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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

2008-12-07 Mark 1:1-8

2008-12-07 Mark 1:1-8 "Peace"
Second Sunday of Advent
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today we lit the Advent Candle for Peace. Last week, we lit a candle for Hope. This week, Peace.

To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, the peace of God passes all understanding. That's a good thing. Because one of the things we understand is how it feels to have no peace. We understand how it feels to live in a world where peace is an endangered resource. We understand the anxiety of a threatened income. We understand how it sounds to hear reports from Mumbai, and from Baghdad. It's especially fitting that we should be talking about peace today, Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, "a date that will live in infamy." Infamy's datebook is growing. We understand -- that if there is peace, it passes understanding how it can come at all to a world so shrouded in infamy. It passes all understanding how that candle over there can keep glowing, how its flame can keep burning. It passes understanding why we still bother to light it. But we do. And it does burn. Perhaps the greatest gift of the human mind is that it knows it doesn't know everything. We understand there are things beyond understanding. There are things so great that our minds lack the capacity to contain them. Peace is at the top of that list. We know we want it, but we don't know how to get it. And if we should find peace, we can't understand how to hold onto it. How can we light a candle of Peace? And why do we keep lighting it year, after year?

In the Gospel According to Mark, the good news of Jesus Christ begins with a proclamation of peace. Like a ghost, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming ancient words of peace. Come to the waters. Come to the waters of baptism. Come to the waters and find the peace of repentance. Like a ghost of Christmases that had never come to be, John cries out from beyond the grave of Israel's hope, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." John is resurrecting the voice of peace in a land that can't understand it, to a people who barely remember it.

A long, long time ago, generations before John appeared, the Prophet Isaiah stood on the temple steps and called out peace. Isaiah didn't bring peace. Isaiah announced peace. Isaiah didn't preach the peace of understanding. He preached the peace that passes understanding. He proclaimed the peace of God. God would bring peace. God would bring peace to a people wounded by their own injustice, people devoured by their own appetites, people defeated by their own offenses. Isaiah proclaimed that God would bring peace to these people. Comfort, comfort my people, God had spoken to Isaiah. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her
penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. And then a voice cries out. Whose voice? A voice from this world? A voice from heaven? Isaiah doesn't say. A voice cries out, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make
straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the
uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it
together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:1-5)

The voice in the wilderness, maybe the voice OF the wilderness cries out peace. Not because people have turned peaceful. Not because evil has been eradicated. Peace comes because the mouth of the Lord has spoken peace. After years of speaking anger, after decades of speaking punishment, God's mouth speaks peace.

So often, we judge peace by the absence of arguments with the people who tick us off. It's a fragile peace. We avoid certain subjects. We don't wear certain clothes. We look the other way when they do something offensive. Yes, they put the toilet paper on so it rolls down the back, instead of over the top, the way God intended. We let it go. We make a temporary peace. We craft mutually agreed restraining orders against our own, but mainly their demons. You do your stuff, and I'll do mine. We'll be at peace. Or at least, we won't be at war.

The voice in the wilderness, the mouth of the Lord cries out peace. For years, God has exacted vengeance upon these people. They have received from the Lord's hand double for all their sins. Peace with God is not the lack of arguments. You can argue with God all you want. Declare war on God if you want. Many do. What Isaiah's voice cries is that God is finished arguing with us. God is finished with anger. God is finished with punishment. Instead, God is going to speak peace. Comfort, comfort my people, God says. Therefore there is peace. God has worn out all other alternatives.

So years, decades, centuries later, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness. Another voice in the wilderness crying out. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. God is coming. God is coming directly to you. God doesn't want any interference from the sinful wrinkles of human existence. God wants to come straight into your heart and mind with peace that passes all understanding. Certainly with peace that passes yours and mine. There will be peace because God declares peace. You might still want to fight with your neighbor. You might still want to fight with God. But God will fight no more with you. God is tired of anger. God is tired of punishment. John tells us that from now on, if God is going to speak with us, God is going to speak in peace. God knows we aren't used to thinking this way. So God sends a messenger, John - and Isaiah before him - to get us ready for the peace we can't understand, the peace of Christ, that passes all understanding.

We light the candle of peace. We don't light the candle for the limited, fragile peace we can make. We light a candle for the lasting peace God has declared. Because God declares peace it's now safe. It's now safe for us walk toward the waters. It's safe for us to walk toward the waters that will wash our sins away. God declares peace, and now we can dare to approach God. It's safe for us to receive a flowing assurance of pardon. God declares peace.

If you are a little confused by the idea that God has declared peace with you -- even though you may not feel peaceful -- if that confuses you a little, then good. God's action, especially God's peace, passes understanding. You and I don't deserve the peace and forgiveness of God. And yet we've been granted it. God intends to bewilder us with peace. We aren't supposed to understand God's forgiveness. We're supposed to marvel. We're supposed to praise. We're supposed to come to the waters that flow through the tracks of the Holy Spirit and repent of everything we understand too well.

Every year, we light that candle of Peace. Every year we pray for an end to wars, to animosity, to injury. We could light a million candles, but still there would be no peace. There would still be wars, animosity, and injury. They'd be better lit. But still they would exist. Maybe our first job is only that - to light the candles. Maybe our first job is to light a million candles of peace so that we and all the world can see how much hurt there is. Because if you don't see the hurt, you can't dress the wounds. If you pretend there's peace, where there's not, you're living in the dark. We light this candle, year after year, in the hope that maybe it'll help us see how much further we have to go. You are probably not the person who's going to bring lasting peace to the world. You probably aren't the person who's going to bring peace to Iraq, Afghanistan, and everywhere else wars are fought. If you are, would you please get to work. You are the person who can hold a light over you own hot and cold wars. You are the person, the only person, who can shed new light on the distance between you and your enemies. If you can see the distance, you can start walking it, one step at a time. So maybe next year, when you see that candle of Peace, it'll have burned away a few of the sins that hold you back from making peace.

But whatever light of peace we can make, is eclipsed by the radiance of the peace that passes understanding. The peace of Christ is with you, whether your own life is peaceful or not. Whether or not you're at peace with yourself, God is at peace with you. God may not like the things you do, but God is at peace with you. Wrap your mind around that little paradox. We light the candle of peace because Christ is God's declaration of peace, once and for all, with all of us. We light the candle of peace because we know Christ Jesus. We know he comes to bring peace. We know he is God's peace. We know Christ. That candle burns because his Spirit burns. We light it to remind our own spirits that the light of forgiveness is shining, no matter what we do, or think.

Like John the Baptist, we are wilderness people. We're not living in the Promised Land, although this particular land does have its good days. And for that we are thankful. John "appeared" in the wilderness. For us, it's more like the wilderness appears around us. One day we wake up and we don't understand how we got here, and we don't know what we're supposed to do next. And more than that, people are mad at us. And we're mad back at them. Sometimes we know why, and sometimes it doesn't matter. This is good land, but it's not the Promised Land. We're wilderness people. If we're very still, we can hear a voice. That voice in the wilderness crying, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." The Peace of Christ isn't only coming; it's already here. Hold up a candle. Turn on a light. You'll see.