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Sermon for Advent 2

December 6, 2015

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Texts: Luke 1:39-56 and Luke 2:

                           Finding Peace Through Justice

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a cola-mouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal-mouse said.

“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow-not heavily, not in a raging blizzard-no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say-the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

(Source: Kurt Kauter, New Fables – Thus Spoke The Carabou)

On this second Sunday of Advent, the Spirit asks who will speak for peace?

We recall this morning the prophetic word of Mary, the mother of Jesus, proclaiming God’s peace for all people through a radical reordering of the world. In God’s reign of peace, the lowly will be lifted up, the hungry fed, the crooked paths of the world made straight and the captives set free. By contrast, and not good news for many of us, the rich will be sent away empty and the proud will be scattered in the imagination of their hearts.

         This is the Advent of God’s peace beyond human understanding. The path to peace is God’s work through Christ, not our own doing. The path to God’s peace is not what we think. Peace is not the absence of war. God’s path to peace is simpler than we think and harder than we imagine. While peace is God’s work of the ages beyond human understanding, it is also upfront, personal and immediate. God invites us through Jesus to align our lives, our practices and behaviors with two simple things that make for peace. Guided by the Spirit, God invites us to become the One remaining snowflake by engaging two practices: Resist greed and Respond justly.         

Jesus came into the world to create a path to peace through justice and to invite us to participate in this narrow way. Jesus proclaimed that though many are called to follow this path of peace, few would take it.

         I don’t know about you, but these words seem confusing at best. Surely the prophetic word that will level the inequities of society and flip the perceived pecking order of divine favor upside down refers to other people, and not to us. Surely the proud and the greedy who will get their come up pence in the kingdom of God is somebody richer or more powerful or foreign. Or perhaps Mary is talking about a hypothetical person and not really anybody in particular at all!

         It never quite makes sense to us that God would have something against people who have money, the rich, as the text appears to say. Let’s think about this again. Perhaps it isn’t money itself that puts us on the wrong side of God’s kingdom, but how wealth is gained and how power is used. Thought about in this way, Mary’s prophesy begins to make more sense. When God’s kingdom comes, the Greedy will scatter like roaches under bright light. After all, the greedy aren’t really interested in whether or not everyone has what they need or not. Their primary concern is that they have what they want.

         The opportunity to resist greed begins with us.

We don’t have to be a billionaire to resist greed. One Christmas while traveling, I happened to visit an affluent community that hosted a holiday walk in their village. The average home price in the town was well over $1,500,000, and the town’s residents wanted for nothing. I wandered the festively appointed stores where each shop owner offered refreshments and holiday treats, cocoa, candy canes and hot cider. The best treat of all came through the local bank who gave out adorable stuffed owls to all the children. As I made my way through the queue to collect a stuffed animal for a grandchild, I noticed a cluster of 11 year olds standing out front with armloads of owls.

         The children, half of whom were accompanied by parents, went inside to collect an owl, and then returned again and again even cutting in line to collect as many owls as possible. The bank workers shrugged their shoulders and commented to one another. I guess we’ll just give them away until they’re all gone and then close up shop early. It will be too bad for the children who come later and won’t get any.

         In God’s kingdom, things won’t be like this. And Mary said as if God’s kingdom were already at hand, “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the greedy away empty.”

         Resisting the temptation to greed isn’t just the right thing to do so that everybody will get their fair share. We humans aren’t always motivated to do the right thing because it will make things better for someone else. The path to peace by resisting greed is not only for the sake of others, but also for us. When we resist greed, we can live.

         Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ring-tailed monkey. For the Zulus of that continent, however, it's simple. They've been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can't get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him.

Bibliographic Reference is Uncertain: Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, and p.150ff.

            God came into the world through Christ to free us from the trap. Jesus is the bread of life. God fills us with all good things that last, with peace beyond human understanding. God gives us every good thing for life. This and only this make it possible for us to resist our human tendency toward greed and to respond justly for the sake of others.

It’s an American sport to trash talk the greedy investors on wall-street, the top CEO’s who walk away from the decline of their company with golden parachutes while the average worker loses their pension. The injustice of this makes crazy, or even afraid for our own provision. In such a corrupt system, clearly there is no peace.

         Fortunately the path to justice is not at arm’s length, as if God were about to bring down those greedy strangers on the morning news? As God calls us to resist greed, so God invites us to respond justly.

There is a story about a village that was overtaken by enemy forces. All of the warriors who inhabited the village were gathered together and imprisoned by the conquerors. Amidst the villagers were four philanthropists who became aware of the prison conditions that their compatriots were enduring. The first philanthropist went to the prison and said to the captors, “I understand that my brothers are without clean water. I want to take all my riches, and use them to purify the water, so that my brothers will have clean water, that they will not get sick.” The captors agreed and granted the man this right. He walked away, glad that he had been able to show this act of charity for his brothers.

The second philanthropist went to the prison, and approached the captors, saying, “I understand my brothers are sleeping on rocks. I want to take all my riches, and provide bedding for the men, so they may rest comfortably in prison.” The captors agreed, and the man left, feeling that he had fulfilled his purpose in aiding his brothers’ plight.

The third philanthropist went to the prison, and spoke to the captors, saying, “I have heard that my brothers have no food. They have only bread and water. I have a large farm, and want to harvest all my crops to see that the men have good food to eat while they are in prison.” The captors agreed, and the philanthropist left, knowing he had done much good in helping his brothers in prison.

The fourth philanthropist though heartened by the acts of the other three, was disturbed that his brothers remained unfairly imprisoned. So he found the keys to the prison, and one night, he slipped into the prison and freed all his brothers from their captivity.

The four philanthropists show us the difference between mercy and justice. The first three engaged in acts of mercy. They certainly came to the aid of their brothers and made their difficult circumstances more comfortable, but they did nothing to change the unjust situation. The fourth philanthropist acted to change the unjust situation, not just the circumstances. He acted to pursue justice and not simply mercy.

(Source: Unknown)

         Last night when Pastor Rachel and others slept out on the church lawn, they wanted to draw attention to the need for affordable housing not only in the vast cities of America where homeless sleep all winter in the snow over heating grates in the sidewalk. They wanted us also to consider what it would take to act for justice as the fourth philanthropist in our own community, changing the way we distribute resources locally to eliminate homelessness here.

         As pastors we receive regular requests for housing assistance. Our tendency is to relocate people inland where rent is less expensive, rather than create housing locally so that people can live where they work.

         Peace is the way of Jesus, a path through justice for all God’s people. In the Advent time that waits for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, the Holy Spirit guides our path to a Godly life.