Sermon I Christmas Yr C

I Christmas Yr C, 31/12/2006

Col 3:12-17

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Christmas and New Year Virtues”

 

Well, here we are celebrating the season of Christmas and at the door of another new year. As I read the words in our second lesson today from Colossians, I wondered what they had to do with Christmas. Then, as I thought more about this passage, it came to me that these words are very appropriate for the Christmas season and the New Year. In fact, I would even suggest that an appropriate title for our second lesson is “Christmas and New Year Virtues.”

Discipleship is the Christmas (and New Year) follow-through. Back in the 17th century the German poet, Angelus Silesius (Johannes Scheffler) summed it all up. Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he’s not born in thee thy world is still forlorn. The cross on Golgotha will never save thy soul, the cross in thine own heart alone can make thee whole. [1]

The writer of Colossians, likely addressing newly baptized Christians, speaks of the new life in Christ by instructing Christians to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Such virtues are to be like clothes we wear—visible for others to see, in response to what God has done for us by sending his Jesus our Saviour. In the early Church, this image of clothing was a powerful and appropriate one, since in the practice of baptism, the candidate would shed their old clothes, and then be baptized, and the first act after baptism was to be clothed in new clothing to symbolize the new life in Christ through baptism.

The writer goes on to emphasise the solid foundation upon which these Christmas and New Year virtues are to be based, saying: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In short, the best way to celebrate the season of forgiveness and the best way to enter into the New Year is by practicing forgiveness and loving one another. Forgiveness and love are the foundation of all the other Christmas and New Year virtues in this passage from Colossians. Forgiveness and love are also the foundation of our life as individual disciples of Jesus; as a congregation, as a denomination; and as the Christian Church around the world. Forgiveness and love give birth to Christ in us each day. Forgiveness and love make the world go around.

In the British writer-physician A.J. Cronin’s autobiography, he describes being a doctor in the North of England when there was an outbreak of diphtheria. A little boy was brought in hardly able to breathe. As the Irish would say, “he had the dip,” and in those days that often meant the patient would die. The doctor performed a tracheotomy which allowed the child to breathe, and put him in the care of a young nurse who would watch him through the night hours. The doctor went off to bed.

In the small hours of the morning, a trembling nurse wakened him with the sad news that the little boy was dead. Exhausted herself, the nurse had slipped into sleep only to awaken and discover that the tube was blocked and the child dead. The physician was furious. He raged against the girl. He told her he would see to it that she would never nurse again. She stood before his wrath pitifully small, devastated by what had happened, and in a pathetic voice scarcely audible said, “Give me another chance.” He told her he would not, and having dismissed her, went back to bed.

Back in bed, but not to sleep. Her poor face haunted him, and so did her words, “give me another chance.” And the next morning, when he got up, he tore up the letter of condemnation he had written during the night.

Years later, Cronin tells, he met the young girl, now grown to womanhood, the matron of one of the largest children’s hospitals in England and known throughout the country for her commitment to her calling and her nursing skills. Acquittal had granted her “another chance.” [2]

Thanks to God made flesh in the person of Jesus we too are acquitted, forgiven, and given another chance—not merely one other chance, rather, chance after chance each and every day, since Christ’s forgiveness and love are endless, unconditional, and unlimited. So in this season of Christmas it is very appropriate that we celebrate the consequences of Christ’s birth for us and for the whole world. The following story, as told by Professor Bryan Aubrey, is certainly one practical example of how we can clothe ourselves in love for others.

Viewed from high on the Rimrock cliffs that run along the northern edge of Billings, Montana, the city presents an attractive sight, a thriving metropolis nestling within the great open spaces of the American West. Citizens of Billings say it’s a good, civilized place to live. They pride themselves on the quality of their schools and their strong family values.

So it came as a shock to many when in November 1995, a series of hate crimes took place against minority groups in the city.

Whoever was responsible for these acts must have thought that their victims would be easy targets. Billings is predominantly white; Native Americans, African Americans and Jews make up only a small percentage of the population. But there are just enough of them to frighten and harass—or so the haters must have thought.

They mounted a series of nasty attacks. Graves were overturned in a Jewish cemetery. Offensive words and a swastika were scrawled on the house of a Native American woman. People worshipping at a black church were intimidated. A brick was heaved through the window of a Jewish child who displayed a menorah there.

But the white supremacists, or whoever they were, had reckoned without the citizens of Billings, who had an answer for them—and it wasn’t what the hate-mongers were expecting. An alliance quickly emerged, spearheaded by churches, labor unions, the media and hundreds of local citizens.

The results were dramatic. Attendance at the black church rose steadily. People of many different ethnic backgrounds and faiths began to attend services there. Their message was clear: “We may be all different, but we are one also. Threaten any one of us and you threaten us all.”

A similar spirit propelled volunteers to come together and repaint the house of Dawn Fast Horse, the Native American woman. This happened at amazing speed. Dawn had awoken one morning to see that her house had been defaced. By the evening, after two hundred people showed up to help, the house had been repainted.

When it came to the incident of the brick being thrown through the window of the Jewish child, and interfaith group quickly had a creative idea. They recalled the example of the Danes during World War II. When the Nazis tried to round up Danish Jews into concentration camps for subsequent extermination, the Danish people worked quickly, within a two-week period, to transport almost every Danish Jew to safety in Sweden until the end of the war.

So the people of Billings organized, and a campaign began. Everyone pitched in, including the local newspaper, which printed a Hanukkah page, including a full-color representation of a menorah. Thousands of Billings residents cut the paper menorah out and displayed it in their windows. By late December, driving around Billings was a remarkable experience. Nearly ten thousand people were displaying those paper menorahs in their windows, and the menorahs remained in place throughout the eight days of Hanukkah. It was a brilliant answer to the hate-mongers: A town that had few Jews was saying with one collective voice, “We are all Jews now.”

The story of what happened in Billings quickly spread, inspiring a national movement called “Not in Our Town.” That Jewish child who had so innocently displayed her menorah in the window helped set in motion a chain of events that affirmed all over America the liberating principle of unity in diversity.

Not for nothing does a menorah have many candles flickering on a single stand. [3]

As Christians, we find our unity in diversity rooted in the love of Jesus: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” May Christ our Light shine in and through our hearts, minds and lives as we clothe ourselves with his love—and, being bound together in perfect harmony, share this love with all people this Christmas season and throughout the New Year. Amen.

 

[1] Citation from Emphasis, Vol. 23, No. 4, November-December 1993 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 62.

[2] Citation from Glendon Harris, Lection Aid.

[3] Bryan Aubrey, “We Are All Jews Now,” in Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul: Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc., 2001), pp. 149-151.

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Sermon Christmas Eve/Day Yr C

Christmas Eve/Day Yr C, 24 or 25/12/2006

Jn 1:1-14

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Christ the True Light”

 

The Fourth Gospel is very rich in providing a wide range of word pictures of Jesus. Today’s passage from chapter one is a beautiful hymn of praise celebrating Christ’s birth and life among us. One picture that John gives us here is Christ the true light. The following story, titled “The Candle,” by Willem Brandt, affirms the truth that Christ the true light continues to enlighten everyone and shine even in the darkest of places.

The scene: a dank shed ringed by barbed wire in Si Ringo, a Japanese concentration camp on the east coast of Sumatra. Outside, the tropical sun blazed by day and a huge moon filled the fantastically perpetual darkness. There were people living in that shed. No, “living” is the wrong word. We were packed away there. Sometimes we could see beyond us little sparks, as sun or moon flashed on patches of barbed wire that hadn’t rusted over the years. For it had been years now, or was it decades? We were too sick and too weak to care. In the beginning, we thought about such things as the day or hour. Now, eternity.

Beside us and in front of us, men died, from hunger, from disease, from the ebbing of the last ray of hope. We had long stopped believing in the end of the war, in liberation. We lived in a stupor, blunted, with only one remaining passion that flew at our throats like a wild animal: hunger. Except when someone caught a snake or a rat, we starved. There was, however, one man in the camp who still had something to eat. A candle. Of course, he had not originally thought of it as food, a normal person doesn’t eat candle wax. But if all you saw around you were emaciated bodies (in which you recognized yourself), you, too, would not underestimate the value of this candle.

When he couldn’t stand the torture of hunger anymore, the prisoner would carefully take the candle from its hiding place, a crumpled little suitcase, and nibble at it. He didn’t eat it all. He looked upon the candle as his last resort. One day, when everyone was utterly mad with hunger, he would need it.

To me, his friend, he had promised a small piece. So I watched him and his suitcase day and night. It became my life’s task to see to it that in the end he would not eat the entire candle by himself.

One evening, after counting the notches he’d made in a beam, another prisoner mentioned that it was Christmas. In a flat, toneless voice he said, “Next Christmas we’ll be home.” A few of us nodded; most didn’t react at all. Who could still cling to that idea?

Then someone else said something very strange: “When it is Christmas, the candles burn and there are bells ringing.” To most of us, the remark had no meaning whatsoever; it referred to something completely out of our existence. It was already very late….Then my friend became restless. He crept toward his suitcase and took out the candle. I could see its whiteness clearly in the dark. He is going to eat it, I thought. He went outside, where our captors kept a fire smouldering. Then he returned, carrying a burning chip. …he took the chip, the fire, and he lit his candle. The candle stood on his bed and it burned. Silently these half-naked men with sunken cheeks and eyes full of hunger formed a circle around the burning candle.

One by one they came forward, the vicar and the parson, too. “It’s Christmas,” said the parson in a husky voice. “The light shineth in darkness.” Then the vicar said, “And the darkness overcame it not.” You can find it in the Gospel of St. John. But that night, around the candle, it was not some written word from centuries ago. It was living reality, a message for each of us. For the light shone in the darkness. And the darkness didn’t conquer it. That candle was whiter and more slender than any I have seen since. And in the flame (though I’m sure I can never describe it, not really, it was a secret we shared with the Christ-child) we saw things that were not of this world. We were deep in the swamps and the jungle, but now we heard the bronze sound of a thousand bells ringing and a choir of angels singing for us. The candle burned higher and higher, ever more pointed, until it touched the very roof of the dark shed, and then it went on, reaching to the stars. Everything became full of light. Not one of us ever saw so much light again. We were free, and uplifted, and we were not hungry.

Now someone softly said, “Next Christmas we’ll be home,” and this time we knew it was true. For the light itself had given us this message, it was written in the Christmas flame in fiery letters. You can believe it or not; I saw it myself. The candle burned all night (yes, I know there is not a candle in the world that can burn so long and so high), and when morning came, we sang. Now we know that there was a home waiting for each of us.

And there was. Some went home before the next Christmas. The others? Well, they were home as well, I helped to lay them down in the earth behind our camp, a dry spot in the swamp. But when they died, their eyes were not as dim as before. They were filled with light, our candle’s light, the Light that the darkness did not conquer.[1] Christ the light of all people. Christ the true light, which enlightens everyone.

Whatever kind of darkness you may be struggling with; no matter how overpowering it may seem to you; there is a power greater than that darkness; Jesus Christ is the True Light of the world. He is the Light that never goes out. There is no power failure, no power outage in Christ our True Light. His Light shines in our hearts and lives each day: giving us hope in the face of despair, joy in the midst of sorrow, meaning and purpose when darkness would have us believe there is none, love and peace in a world of hatred and war. There is no darkness too strong that Christ the True Light cannot reach—like Willem Brandt and his fellow prisoners of war; nothing or no one can take Christ the True Light from us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Amen.

[1] The story here is a shorter, modified version of the one at <www.deaconsil.com>.

Sermon 4 Advent Yr C

4 Advent Yr C, 24/12/2006

Micah 5:2-5a & Lk 1:39-55

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Small and Great”

 

God’s ways are not our ways. God acts rather strangely at times. God works in the most unexpected of ways. In both our first lesson and gospel today we learn how God works in and through small places and small people to accomplish great things. We learn that God chose the small village of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the coming Messiah. “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient of days.” Bethlehem, in Hebrew means “house of bread.” What better place could God choose for “the bread of life,” the Messiah to be born?

Bethlehem, about five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, the adopted home of a little-known, obscure, Gentile-born widow, named Ruth, who married Boaz, the next-of-kin of Naomi, with the right to redeem both Ruth and Naomi out of their poverty. Ruth would then become the great grandmother of David. Bethlehem, the home of Israel’s greatest king, David, the smallest and youngest of Jesse’s sons. Bethlehem, the birthplace of David’s descendent, the Messiah, Jesus, in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, son of a young, most likely teenager mother Mary and earthly father, Joseph, little people from the small town of Nazareth. Bethlehem, birthplace of the little baby-Messiah, Jesus, who would grow up to become the Great Redeemer of you, me, and all of humankind. Bethlehem, the world is full of small, obscure hamlets, villages, and hick-towns where ordinary folks like us accomplish great things, thanks to the love and grace of God. The millions of people living in such small places and doing great things most likely remain unheard of and unseen, like the yeast in the bread, and the salt in the food. Yet, the world would be much worse off without such people and places. Bethlehem, the place where we continue our Advent waiting and watching, which seems like a small and fruitless endeavour, yet surprises us with hope and joy when we least expect it. In the following story, Pastor Timothy F. Merrill speaks of such joy and hope waiting to born at Bethlehem when he visited there:

Bethlehem in December, 1995, was a far cry from Bethlehem of 4 B.C., or even the Bethlehem of 2003. For the first time in its history, the little village of Judea was on the verge of self-rule. Now it was the Israelis. Before them, the Jordanians. Before them, the British. Before them, the Ottoman Turks. Before them, various Islamic caliphates. Before them, various political powers. Before them, the Romans. Now, as a part of the newly-emerging Palestinian National Authority, it was joining other cities on the West Bank that were being systematically turned over to the PNA by the Israelis under the terms of the Oslo accords. Jenin to the north had been relinquished as had other towns. Bethlehem’s political status for a while awaited the completion of a bypass highway that would make it possible for Israelis traveling from the south to Jerusalem to avoid Bethlehem and drive straight to the city.

The bypass was completed about a week before Christmas. On Christmas Eve day, the city was formally turned over to the PNA. Chairman Arafat was in attendance. An enormous banner of his likeness hung over the walls of Manger Square. Mobs of jubilant Bethlehemites jostled shoulder-to-shoulder in the square and adjoining streets. The mood was wildly enthusiastic and hopeful.

(Pastor Merrill) know(s). (He) was there.

A friend of (his) grabbed a sheet of paper and made for the Post Office. There she bought three newly-printed Palestinian National Authority stamps, pasted them on the paper, and had the clerk postmark them all: “Palestinian National Authority, December 24, 1995.”

That night, (Pastor Merrill and his family) attended Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. It is recognizable in pictures of Bethlehem by its cone-shaped tower that looks like an inverted ice cream cone. Its pastor was a Palestinian Christian. Dignitaries from the Lutheran church in Jordan were present. The service was conducted in English, German, and Arabic. Arafat’s wife, Suha, was present. Joy flooded the small sanctuary as the readings, the hymns, the sermon, the greetings all anticipated a new era for the people of Bethlehem, this little village that had been the birthplace of Jesus.

The highlight of the service for (Pastor Merrill), however, came when the soloist delivered her rendition of a familiar Christmas carol. She was the pastor’s wife. Her voice, quite honestly, lacked the formal training of gifted soloists. The tone was shallow, the breathing all wrong, and her projection was timid. But there was not a dry eye in the church when she began to sing:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The hopes and fears … Now, a few years later, the tanks have roared through the streets of Bethlehem again. The Church of the Nativity has been occupied by militant Palestinians during the recent intifada. … and hopes for a Palestinian state seem so far removed from the hope and the joy felt in that little church on Christmas Eve, 1995.[1]

Yet, hope and joy refuse to die, since it is the God of love; the God of Palestinians, Israelis, we Canadians, and everyone, who continues to work through small people and places to make a difference. The joy and hope may be obscure, like it was long ago when Elizabeth and Mary—two unlikely women, one too old, one too young, were pregnant and met each other blessing their God, one another, and their children about to be born. Hope and joy, from a God of love who turns the world upside down, or shall we say right side up by: scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty. Mary’s song, more widely know as The Magnificat, named after the first word in the Latin translation, meaning “my soul magnifies.” Mary’s song, from a small-town, country girl, yet becoming one of the greatest portions of the Bible—not to mention one of the most politically, socially, economically and spiritually revolutionary songs of all time!

Martin Luther picked up on the radical nature of this passage from Luke, when he commended Mary’s song to “his Serene Highness, Prince John Frederick,” as a standard for faithful governance by saying, “in all of Scripture I do not know anything that serves such a purpose so well as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords (The Magnificat, trans. A.T.W. Steinhaeuser, in Luther’s Works, vol. 21 [St. Louis: Concordia, 1956], pp. 297-298).[2]Would that more of our present-day politicians around the world pay heed to Luther’s remarks here, and read Mary’s song as a basis for governing today!

Mary’s song, bursting at the seems with hope and joy, pouring out God’s love to us all as we continue our last leg of the Advent journey—waiting and watching for Jesus, the Messiah to be born. Born not only over two-thousand years ago in the little town of Bethlehem; born also in all of us here, small people, in this small congregation—trusting in God who has the power and creativity and love to work so many wonderful and great things, even beyond our wildest imaginings! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

 

[1]Timothy F. Merrill, Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit Series IV, Cycle C (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2003), pp. 17-18.[2]Citation in: David L. Tiede, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), p. 57.

 

Sermon 3 Advent Yr C

3 Advent Yr C, 17/12/2006

Lk 3:7-18

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Advent Repentance”

 

A man who thought he was John the Baptist was disturbing the neighbourhood, so for public safety, he was committed. He was put in a room with another crazy and immediately began his routine, “I am John the Baptist! Jesus Christ has sent me!” The other guy looks at him and declares, “I did not!”1

Although some of us may find this joke humorous, today’s gospel is certainly no laughing matter! John the Baptist, that desert, eccentric, end times preacher is full of hell-fire and brimstone. In fact, a psychologist or psychiatrist might very well label John as a fire-fixated, fire obsessed, pyromaniac. I don’t know if you noticed it, but two out of the three references John makes to fire are really sobering and downright scary. The first reference is to trees not bearing good fruit being cut down and thrown into the fire. The second reference is a little different, for it is a description of Jesus the Messiah’s baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. This fire is perhaps a little more hopeful, and may refer to one’s commitment to God’s justice and love. Then, the third reference to fire is similar to the first one, only this time it is a description of the end times judgement of the Messiah separating the wheat from the chaff and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. That one is really scary, doesn’t it literally scare the hell out of you?! Actually that is the intention of John’s preaching.

Notice how John begins his call for repentance, he grabs everyone’s attention as if they’ve been hit on the head with a two-by-four, saying: “You brood of vipers!” Imagine that! “You snakes!” Now that sort of language certainly isn’t going to win any popularity contests, is it? It is not the kind and gentle approach. I don’t know about you, but I know that if someone called me a viper, a snake, I wouldn’t be very happy. Yet, John continues with his very confrontational message, telling the people what they really need to hear, but most likely don’t want to hear. His message of repentance is most urgent—turn or burn, John says. Don’t think that it’s by your roots that you’ll be judged, no! Rather, it’s by your fruits. It’s not I’m a baptized and confirmed Lutheran; I go to church every Sunday, I give generously, I have no need to repent of anything. No! Rather, it’s I’m a sinner, each day I fail to love God and my neighbour in thought, word and deed. Each day I’m in need of Christ’s grace and forgiveness. Each day Christ is calling me to follow him by sharing my gifts more faithfully and generously with others in need. Martin Luther believed that as followers of Jesus, our life involves a daily repentance of our sins. A daily turning around, a change of heart and mind, a turning away from that which is sinful and destructive to a turning towards that which is loving and life-giving. Professor Fred Craddock describes something of what this means for us in the following beautiful story:

When I was pastoring in Tennessee, there was a girl about seven years old who came to our church regularly for Sunday school, and sometimes her parents let her stay for the worship service. They didn’t come. We had a circular drive at that church. It was built for people who let their children off and drove on. We didn’t want to inconvenience them, so we had a circular drive. But they were very faithful, Mom and Dad. They had moved from New Jersey with the new chemical plant. He was upwardly mobile; they were very ambitious; and they didn’t come to church. There wasn’t really any need for that, I guess.

But on Saturday nights, the whole town knew of their parties. They gave parties, not for entertainment, but as part of the upwardly mobile thing. That determined who was invited: the right people, the one just above, and finally on up to the boss. And those parties were full of drinking and wild and vulgar things. Everybody knew. But there was their beautiful girl every Sunday.

One Sunday morning I looked out, and she was there. I thought, “Well, she’s with her friends,” but it was her Mom and Dad. After the sermon, at the close of the service, as is the custom at my church, came an invitation to discipleship, and Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad came to the front. They confessed faith in Christ. Afterward I asked, “What prompted this?”

They said, “Well, do you know about our parties?”

And I said, “Yeah, I have heard about your parties.”

They said, “Well, we had one last night again, and it got a little loud, it got a little rough, and there was too much drinking. We waked our daughter, and she came downstairs to about the third step. She saw that we were eating and drinking, and she said, ‘Oh, can I say the blessing? God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Good-night, everybody.’ She went back upstairs. ‘Oh, my land, it’s time to go, we’ve got to be going.’ ‘We’ve stayed too long.’ Within two minutes the room was empty.”

Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad began cleaning up, picking up crumpled napkins and wasted and spilled peanuts and half sandwiches, and taking empty glasses on trays to the kitchen. And with two trays, he and she met on either side of the sink, they looked at each other, and he expressed what both were thinking: “Where do we think we’re going?” The moment of truth.2

The party guests in this story likely didn’t want to hear the prayer of that little girl, for them it was something like those whom John called “You brood of vipers!” Yet, for those who opened their ears and hearts and minds to John’s message, and the prayer of that little girl, it was “a wake up call,” it produced the fruits worthy of repentance.

As we continue in our Advent journey, we prepare for the celebration of Jesus the Messiah’s birth. Our preparations, like those in John’s day who heard his message, involve repenting of our sins. Although for us who attend worship regularly, repentance may not take as a dramatic form as the parents of that daughter in Professor Craddock’s story—although that possibility should not entirely be ruled out. Rather, for most of us, who are “God’s frozen chosen,” repentance is more likely to be in the small, little, inch-by-inch details of our living. Things like trusting more and more in the Holy Spirit’s leading us to love God and neighbour through our loving thoughts, kind words, and simple actions of justice, love and mercy. Although they may seem small, Christ works through us and them to make a difference in the church and in the world. As W.M. Taylor once said: “True repentance hates the sin, and not merely the penalty; and it hates the sin most of all because it has discovered and felt God’s love.” Love freely given to each of us in and through Jesus our Messiah. Love that produces repentance in us is certainly Good News for us all! Amen.

1 <http://bepop.com.ar/chistes/jokes233a.html&gt;.

2 Fred B. Craddock, edited by Mike Graves & Richard F. Ward, Craddock Stories (St Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001), pp. 23-24.

Sermon 2 Advent Yr C

 

2 Advent Yr C, 10/12/2006

Lk 1:68-79

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The Way Of Peace”

 

On this second Sunday in Advent we focus on one of the richest, most pressing themes of the season, and for that matter, any season, peace. It is, among many, a number one priority. And yet, with the growing rate of violence in our society and world today, it seems to be as illusive as ever, as the following story demonstrates.

Once there was a man who found himself on a train, seated between two women. In this case, it was an unpleasant experience, since the two women argued relentlessly about whether the window should be shut or open. The woman who sat furthest from the window argued that she would die of heat stroke unless it was opened. The other said she would almost certainly catch pneumonia if it didn’t stay closed. Then the ticket inspector arrived, the two women asked him to solve their dispute. However, he was unable to do so. Eventually the man seated between the two women spoke up. “First open the window. That will kill the one. Then close it. That will kill the other. Then we will have peace.”

Millions of people likely view peace similarly to the man in this story. For them peace is the absence of conflict. And, like the man, their solution to the absence of conflict is violent, forceful treatment or ill will towards others to end the conflict. Is this not the premise of most of the nations who possess nuclear weapons? Threatening to nuke others and acting out of fear is what keeps the world at peace. However, this falls far short of the biblical vision of peace. In the Bible, peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is the presence of unconditional, all-inclusive love without fear and grace as the transforming principle of our relationships. It is a gift from God generously given, and, in response, it is our active seeking out of justice and mercy. In the teachings of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, peace involves non-violence and love of one’s enemies—this is also the case in the beautiful vision of peace in the book of Isaiah. Along with this non-violence, is a reversal of the world order as it now exists—for example, the first shall be last and the last first, the predator wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and so on.

A wise man once said, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” This is what our gospel from Luke chapter one, which replaces the Psalm today, is saying too—peace is the way. In this beautiful Jewish song of Zechariah, also commonly known as the Benedictus, named after the first word of our passage in the Latin text, towards the end of the passage, we read that when the Messiah comes, he will: “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and he will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” Of course, the life of Jesus himself embodied such peace. It became an entire way of life for him. How does one live a life of peace each day? Is it possible in our time? The answer is yes.

One such person who did was a grey-haired woman, whom only a few knew her real name. She walked all over America for almost thirty years on a peace mission. Wearing navy pants and a tunic with large pockets to carry her few necessities, she had the words PEACE PILGRIM printed in large letters on the back and front of her person. Peace Pilgrim was actually the name she adopted as her own.

She started her long pilgrimage in 1953, walking over 25,000 miles; preaching her message of peace among nations and between people. She also emphasised inner peace in churches, schools and to any individual she happened to meet along her way. Peace Pilgrim had little money, and seldom accepted rides. She relied on those who were willing to listen to her message when she arrived at their community to provide her with food and shelter—never was she turned away.

At the heart and core of Peace Pilgrim’s message were the following words of wisdom and inspiration: “If you are harbouring the slightest bitterness towards anyone or any unkind thoughts of any sort whatever, get rid of them quickly. They are not hurting anyone but yourself. One little person giving all of her time for peace makes news. Many people giving some of their time can make history.”

This, of course, is exactly what Christ accomplished by his way of peace through his life and teachings, as well as through his suffering and death on the cross, which offers peace of mind and heart to everyone through forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As followers of Jesus, we too are peace pilgrims, as he guides our feet into the way of peace. We too are called to share and live the message of forgiveness and reconciliation for all people. Such peace through reconciliation and forgiveness is possible as the following story illustrates.

Former Beatle, George Harrison died in December 2001. During his final days his wife and child, and his sister, Louise were at his bedside. It was Louise’s presence that was especially poignant. You see, she and George had been feuding with each other for almost forty years. Their feud began when Louise opened a bed and breakfast named “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The rift was healed only when George realised he would probably die from his cancer. Louise reports that their reconciliation was difficult but satisfying. “We sort of held hands like we used to do” she said. We used to talk for hours about life and God and the universe. We were able to look into each other’s eyes again with love. It was a very, very positive and loving meeting.”

This episode tells us exactly what reconciliation is—two people who have been at odds with one another, coming together in a renewed and restored relationship, one where they are able to “look into each other’s eyes again with love.” This is what it means to be reconciled with God, and with our fellow human beings.

The tragedy of course, is that George and Louise took so long to reconcile, that they missed out on so much. Similarly, it is a tragedy when we wait so long to be reconciled to those we love and/or to God.1

Is there still someone who you need to be reconciled with? Is it too late, has the world waited too long for warring nations, centuries old enemies to be reconciled with each other and live in peace? Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus our Messiah into the world. In order to be prepared to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ, one thing we all are invited to do is repent of our sins—of all those thoughts, words and actions which are harmful to others and ourselves, and which distance us from God. Repentance is a re-directing, a turning around, a returning to that which makes for life and peace, wholeness and well-being. Of course, we need the guidance of Christ, the Prince of Peace to turn our feet around so that we can walk in the way of peace. He continues to show us the way of peace as a completely new orientation of our lives. That’s why Martin Luther said that every day of our lives, we sinners need to repent, in order for us to return, re-orient our life in the way of peace.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “we should find in each (person’s) life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

Ramsey MacDonald, one-time prime minister of England, was discussing with another government official the possibility of lasting peace. The latter, an expert on foreign affairs, was unimpressed by the prime minister’s idealistic viewpoint. He remarked cynically, “The desire for peace does not necessarily ensure it.” This MacDonald admitted, saying, “Quite true. But neither does the desire for food satisfy your hunger, but at least it gets you started toward a restaurant.”2

So, as we repent, re-orient, continue in our Advent journey and prepare for the Christ-child’s birth; may we return to the way of Christ our Prince of Peace, may we be encouraged by the following words of an anonymous wise person: “You will never be sorry: For thinking before acting; for hearing before judging; for forgiving your enemies; for helping a fallen brother or sister; for being honest in business; for standing by your principles; for stopping your ears to gossip; for bridling a slanderous tongue; for harbouring only pure thoughts; for sympathizing with the afflicted; for being courteous to all.” Amen.

 

1 Ananova News Service, December 9, 2001.

2 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House

Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 403.