google analytics

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Peace through Justice, Glory through Devotion - An Advent Sermon

In last week’s sermon for the first week of Advent drawn from the writings of the prophet Jeremiah, I spoke about the name of the anticipated messianic king, the name of the city where he would rule, and the name of the congregation that is assembled there. That name, we discovered, is: “The Lord is my Vindicator” (JPS) or “The Lord is my Righteousness” (NRSV) or “The Lord is my Saving Justice” (NJB).

I want to continue this second week of Advent thinking about longing, and about new names and justice. We’ll also continue our connection with the prophet Jeremiah, though only from a distance. One of the texts we’re looking at this morning is from Baruch 5: 1 – 9, part of what is known by Protestants as “the apocrypha” and by Roman Catholics as “the Deuterocanonical books.” It is attributed to Baruch ben Neriah (Baruch 1:1 /Jeremiah 43:6) who was the prophet Jeremiah’s amanuensis, that is: Jeremiah’s secretary, scribe, and sidekick. But most biblical scholars doubt that the historical Baruch[i] is the author of the book apocryphal / deuterocanonical book that bears his name. It seems to have been written much later.

I said last week that while Advent is a season of anticipation, of looking forward, in order to do so we need to go backwards first. And so we will.  The book claims to have been written five years after the Jewish people were conquered by the Babylonians and taken into exile and is intended to call the people to repentance, to pray for mercy, to encourage them to seek wisdom, and to give them hope for the future. As I said, however, it is unlikely that the book was actually written at that time. “The Babylonian exile was not a living reality for the author or editor of Baruch. Rather, it was a theological context for reflection on the covenant between God and Israel” (Goff 73).

And we will read it as such, for, like the Jewish people in Babylonian exile, and like those of the actual author’s time, we feel the encompassing darkness of despair and hopelessness. We are afraid. We worry about the future. In the cold December of our lives, the hopeless time of sin when shadows deep have fallen (Hawhee) we need comfort. We need joy. We need hope.

The world around us seems to be crumbling, shaking itself apart in paroxysm of doom, and violent outbursts of rage and destruction. We are a people in perpetual mourning as the news continues to bring us report after report of murder and mayhem. Churches are bombed; mosques are vandalized; synagogues are defaced. Children are shot in the streets. Bombs explode in cities around the world. Bombs are dropped on countries around the globe. Machines of war roll through the rubble of smoldering cities chasing millions of frightened refugees from homes. We lower our flags and hang our heads and we despair because the world has gone mad.

We are people who “live in darkness and the shadow dark as death” (Luke 1:79 NJB).

If we are frightened by world around us, who could blame us? We want to be safe. We want to be secure in our homes. We want our families to be protected and defended from danger. And the world is full of danger: many that we know, many more that we may not know. We want peace. We want to live in peace, but peace, like dawn, seems very far away to the people living in darkness and the shadows of death.

We want peace. We want to live in peace.  And in the long ages of the earth, one method of achieving peace has been tried and taught and tested over and over again. And even though it has failed to ever achieve peace, it continues with us. This age old idea is that peace can be achieved through strength, that peace can be maintained through superior firepower. President Theodore Roosevelt was neither the first, nor the last to utilize a “big stick ideology.” He wrote in his autobiography that “… a proper armament is the surest guarantee of peace” (Roosevelt), and in ancient Rome they said, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” – If you want peace, prepare for war. The idea is the same.

But the big stick idea of “peace through strength” or “peace through superior firepower” has never really achieved peace anywhere in its long history.  The Motto of the United States’ Strategic Air Command “Peace through Strength, Victory through Devastation” is not very different than the words recorded by the Roman historian, Tacitus: “To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace” (Tacitus).

But this isn’t peace. Not really. It is violence. It is war. It is fear, not peace. It is destruction and devastation. It makes only desert and desolation. It is all those things we say that we don’t want. Most people will usually agree with General William Tecumseh Sherman, who said that “War is hell.” But when we’re frightened or angered or threatened, we’re quick to pick up our weapons and go willingly into that hell and to unleash that hell on those we perceive to be our enemies.

But this is not peace. And if it does result in a cessation of warfare, it does not last. The defeated party suffers death and devastation; they are angry and humiliated and despairing. They may surrender in defeat, but they are not at peace. And the victors may receive the spoils of war, but they can never relax. Their strength must be vigilantly maintained. That firepower must be renewed incessantly. Vast resources must be consumed in order to maintain a paranoid level of preparedness – ever watchful, ready to inflict death and destruction, ready to unleash the next round of hell on earth. This is not peace. This is not freedom from fear.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke today (Luke 1: 68-79) is the priest Zechariah’s words to his infant son, John, who would grow up to become John the Baptizer. Zechariah said to his boy:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited his people, he has set them free,
and he has established for us a saving power
in the House of his servant David,
just as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all those who hate us,
and show faithful love to our ancestors
and so keep in mind his holy covenant.
This was the oath that he swore
to our father Abraham,
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and uprightness
in his presence all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare a way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the faithful love of our God
in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us,
to give light to those who live
in darkness and the shadow dark as death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1: 68 – 79 NJB)

This is what we want, right? To be delivered from our enemies, without fear, to be saved from the hands of those who hate us. This is what we want, right? To have the fearful darkness of our lives dispelled by the rising Sun who guides our feet into the way of peace.

This is what we say that we want. But I’m not sure that we mean it.

Instead of peace we are pursuing war. As a nation we spend trillions for an ever expanding military preparedness, and as individuals we purchase more and more powerful firearms. On this most recent “Black Friday” (November 27, 2015) alone, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) performed 185,345 background checks on those individuals purchasing firearms. That’s enough to equip an army (Owens). We say that we want peace but we are preparing for war.

“Peace with a club in hand,” says an old proverb “is war.”[ii] This is not peace. The world has been making wastelands and calling it peace for millennia. It is time to say enough. We are tired of the desert. We are tired of the devastation. It’s time to say, “I’m going to lay down my sword and shield and study war no more” (Down by the Riverside) because peace through strength has not brought us peace.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
to the house of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
so that we may walk in his paths.”
For the Law will issue from Zion
and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
Then he will judge between the nations
and arbitrate between many peoples.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
no longer will they learn how to make war.
Isaiah 2: 3-4 (NJB)

In our text from the Apocryphal Baruch we read these words of hope:

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,
put on the beauty of God’s glory for evermore,
wrap the cloak of God’s saving justice around you,
put the diadem of the Eternal One’s glory on your head,
for God means to show your splendor to every nation under heaven,
and the name God gives you for evermore will be,
“Peace-through-Justice, and Glory-through-Devotion.”
Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east:
see your children reassembled from west and east
at the Holy One’s command, rejoicing because God has remembered.
Though they left you on foot
driven by enemies,
now God brings them back to you,
carried gloriously, like a royal throne.
For God has decreed the flattening
of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,
the filling of the valleys to make the ground level
so that Israel can walk safely in God’s glory.
And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade
for Israel, at God’s command;
for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory,
with the mercy and saving justice which come from him.
(Baruch 5: 1-9 NJB)

Last week we spoke about the coming of that messianic king, and the city and the people of the congregation whose name is “The Lord is our Vindicator” or “The Lord is our Salvation” or “Yahweh is our Saving Justice.” And we want that to be our name. We want to be that city of righteousness. We want to be that holy people. Just was we want the new name in this week’s reading: “Peace through Justice”

In his new year’s day message for the celebration of the day of peace in 1972, Pope Paul VI said, “"If you want Peace, work for Justice” (Pope Paul VI).  This is how peace is made. Not through bigger and more powerful and more abundant weapons. More guns will not make peace between us and our enemies. More tanks, more bombs, more missiles will not bring us peace to the earth.

There is no Peace without Justice.

Do we want to live at peace and security? Then we must pursue justice. We must put down our weapons and work for righteousness. We must stop threatening each other and begin to work for the good of everyone. This is how you make a lasting peace that is something more than the devastation and ruin of the desert. 

We must put off the garments of sorrow and distress and fear and put on the new clothes that God has for us; we must wrap ourselves in the cloak of God’s justice. Justice for everyone. There can be no exploitation of the weak, there cannot be two standards of justice-one for the rich and powerful and another for the poor and marginalized, in this beautiful city called “Peace-through-Justice, and Glory-through-Devotion.” The people of God, who really and truly want peace, must not be ready and waiting to call down fire from heaven, to unleash hell on their enemies.  The people of God will seek justice – even for their enemies, so that there will be no cause for them to be enemies.

This is true and lasting peace, without fear, without the shadow of death hanging overhead.

We are to be, during this season of Advent, preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus, both in our celebration of his birth in Bethlehem and in his glory at the end of all things. But how are we to prepare for the coming of the prince of peace if we are still preparing for war?

In a recent morning mediation, Pope Francis said: “Jesus weeps, because we have chosen the way of war, the way of hatred, the way of hostility. This is even more glaring now that we are approaching Christmas: there will be lights, there will be celebrations, trees lit up, even nativity scenes... all decorated: the world continues to wage war, to wage wars. The world has not comprehended the way of peace.” (Pope Francis)

This Advent season, when the world around us seems lost in the darkness of death and fear and perpetual war, let us begin the dawning of a new light, the light of God. Let us work for justice-in our homes, in our cities, in our states, in our nation. Let our name be: “Peace-through-Justice, and Glory-through-Devotion.” Do we want to, as the slogan says, “Keep Christ in Christmas”? Then let us begin even now during this time of Advent. Let’s put down our weapons and build up that city of Righteousness with justice for all. We will be fair, acting without discrimination, without hatred and without fear. This is how to celebrate Christmas. This is how to make peace.

Let us bring Glory to God in the highest heaven and make peace on earth (Luke 2: 14). 

Federal Bureau of Investigation. "NICS Firearm Background Checks Top 10 Highest Days."

Goff, Matthew. “Baruch” The Oxford Encyclopeida of the Books of the Bible.  Oxford.
Oxford University Press.  2011.

Hawhee, Howard (translator) “Cold December Flies Away” – Catalonian Christmas Carol.

New Jerusalem Bible. New York, NY. Doubleday. 1999.

Pope Francis. “The Way of Peace.” Vatican. November 19, 2015. 

Pope Paul VI. “If You Want Peace, Work forJustice.” Vatican.  January 1, 19712. 

Roosevelt, Theodore. Theodore Roosevelt: an Autobiography. 1913.

Tacitus. Agricola. Oxford Revised Translation. 1897.

[i] And Historical he may have been. In 1975 a clay bullah (an impression of a seal in clay) was found with the inscription, “[belonging to] Baruch son of Neriyahu the scribe.” The authenticity of this find is debated, but the potential is certainly there.

[ii] Described across the internets as a “Portuguese proverb” but I can’t find an authoritative source.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
reviews: 2
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.33)


Related Posts with Thumbnails