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Prince of Peace 12.23.19

Prince of Peace This week we continue our Advent celebration of Christmas Carols. Three weeks ago, we sang “Good Christian Friends Rejoice” and proclaimed the good news of the second verse. Good Christian friends, rejoice, With heart and soul, and voice; Now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this! He hath opened the heavenly door, And man is blessed evermore. Christ was born for this! Christ was born for this! We proclaim that Jesus came to open heaven’s door and bless humanity forever more. Jesus was born for this. Two weeks ago we sang a different carol. “Joy to the World”. In this carol we proclaim: Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; … Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! … He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, … We proclaim Jesus to be our king who reigns and rules. Jesus was born for this, too. Last week we sang a new Carol. “O Come All Ye Faithful” In that carol we proclaim Jesus to be: Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. Jesus was God’s personification of God’s creative force. Jesus was born for this, too. This week we sing a new carol. “Hark the Herald” PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION Luke 2: 8-14 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ In today’s carol we proclaim: Hark the Herald, angels sing, Glory to the new born king, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled. This hymn is about our scripture reading! The angelic herald comes to shepherds and provides good news. It’s a birth announcement, complete with location and identifying features. A savior. A messiah. The Lord. And a prayer. God be praised, may this baby bring peace to earth. Which makes me think about the little ritual that we do most Sundays. We “pass the peace”. I say: The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. And you say: And also with you. Then we spend the next few minutes wandering around, shaking hands and saying something like, “Peace be with you”. Why do we do that? I mean, we have the cookie and coffee table in the Narthex. We say hello to and chat up all the folks we can. Why do we go through this ritual in the service itself? Well, it comes from Jesus. In John 14: 27 Jesus has come to the end of his life here. Jesus tells his disciples this at the Last Supper. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Jesus passes the peace. Where does the peace of Jesus come from? It is the peace we hear about in today’s scripture. The peace that came with Jesus at his birth. It comes from the prayer of the Heavenly Host who were praising God and who prayed this brief two-line prayer. 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ A prayer of thanks for the delivery of Jesus and a prayer of intercession asking that the birth provide peace on earth. The peace we pass is the peace that Jesus brought with him, left his disciples who passed it on to us. And now we pass it to each other. What that should teach us is that peace is more than just a feeling. It is a thing. The peace Jesus brought from God and passed on to us can be passed from one person to another. And so we do that every Sunday. What do we accomplish? I mean, last time I checked, the world is not a peaceful place. There is still a lot of conflict, right? But I’m not just talking about fighting among ourselves. There is plenty of that. Today I’m talking about anxiety. Kind of like the anxiety the shepherd felt in the story Linda shared. He lost a lamb. We all know what it is like to lose something important. You search and search and search as the anxiety that you will not find it grows. And if you don’t find it, the anxiety soars. In Linda’s story, the shepherd no doubt thought he was a failure at shepherding. The lamb he was to protect might die. He might get fired, or worse. His world might come to an end. His concern is doubtless overwhelming. I’m pretty sure we all know that feeling. We worry about many things. Financial. Familial. Societal. Political. Social. The everyday apprehension that arises from our complex and scary world can overwhelm us and crush our spirits. So, if Jesus has left us peace to pass, what does it look like? What does it feel like? This, I think. It is a mindfulness that God is present. God is with us, even in times of uncertainty. That is a gift from God. That peace came when God did come to be with us. So, when we pass the peace, we are offering a prayer that the person we greet experiences God’s presence. A sanctuary from the unease of life, even if just for a moment or two. It might look like this. Some time ago I read a book by Richard Foster simply called “Prayer”. In it he describes a time when he was harried and anxious. He was looking for a bit of peace. So he began to pray: “Rest.” “Be still.” “Shalom.” And he repeated those words until he found it. A calm. A feeling of well-being. An awareness of something more important and profound than his apprehension. He called it the “presence in the midst.” The presence of God in the midst of his life. Not long after that, I was an adult chaperone on a high school mission trip to Agua Prieta, Mexico. While we were waiting to go to the airport from a local church in Arizona, a virus burned through our group and sent around half to a local hospital. One young man was particularly distressed as he got sicker and sicker. His anxiety was worse than the physical symptoms. I admit I was pretty anxious myself! So, I told him to look me in the eye and repeat those Foster’s words. “Rest.” “Be still.” “Shalom.” As we repeated those words together, we both began to relax. We became peaceful. Things were going to be OK. In five minutes, he was asleep. One of the other chaperones had watched the whole thing. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like that!” Neither had I. We had just experienced the presence in our midst. The peace had been passed. My law partner did something for me like that a while back. In a particularly difficult and stressful time in our practice she bought me a plaque that said: ‘Be still, and know that I am!’ It comes from Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” It hangs in my office even now. I read it this way: “Be still and know that I am present.” That plaque gave me peace, and still does. Peace that was passed. That is what happened in our scripture reading. We hear the herald of Jesus birth, and we can have rest, stillness, shalom. Go has come to us. The presence in our midst. Even during anxious and disheartening times. And we can live that way, not only in our personal worry, but also in the worldwide uncertainty of our times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. After he was imprisoned by the Nazis, he wrote to his fiancé one Christmas. Listen to what he said: Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide. We shall both experience a few dark hours – why should we disguise that from each other?  We will ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand. … And then just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong … God is in the manger … No evil can befall us … the God who is secretly revealed to us as love … rules the world and our lives. His words: “God is in the manger!” That’s the kind of peace I sought … and got … when I went to church after 9/11. I remember it well. I was the managing director of a downtown law firm. I was told about the attacks and turned on the radio. The World Trade Center was in flames. The Pentagon was devastated. There was still one plane unaccounted for and it was near Pittsburgh. We were being told to evacuate because Pittsburgh was the closest “target”. I told everyone in the office to head home. Then I sat down at my desk and prayed. Hard. I knew this was going to be bad. The world had just changed. Dark times were ahead. It was going to last a long time. But as I prayed, I felt peace. I did not know what was going to happen. I did not know if the world was going to survive. But I knew that God was present. The one who offers peace through his son. The one who forgets and forgives the stuff we people do to each other. I looked to Jesus. I found my peace. In Linda’s story, we hear a parable of the same thing. The frightened shepherd is looking for that which will give him peace. He thinks it is the lamb. But in fact, it’s Jesus. That is what the Heavenly Host prayed for at Jesus birth. Jesus peace on earth. The presence in the midst. But as Bonhoeffer said, the darkness of the world enshrouds us. We have trouble feeling God’s presence. So we have rituals that we use to remind us. The worship service. The advent wreath. The baptismal font. The Communion table. The passing of the peace. When we do these things, we are reminded that Jesus promises that he was, is and will always be present. And regardless of the anxiety and stress we feel during this advent we can break through the darkness and feel that presence. Rest. Be still. Shalom. And then sing: Hark the Herald, angels sing, Glory to the new born king, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.

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