth-telling season. This text paints an image that is true because it describes the world as it is, with all its brutality and pain. But it is also true because it confesses that hope exists within the tragic mess—and most especially in the life and ministry of Jesus and promises to come once again to make God’s ancient promises into lived reality. Advent is a season for naming both the pain and the hope.

Pain and hope are a real part of life. And both pain and hope are a real part of peace.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama once said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

Peace is not an easy emotion to feel, an easy feat to achieve or an easy destination to journey to. Peace is extremely complex. It is easy for us to say with joy, “Peace be with you!”-  but it is much more difficult to actually live these words out.

We live in a world where there is violence, war and unrest. We live in a world where people experience pain both in their bodies and in their lives. We live in a world where differences of opinions escalate and conflicts shatter relationships, homes and communities. We live in world where people feel sad, alone and helpless. 

And let it be known that I am not talking ambiguously about the greater world that exists beyond our walls – I am also talking about our world, our lives. We often feel sad, alone and anxious; stressed and uneasy. We so desperately need peace. Especially in these times.

I have told you before that I am not much of a singer. But I certainly was involved in the choir when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember all of the songs that we learned, but I do remember learning “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and I can remember singing it with great gusto and passion – wanting to inspire the world with its message. The song, simply, yet boldly states, “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me.” When we sing this song, we cannot afford to sing it with a passive voice. We must act. The Prince of Peace was born into this world to show us the way, not to travel the journey for us. We must be agents of peace in our lives; we must be the face of radical peace to the people around us.

As we journey through this season of Advent, being the face of radical peace might push us in new and challenging ways. We must be willing to confront the adversities that individuals are going through and the conflicts that people find themselves in, and acknowledge that their pain is real. We may be forced to have difficult conversations, sit in uncomfortable silences, accept things that we do not understand and make compromises and sacrifices along the way. We need to be open to the needs of others as well as our own, seek reconciliation and speak out against injustice. 

Remember this, however, along your journey towards peace. We cannot read the pain we sometimes find in Scripture without also reading the hope that it provides. See the reality of the pain in the world; but never let go of the Good News and grace of an ever-loving God.

The candle of peace burns brightly next to the candle of hope. There is hope for peace on earth, I truly believe that. Peace is not just a concept or a state of being; peace is something that we have to actively participate in throughout our lives. We have to prepare for peace; we have to step forward and receive that peace; we have to reciprocate that peace; and we have to – sometimes against all odds – advocate and fight for that peace. 

In this coming week, I invite you to reflect on what peace means to you and how you are actively seeking it in your lives and in the world. May this Advent season embolden us as truth tellers, justice seekers and peace makers.

Thanks be to God! Amen.