2nd Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert
December 9, 2012
Last week our theme was hope and as we read the promises of God from the prophet Jeremiah, we were reminded that hope is hanging onto the promises of God expectantly. H – hanging. O – onto P – promises E – expectantly. Today we move to the great word, our favorite theme: Peace. People eagerly awaiting coming Emmanuel.
The opening chapters of Luke's Gospel are like a musical drama. At all the significant moments the characters break into song. And in the music, one finds the heart of the message. In the first two chapters of Luke we have three famous songs: the Magnificat sung by Mother Mary, the Benedictus sung by Uncle Zechariah, and the Nunc Dimittis by Simeon, devout elder in Jerusalem. If you removed these three songs along with the songs of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people” the narrative would lose all its power. You'd hardly know anything was happening in Bethlehem.
Hear now the Benedictus, which is Latin for Blessed. The Benedictus tells us first – what God has done; second – what we are supposed to do in response, and third – what the prophet John the Baptist will do, and finally – what God will ultimately do.
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Now as the Benedictus has been sung for most of the generations of the church, hear it set to music. (Sing Hymn 602. Vs. 1)
In the first part there are seven active verbs of which God is subject. God has looked with favor on us and redeemed us. God has raised up a mighty Savior as God promised us. God has saved us from our enemies. God has shown mercy and remembered his covenant. In other words, friends, God has been faithful. God has not let us down, even when we were faithless. These words are uttered by Zechariah before the birth of Jesus, but they speak of the Savior as if he already is. Remember Luke is crafting the memory, the story, knowing already the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
We then, being rescued by God, are called to serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days. It is important to note that we are first rescued. God doesn’t call to us when we are drowning in the deep waters of fear, sin and death, and tell us to swim to shore so God can forgive us. No, God rescues us. Then we are called to serve without fear of death and in thankfulness for our rescue.
Our holiness and righteousness are in response to his rescue. The OldTestament reminds the Israelites sixty times that it was God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God rescued them. God rescued us from our slavery to sin. Our grateful response is to live holy and joyful lives.
John the Baptist is called the prophet of the Most High, the forerunner. He goes to prepare the way, to give knowledge of forgiveness. John prepared the way for the first coming of Christ. We Christians are called to prepare the way for the second coming, which we anticipate during Advent. Our responsibility, like John’s, is to share the good news of God’s forgiveness in word and action. You see, if you are really in touch with the fact that you nearly drowned and God rescued you, you cannot help but be filled with gratitude and with forgiveness of others. You want to love people into believing this good news, not judge them.
The last two verses of this passage are the promise of what God will do. God, filled with tender mercy, will make the dawn break upon us, giving light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, guiding us in the way of peace. This message is peace is just what we need. It’s what the world needs. The world waits in the dark shadows of night for the light. We wait in the eery, long hours of night, hoping for the light. We wait for daybreak, for some sign of peace and hope that we are not forgotten. We wait in the darkness. (Lights out)
A very sad example of darkness. Just last Sunday, one of our sister Presbyterian Churches in northern Pennsylvania, experienced the horror of having their organist gunned down in the middle of worship by her ex-husband. Two elementary school teachers, a soured divorce. I cannot begin to understand this darkness.
We wait in the darkness, knowing that God promises daybreak. We wait in the darkness in solidarity with those for whom life is dark and scary. We wait in the darkness of our sin, aware that we ourselves have extinguished light by our actions, by our attitudes, by our inability to do what we wanted to do, what we ought to have done. But we do not sit in the darkness without a light. Do you see how even two Advent candles illumine this entire room?
All it takes is a little light. How many of you watched the CNN Heroes Award presentation last night? It was truly inspiring – people with courage and with vision, accomplishing great things to benefit others – a school for girls in Afghanistan, where getting an education is unusual for girls. A gym with special goals and esteem-building exercises for those recovering from addiction. A program to support children and youth who are caregivers for their parents or siblings with disabilities and at risk of losing their own childhood. A program that has helped 1000 kids in Ohio, mostly poor minorities, learn to swim, started by a grieving mother whose son drowned at age 16. A center to provide compassionate care for children in Nepal who were stuck in prison with their parents.
When my siblings were 2, 4, and 6, my dad spent a year in a TB sanitorium, unable to see his kids, unable to work. My mom struggled to make it. The Presbyterian Church reached out to a young mother at home alone with three children and no money. They provided Christmas for my family and that’s how my family joined the Presbyterian Church. You are providing Christmas for several families in the worshiping community of Presbyterians at Mission Beth-El. And you are making a difference in the lives of people in many countries through your Alternative Gifts International donations. And you help one another in times of crisis. You pray, you visit, you provide the caring support of Stephen Ministry. You give to the discretionary fund, by which I can confidentially help people in our congregation and beyond who have unique needs, due to crises. It is beautiful to see a compassionate church, reaching out and reaching in to care for all in need. In the light of that compassion, we see the dawning of God’s peace. We see the glorious dawn when estranged people forgive one another. We see the glorious dawn when nations put down their guns and work on diplomacy and when we try to figure out together how to feed the hungry.
Advent is a time of waiting for the light of the world which will overcome every dark corner of death and despair. God has not finished what was started on that silent and holy night in Bethlehem. We’re waiting for the Dayspring to disperse the gloomy clouds of night in Syria and in Jerusalem. And we’re waiting for the day of rejoicing when Immanuel comes again to put an end to our cynicism and rampant materialism. We’re waiting for death’s dark shadows to be put to flight in this global economic recession, which leaves us feeling uncertain but leaves the most vulnerable in great peril.
We’re waiting for the dawning of peace, a day when greed and power do not rule the day and prevent leaders from negotiating justice and peace for all. We’re waiting for the dawning of peace for everyone who is depressed or grieving or suffering in any way. We’re waiting for the dawning of peace in family relationships, where harsh words and hard judgments and bitterness tear at the fabric of love and unity. We’re waiting for the dawning of peace in our diseases and addictions, longing for day when health and freedom come to us all.
We’re waiting for the dawn of peace, that peace which reminds us once again that we are all forgiven of all our sins, and able to begin anew with the full assurance of God’s love and God’s strength and God’s grace.
But we do not just wait, we worship and we work with God to bring light to dark places. The Incarnation is about God’s love being made flesh, and so we take our own flesh, our bodies into the dark places of the world to bring God’s light. We are the body of Christ, the body called to be Immanuel, the God who is with the people, with us. And so we are with other people, waiting and working for the dawning of peace. By our presence and by our love, we can remind them that God comes into every dark corner of life where people are in pain, bringing light, bringing life, bringing peace.
Let us pray:
You are our light and our salvation. You are the Prince of Peace. No darkness can overwhelm your light. Guide our feet in the ways of peace, that we like John the Baptist, and his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, might prepare the way for you, Immanuel, our God with us.