Passage

Reader: Paul Barker. Audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 4:33
Speaking Peace

Advent 2 Texts: Luke 1: 76-79; Luke 3: 1-18

I suppose on this second Sunday of Advent, the day and the week in which we light the Peace candle, we might have imagined hearing something --well -- peaceful.
But instead we’ve got John, this wild man out there in the wilderness -- his voice raised, free, powerful. Unafraid to call a spade a spade, he announces this urgent call for things to be different.
It’s time to wake up! Repent! he shouts ... repent meaning give your head a shake! Change your mind -- change your course.  As a way of marking this new direction, he offers a baptism … a ritual cleansing, a leaving behind of the old and embracing the new.

Out there in the wilderness, we might expect his voice to be lost, except that people are drawn to him … compelled by him somehow even though there’s this sting, this bite to his words. “You brood of vipers!” he says to them as they come near. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It’s not exactly “the Peace of Christ be with you.” And yet this is precisely what he’s on about -- calling for a way of being in relationship with others that’s conscious, awake, that goes way beyond talk, a way of living that embodies justice, an equitable sharing of the things that make for life. The peace of Christ.

A few weeks ago in anticipation of Advent, I pulled this wee little book off the shelf. [1]  It’s been a few years since I last spent any time with it. It’s a collection of prayers offered by people from all over the world … many of whom live in such harsh circumstances they carry in their bones a deep longing for a different world. It’s that longing that comes through in their prayers.

So there I was ready to welcome this season … this season of growing darkness … the night sky becomes filled with more and more stars as we edge our way toward the warmth of that stable and the birth of that sweet little Jesus child. Except that now, having dipped into this little book of prayers, there are these other voices, people in other circumstances that I can’t ignore. These voices have intruded on “my Advent!” … shattered it in a way. And yet here I am now compelled to listen to them, wake up to them, even though there’s a sting to their words. I might have thought I would prefer to have never heard … but having heard, there’s this whole other depth being brought to this Advent … standing in a truer place.
So I thought this morning we, all of us, could hear a sampling of these voices, these people, through their prayers.
Beginning with this one from the Philippines:

Who will set us free?
Who else can set us free?

[R] Jesus, Jesus, we’re waiting
We’re waiting for you.
You said you’d be coming,
You said you’d be coming.
Don’t let us hope for nothing,
Don’t let us hope for nothing.

Who will open our eyes?
Who else can open our eyes? [R]

Who will be our light?
Who else can be our light? [R]

Who can give us life?
Who else can give us life? [R]
-Bernardo Maria Perez, Philippines

And this prayer from Asia:

In the awesome name of God,
in the victorious name of Jesus,
in the mysterious name of the Spirit,
we acknowledge our God
and we wait;
we are still
we are silent
and we wait.

We wait for the sounds of God
and the sounds of the sacrament:
the breaking of bread
and gushing of wine
the pain of sorrow
and the pulse of hope
the echo of our name
and the bread in our teeth
a cup on our lips
and breathing at our side
as we wait for the sounds of God
the breaking of bread
and the gushing of wine.

We hear sounds in the distance:
the vibration of human lives
the crackle of fear
and the murmur of distrust
the scramble for rice
and the tearing of garbage
the shuffle of withered limbs
and the sigh of rich tourists
the growl of empty bodies
and the splash of spent blood
the breaking of the bread
and the gushing of the wine.

We hear the snarl of a bullet
and the snap of a trigger
the sudden yell of unseen mines
the cough of smoking ruins
the whisper of desolation
and the silence of a lifeless field
the breaking of bread
the gushing of the wine.

We hear the bleating of the lamb
and the breaking of the womb
the death of the lamb
and the breaking of the tomb
a word that was healing
and a God that was feeling
in the breaking of bread
and the gushing of the wine.

And we will wait for the bursting of joy
and the glow of children’s faces
and the dancing of willows
and the surprise of open lives
the shout of mountains
and the laughter of a second birth
the leap of our spirit
and the swirl of celebration
in the breaking of bread
and the gushing of wine.
- Gary Trompf, Christian Conference of Asia Youth

And this prayer from India …

Have you not heard about him
my brothers?
Do you not know about him,
O my sisters?
He was a carpenter.
The wood yielded to his hands.
His yokes were easy upon the ox’s neck,
and sweat was upon his brow.
He cared for the beggar and the dog
that licked the beggar’s sores.
He brought sight to the blind
and healed the leper.
He cured the diseased in mind
and gave them new life.
He can give you life that is as bread
to your hungry bellies.
He can give you life that is as hours
spent away from your desk.

The hearts that are his
will clear the way and build the road
that is gentle even to crippled feet.
Let him lead us.
- Chandran Devanesen, India

And this prayer of young people in Brazil:

O God of all youth, we pray to you:
We are young people, and we want to celebrate life!
We cry out against all that kills life:
hunger, poverty, unemployment, sickness,
repression, individualism, injustice.
We want to announce fullness of life:
work, education, health, housing bread for all.
We want communion, a world renewed,
We hope against hope.
With the Lord of history we want to make all things new.


“Prepare the way of the Lord.
Make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
Every mountain and hill shall be made low
And the crooked paths shall be made straight
And the rough ways made smooth.
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

These words were first spoken to a people in exile … it’s a vision of a way being made for home-coming … a home-coming they never dreamt possible. All barriers are removed, all obstacles are pushed aside … the way to home is opened up.
It’s a vision of easy accessibility … for ALL.

But notice it comes by way of a radical re-ordering … massive disruption. It’s all there in that imagery of mountains being flattened, valleys being filled, rocky places smoothed right out, winding roads, circuitous routes straightened.  It’s a vision of this great levelling that comes by way of un-doing,
by re-making.

Using a different imagery altogether, another prophet / poet speaks in terms swords being turned into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. What is that, if not a radical transformation … brought about by heat … the intense heat of a refiner’s fire. We’re talking about a great re-shaping, re-purposing of our resources, our lives, that all life might flourish, thrive… know the gift and the goodness of what it is to be alive!

On this Sunday when we light the Peace Candle, we might have imagined hearing something peaceful.
But as it turns out -- at some level we already know this -- there is really no peace without peace for all. And that peace can only be born of our sharing in the struggles and deep longings of the poor. You might well have already heard these powerful challenging words first spoken by Lilla Watson, an Australian aboriginal woman …
“If you have come to help me, then you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.”

This is not work for us on our own … so let’s come back to that prayer from out of India …

Have you not heard about him
my brothers?
Do you not know about him,
O my sisters?
He was a carpenter.
The wood yielded to his hands.
His yokes were easy upon the ox’s neck,
and sweat was upon his brow.
He cared for the beggar and the dog
that licked the beggar’s sores.
He brought sight to the blind
and healed the leper.
He cured the diseased in mind
and gave them new life.
He can give you life that is as bread
to your hungry bellies.
He can give you life that is as hours
spent away from your desk.

The hearts that are his
will clear the way and build the road
that is gentle even to crippled feet.
Let him lead us.

Let him lead us. Let him lead us. Let him lead us.

[1] from the collection of prayer in Bread for Tomorrow - prayers for the church year, edited by Janet Morley, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1992