Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
December 6, 2015
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about Peace.
This past week I found myself at a loss for words. Wednesday was a rainy drizzly day but I had some time in the afternoon so I decided to go out for a run. I often use my runs as a time to reflect on the week’s scripture and begin preparing my sermon. As I am moving, the rain hitting my jacket, my head being too warm with my hat on over my ears and then too chilly without, all the while I was humming the song from God Spell…Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
When I got home I turned on the television expecting to see Ellen as I stretched out but instead was shocked to learn about the San Bernardino shooting. I was in shock, I was at a loss for words. Fourteen killed, 21 wounded. I began to ask the questions: why? Why did they go into a disability center? Who are these killers? This is real darkness and where is the light of Advent? Where is the Peace that is supposed to this be Sunday? Where is God?
Advent is the season where we anticipate the coming of God in the form of Jesus. Yet before there was Jesus there were many prophets including the John of our scripture today, John the Baptist. John the Baptist is the son of Mary’s relative Elizabeth, who while in her womb he leaped when he heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:41).
The beginning of our passage is setting the stage for the audience. By setting the time of John the Baptist’s ministry, the author is also setting the time of Jesus’ ministry, which according to scholars the 15th year of Tiberius would have been A.D. 28-29. The scripture here also is formatted to be reminiscent of the introductions of other prophetic books in the Old Testament. This formatting is a clue to the audience that John is a prophet. For example, if I were to say “once upon a time in a land far, far away” you would immediately know that I am about to tell a fairy tale.
So here we are with the prophet John the Baptist, when the word of God came to him in the wilderness (3:2). In the wilderness. The reference to the wilderness is actually referring to the desert. “The desert is not only a geographical reference; it also recalls the place of Israel’s formation as God’s covenant people and hence implies a return to God.” By naming the wilderness there is a “prophetic”, “Advent”, “coming of God” implication.
When I think of the wilderness, the desert is not what first comes to mind. For me I think of a forest, or the unknown, being lost, with no direction, perhaps dark at times, a place so dense you cannot see through it. This past week I experienced the wilderness.
After the shootings I felt lost. I wanted to do something but I did not know what. I was unsure where to turn, what to do, I had no direction and it was and is dark. But God came to John in the wilderness. Might God becoming to us in our own wilderness?
For John his mission was to “prepare the way of the lord” (3:4). He came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance. What does that mean? The original Greek verb of repenting (metanoeṑ) is synonymous with “turning” and the audience was previously told in Luke 1:16 that it was John’s task to “turn” the people of Israel to God. To turn people. Turn is an action word; it is a “decisive change in direction”, because John knew that the “present course of the nation and individuals lead to destruction.”
Is that not today? Our world is under attack. We no longer feel safe, shootings are happening at schools, movie theaters, at work and at churches. Times have changed.
I grew up in a small farming community in Virginia right on the North Carolina border. I remember my first year in high school, when on the first day of the hunting season the principal came over the loud speaker and asked all the students who had rifles in their trucks and cars to bring them to his office for safe keeping until the school day was over.
I grew up loving pistols. As a kid I collected cap guns and would run around my parents’ house dressed as a cowboy with my two holsters, one on each hip. Then we would go to my grandmothers and shoot real pistols in her backyard. So I understand some of the reasons people have guns in their homes, for sport and perceived safety. But I am left asking does anyone need the so called “assault weapons” (based on their rapid-fire capability semi-automatics like AK-47, AR-15 rifles, the UZI submachine guns, and MAC-10 machine pistols)?
Where do we go from here? Where is God in all this killing? The New York Daily News put on the front page of their paper this week “God isn’t fixing this”. You know, they are right -- God isn’t fixing this.
Then how does God work?
Where is God?
What are we to do?
We hear of the promise of God to be salvation (v.6) but as the theologian Fred Craddock reminds us: “to speak of God keeping promises is to be reminded that the central character in Luke is God. Some Christian writings are so Christocentric (Jesus centered) that in reading them one tends to forget what Luke does not forget: the story of salvation is God’s story. God led Israel; God inspired prophets; God sent John the Baptist; God sent Jesus; God raised up Jesus; and God sends the Holy Spirit. God is at work through persons, nations, political leaders, laws and institutions.”
So what is God doing in these senseless killings? God is with us and is calling us to work with God. Our scripture calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. To act as Jesus has taught us, not to wait or leave Jesus and God do it but to turn, to repent, and to act now. The scripture does not say, prepare the way FOR the Lord. For the Lord to do all the work, but for us to prepare the way OF the Lord. We are called to stop and turn and act now.
God is coming to us in the wilderness and is at work through us. It is our job to answer the call and act to create Peace. Perhaps you feel God calling you to act out for stricter gun control, or maybe to take notice of and get to know your neighbors, to reach out to people who feel alone or to teach your children about love, acceptance and peace.
The road ahead is not easy just as John quoted the prophet Isaiah. But John “envisions a radical transformation of the landscape. [the] transformation of a landscape that obstructs travel into a straight and smooth road [which] becomes imagery for radical repentance” radical turning. We are called to do something, we are called to repent, to turn and make a change, to act. It might seem in surmountable but together we can create peace.
Just as we read in our call to worship this morning, which is taken from Zechariah’s (John’s father) prophecy about John, the grace of God is “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Where is God? God is with us in the wilderness, calling us to act and work with her.
In closing I would like to share with you a poem Shirley shared with me by the late Dr. Maya Angelou entitled “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem “
“Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
By Dr. Maya Angelou
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.”
― Maya Angelou
 Craddock, Fred Haprer Collins Bible Commentary: Luke (New York, New York: 1988) 933.
 Tannehill, Robert. Luke (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1996), 78.
 Craddock, Fred Haprer Collins Bible Commentary: Luke (New York, New York: 1988) 928.
 Tannehill, Robert. Luke (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1996), 79.