Advent 2: The Sunday of Peace
TEXT: Luke 3:1-6
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4b-6)
The second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Peace—the Sunday of John the Baptist, who called all of Israel to prepare for the coming of the Messiah; John, who sought to prepare them for peace by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
“Prepare for peace … by preaching a baptism of repentance …”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But how does that work, exactly?
I think it’s beyond question that all caring people want peace in this world, and—in wanting peace—they hope for much more than simply the absence of conflict.
They want true peace—peace that incorporates justice; peace that has in it a sharing of the world’s resources; peace that includes love, and joy, and hope—in short, a peace like the people of Israel hoped for as they looked for the coming of the promised Messiah.
Peace with justice. Wow! What a familiar concept, for us mainline Christians! So how is it, then, that John the Baptist—who prepared the way for Jesus by his preaching—never talked about forming action groups or political parties to agitate for peace? How is it that he never urged his listeners to write letters to political leaders, or to march in protest rallies?
He never did. We do not hear John the Baptist urging us to boycott companies that harm the earth. Nor do we hear him speak about mending the relationships between nations and groups as a way of getting ready for peace. We may want to hear him say that … but he never does.
No. John spoke about individuals getting right with God.
Yikes! John the Baptizer … he urged individual men and women to get right with God through personal repentance. Through changing their personal behaviour—and through displaying the fruit of their repentance by caring for others.
Yup. It’s not about political activism. Or even about passing a theological exam. It’s about how authentically you live what you say you believe.
John sounds kind of like his cousin Jesus, doesn’t he? Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
“… Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …” (Matthew 5:39-44)
Look at the beginning chapters of any of the gospels, and puzzle out for a while the question: What is it that God is trying to tell us about being prepared for his coming? The message God sends through John the Baptist is this: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … Bear fruits worthy of repentance … Whoever has two coats should share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:4c, 8a, 11b)
There is a relationship between preparing the way for Christ, and doing good works—between making straight paths for the Prince of Peace, and making peace your way of life. Cliché or not—the words are true that say: “peace begins with us.”
We can only prepare for the Prince of Peace by proclaiming peace through our own lives. We can only make his paths straight through our personal, individual commitment to what peace is—through our commitment to who God is, and what the kingdom of God is all about. This is the foundation of peace.
How can we make ourselves ready—and make the world ready—for the reign of the Prince of Peace?
Only by striving, ourselves, to be peacemakers. And we can only become peacemakers when we ourselves live by the laws of peace—the laws given by our God.
The Scriptures assert over and over again that God’s message must be heard before faith can come; and how can that message be heard, if there is not first of all a messenger?
Just as John the Baptist was a messenger for the Living Word, preparing everyone for Christ’s coming through his preaching, so we are called to be messengers of Jesus by preparing his way in our own lives, and—through our lives—preparing his way in the world.
You know, God’s call to us does not normally occur by supernatural means. Most often, God’s call comes to us—and, indeed, God himself comes to us—through the most ordinary of means, and through the most ordinary of people.
It is a rare person who has a vision of God right out of the blue. Not even Saul of Tarsus was unaware of Jesus before he met him on the road to Damascus. Real people communicate God’s call to us. Real people show us God’s way of peace. And real people lead us toward God’s Kingdom, and prepare us for God’s work in our lives.
The German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche—a man famous for his unbelief—once said, “I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed.”
This is the challenge that John the Baptist laid before the people of Israel when he came out of the wilderness and went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and saying to them, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)
We can prepare ourselves—and we can prepare our world—for true peace by living our personal lives under the guidance of Christ’s love and wisdom and insight.
That requires humility, to be sure—humility, and the desire to walk in the path of Christ. And it takes repentance; it takes the heartfelt desire to turn from holding everyone else responsible for creating peace, and taking those responsibilities upon ourselves. We are called to become peacemakers, trusting in the God of peace to help us. That means looking for the right solutions—the solutions that prepare others for the coming of God by first ensuring that God’s blessings are seen in us and shared by us.
In the classic Walt Disney movie, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, there is a lesson for us about all this. It’s the lesson that Mickey Mouse—the apprentice—learns when, taking advantage of his master’s absence, he tries out his skill at wizardry.
Mickey discovers that he has enough magical power to make things happen—but he lacks the knowledge to keep that power under control. To relieve himself of the hard work of scrubbing the floor, he brings to life a bucket of water and a mop. However, the single bucket and mop quickly multiply beyond his expectation, until ocean-size waves of water flood the sorcerer’s chambers.
Only with the return of the master is control reasserted. The apprentice then picks up his mop and returns to doing his job the hard way—having learned an important lesson about the limits of his own knowledge and skill.
So it is with us. If we try to build peace by setting in motion great social movements; if we look to prepare the way of the Lord by lending support to good causes—but without first seeking the wisdom of God—then these forces can overwhelm us.
However, if we do seek God’s wisdom—and the insight into ourselves provided by God’s wisdom—then we can indeed make straight paths for our God. We can prepare his way into the world by striving to conduct ourselves according to God’s will. We can make the rough places smooth by demonstrating God’s love in our individual lives.
This is, I believe, the only way that we can receive the Messiah. I also believe that this is the only way that the world can be prepared for him.
But now, I want to conclude by saying something else. And this is important: Do not wait until your discipleship is perfect before you dare to live it out! Because if you wait for perfection—if you wait until you’ve “got it all together”—then you will wait until you die … and you will never actually do anything.
Seek God’s will, and acknowledge your own weaknesses. Proclaim God’s truth, and allow for the possibility that you could be mistaken.
Or to put it another way: let your words and actions point to Christ, and not to yourself. Remember that you are but a humble apprentice. Remember who your Master is. Remember those things, and do the best you can. Do the best you can, with the Lord’s help—and I promise you, you will prepare his way!