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Where is this Peace?

Advent 2, Common Lectionary Year C

Luke 1:76-78; 3:1-6

©2018 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones.

Audio file

I am an active participant in a local West Island clergy lectionary Bible study group,
and two weeks ago we were studying this Gospel text just as the world’s political leaders were gathering in Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit.
As the opening verses of the text were read aloud,
– the list of barely pronounceable names
of the 1st century world’s political elite-
it started to look like this in my mind’s eye! (Screen shot of G20)

It’s deliberate,
Luke is the photo journalist, creating an image with his words
that the Good News of God, the Advent of Jesus Christ,
happens in real time, in geo-political and local time.
In the fifteenth year of Emperor Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas…

In the 2018th year of the Common Era,
Putin, Trump, XI, Macron, Merkel,….
Who gets named first? Who is in the centre front?
Where are the alliances? Where are the tensions and rifts?
The Pax Romana, or our century’s post-war peace fraying at the edges as rulers, benign or despotic, grapple for power over the people, over their faith, over their money, and their freedom. Different names, different centuries, same issues:
Where is the conflict?
Where is the peace?

If we’re looking at this parade of the powerful for peace on earth,
for equitable Free Trade agreements,climate accords, eradication of poverty,
or to create a world where seeking refuge is no longer necessary,
….we are looking in the wrong place, and at the wrong people,
at least according to Luke.

Watch what he does:
He’s got our attention focused there, and then, with a swift pan of his camera, and his pen, he does a complete 180, puts his attention and ours, out into the wilderness.

Wilderness; wild, dangerous, a place of fear for all who like order and control,
but biblically, wilderness is God’s space!
Wilderness: where chaos is turned to beauty by the mere breath of God;
where a staff strikes rock and water pours into thirsty mouths.
Wilderness: where God forges a people through a generational migration from bondage to blessing.

In this wilderness, Luke says, quickly, with no embellishment,
“God’s Word came to John, Zechariah’s boy. ”The Baptizer.”
Oh, he’s grown now, with bearded face, and the fiercely peaceful, subversive soul
of one at home within God and himself.

You want us to look here? This is where God’s Peace is?
“Yes,” says Luke.
“In a nobody, out in nowhere, out where the black bullet proof cars
of the powerful dare not travel. There is where the Peace of God on earth is found.”
Not in Rome, or Jerusalem, not in Buenos Aires, or Washington,
but out where the roads are crooked, where the mountains of need are so high
and the valleys of death are deep and dark, and the roads through the wilderness
are pounded down by barefoot, muddy, snowy, foot-treads of those who will risk it all in search of God’s peace on earth. Really?

Well, let’s think about that:
These political leaders, how are they doing?
How have they ever done, from Tiberius to the G20?
How successful have they been at forging peace on earth?
How does all the power these people wield translate into
inner peace, into community and personal care for the frail and fragile, and the lonely,
into sanctuary for LGBTQ teens, or refugees? into protected habitats for salamanders, woodland caribou, or Amazonian or Pacific Islander indigenous peoples?

I don’t doubt that at least some of these public servants are doing their best, and always have, but Luke’s sharp turn away from the power parade highlights how timelessly impossible it is to depend on political power to produce peace, God’s peace.

So where is this peace?
As these same people gathered – or chose not to –at the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice just last week, and as they gave every handwringing excuse
for ignoring their own promises to curb CO2 emissions,
“the word of God came to a nobody from nowhere,”
actually, a 15 year-old girl from Sweden (*Greta Thunberg)
who, with the calm peace of one who knows she’s right,
spoke on behalf of the world’s children,
“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care for our future….We have come here to let them know that change is coming.”

Look and see this girl, for whom a bullet in the face was not enough to silence her cry in the wilderness, for the right of every girl to an education, for the sake of peace on earth.

Look and see these our girls, and our boys, now all grown up, who cut their prophetic teeth with the Free-the-Children group a decade ago.

Or these children, local kids at Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds,
creating a student led, student-run anti bullying initiative, pledging for peace,

alongside these young ones in Australia doing the same thing.

Or these young people, (* Parkland) calling “Time” on the political delays in taking weapons of war out of the hands of civilians,

voices that are picking up those of these survivors of École Polytechnique. Where is this Peace?

Or this young man

and these two, forging way ahead of legislation to create pathways in the food desert of this seemingly affluent area of the West Island, to uncover hidden hunger to address food waste by feeding the poor and homeless. Where is this peace of God?

Oh God, it is in good hands!
And by the tender mercies of God, days are surely coming when these children
of God will do such a holy roadwork that we will indeed be able to glimpse
the salvation of God, the peace of God for the earth!

And that would be a great place to end this sermon,
but Luke doesn’t want us to just look and see, but to find our place in this Gospel.
Where are we? What if we’re not merely an aged Zechariah
singing in gratitude for the prophetic zeal of the generation to come?

What if we’re called to be on the podiums of power?
How will we hear and amplify and respond to the voices of those crying
in the wilderness “Prepare the Way of God’s Peace?”

What if the word of God is stirring in our souls,
in the wildernesses that we inhabit,
calling us to knock down a few mountains of need?
to level valleys of anguish, or darkness, to build pathways of peace?
The world is in our hands too,
the Dream of God is in our souls,
it is in our flesh and bone,
and there is indeed some pathway of peace
we are called to prepare
in the real time of our own lives,
no matter how young or old.

I don’t know what your pathway is, that’s for you
to pray, ponder and dream about;
it could be peace-building for a troubled relationship,
cherishing a child or parent through illness of body or mind,
visiting the sick, the isolated, the troubled, supporting climate initiatives,
or getting involved in food security ministries,
or the work towards racial reconciliation,
holding back the angry tide of hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia
by your singular, repeated active pursuit of peace.

St. Francis of Assisi once said
that it only takes one flame to pierce the darkness, one voice crying in the wilderness to change the world.
But look, see!
So many lights in the darkness! So many voices in the wilderness! Including ours!

Here is God’s Peace on earth!
Thanks be to God!

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