Luke 3:1-6 The Proclamation of John the Baptist Rev. Susan Brecht
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“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.” ’
“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
A saying by an unknown author adorns the wall across from where I eat my meals at home. It says, “PEACE. it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
Peace begins at home. It begins in our hearts. Without inner peace there can be no peace in the world. It’s a universal longing reflected in the books and prayers from different faith traditions lining my shelves at home. Two in particular jumped out at me this week: “For Everything a Season” by the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, and “Dignity” by Harvard professor Donna Hicks.
Chittister begins her poignant chapter on Peace with a quote by Nikos Kazant zakis: “I fear nothing, I hope for nothing. I am free.” To be ‘free’ is to be ‘at peace’. Difficult to achieve in a climate of perpetual fear mongering; in a consumer driven culture that feeds into our hopes for everything: wealth, possessions, fame, power and control over others. “We are too much enslaved to ourselves to be at peace,” notes Chittister. You can dismantle all the war machines in the world, destroy all the guns, but that’s no guarantee we would have peace.” We must first attend to the war going on in our souls.
She describes the state of much of our world today (even though she wrote this in 1995). “If we have not come to peace with our own life, we will make combat with the people around us.
The desire for conquest comes, when we believe we already know everything there is to know about the world around us and set out to shape it to those limited assessments. This is my will against the world. My wants rage against the needs of the universe. Then the differences I see in others begin to be a threat to my own well-being rather than a promise of inspiring new possibilities and daring new experiences in life.
We rape the planet” she says, “and make war against peoples and build our own private walls higher and higher. … To satisfy our need to feel good about ourselves, we lump people into castes, and nations into categories, pitting races and sexes, religions and cultures against one another for our own ends.”
How often do we see this happening in our personal lives, and in our world today? How do we escape this never ending cycle of violence? How do we find peace?
Chittister is definitive in her answer: “Silence is the beginning of peace.” We must spend time with God. Anyone who has meditated for a while knows that. But we have a great fear of silence in our noise polluted world. Noise protects us from confronting both the best and the worst in ourselves. Silence can bring peace, but it can also bring us face to face with our demons.
Have you ever tried, even a day of silence? It’s not easy. But that silence can also change our relationships with others. As Chittister observes, “Coming face to face with our own struggles and our inadequacies, there is no room in us for mean judgements and narrow evaluations of others. Knowing ourselves better, we deal more gently with others.”
Donna Hicks, in her book “Dignity” shows us, through her work in some of the most conflicted places in the world, that by recognizing and accepting the inherent dignity, that is, the worth and value that God has given each of us at birth, peace may just be possible. “Dignity is a birthright,” she says, “We have little trouble seeing this when a child is born… if only we could hold on to this truth about human beings as they grow into adults.”
Each of us shares a longing for dignity. When we feel our worth, when our value is recognized, we find peace within. “When a mutual sense of worth is recognized and honored in our relationships, we are connected. Don’t miss an opportunity” she writes, “to remind others of who they are: invaluable, priceless and irreplaceable.”
This is what Jesus modeled for us throughout his ministry - reaching out to outcasts, building bridges, crossing cultural barriers, recognizing that spark of God in all of us. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, he said, “for they shall be called children of God.”
Two days after 9/11 I had the good fortune to hear Thich Nhat Hanh speak in Berkeley. He read to us a letter he had just received from a group of Israeli and Palestinian men who he had brought to Plum Village, his retreat in Southern France, where he taught them to meditate and to see the humanity in each other. They told him this was the first time they could see each other not as the enemy, but as a brother. It was the first time they had felt peace in their lives, and they wanted to teach it to others at home.
This kind of peace building requires face to face encounters, breaking down the walls that separate us, learning about each others’ lives and faith. An ancient wrote: “Once upon a time a disciple asked the elder, ‘How shall I experience my oneness with creation?’ And the elder answered, ‘By listening.’ By listening these men discovered that they were all one.
For Christians around the world this is the Season of Advent, when we wait in the darkness for the light of Christ to bring hope, joy, love and peace to our world. Christ came to show us how to find peace in our hearts, even in dark and oppressive and violent times - by loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, forgiving 70 times 7, and doing to others as you would have them do unto you. He taught that peace does not come with the sword, or falling bombs. It comes by reaching out to those on the other side of the walls we have built.
His cousin John reminds us this morning that it’s time to prepare; by taking a good hard look at ourselves and our world. Where do we need to forgive, to repent, to turn our lives around, so that our hearts are wide open and the path has been made straight and smooth for the light of Christ to enter into our lives this Christmas.
Chittister concludes her chapter on peace with these words, “Peace will come when we stretch our minds to listen to the noise within us that needs quieting, and the wisdom from outside ourselves that needs to be learned. Then we will have something of value to leave the children besides hate, besides war, besides turmoil. Then peace will come. Then we will be able to say with Kazant zakis, “I fear nothing. I hope for nothing. I am free.”