Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“One of Peace”
Rev. Art Ritter
December 23, 2018
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 days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.
Terry A. Bowland tells a story of a patient who went in for a physical exam. He had been feeling very troubled-with an upset stomach, headaches, and an elevated heart rate. He wasn’t sleeping at night and was finding it hard to stay awake during the day. After the exam the doctor gave him the results. “I can’t find anything organically wrong with you,” the doctor said. “You probably have some business or social problem that is bothering you. Perhaps you should talk it over with a good counselor. As you know, many illnesses come from worry. Why, just a few weeks ago a case very similar to yours came my way. I discovered that the man had a large financial obligation that he couldn’t pay. Because of his money problem he had worried himself into a state of nervous exhaustion.” “And did you cure him?” asked the patient. “As a matter of fact, I did,” said the doctor. “I told him to just stop worrying, that life was too short to make himself sick over a bill, a scrap of paper. I told him to forget about this debt for a while. Now he’s back to normal. He has stopped worrying entirely.” “I know,” the patient said sadly. “I’m the one to whom the man owes the money!”
Such is the power of worry. It consumes us and overwhelms us. It snowballs to affect every part of our life. It takes away our peace. From a lack of inner peace comes a lack of harmony in homes and neighborhoods and nations. In the liturgy that accompanied our lighting of the Advent Wreath’s Candle of Peace a few years ago, I quoted an ancient proverb. “There will be peace in the world, if there is order in the nation. There will be order in the nation, when there is harmony in the home. There is harmony in the home, when there is righteousness in the hearts of those who live there.” Indeed many a wise person has said that peace between nations is created only when the people who reside within those nations can live with peaceful hearts and minds.
Mark Twain once said, “From his cradle to his grave, a man never does a single thing which has any first and foremost object save one-to secure peace of mind for himself.” While proclaiming the need for peace of mind, Twain was not optimistic about peace on earth between humans. He wrote, “Peace by persuasion has a pleasant sound, but I think we should not be able to work it. We should have to tame the human race first, and history seems to show that cannot be done.” Twain’s solution to the problem of universal peace was through science. He advocated getting “a chemist, a real genius, to extract all of the oxygen out of the atmosphere for eight minutes. Then we would have real peace, and it would be permanent.” In regard to peace, Twain was a pessimist even if he understood its necessity.
Peace is certainly something we dream of at Christmas. Yet perhaps this time of year is anything but peaceful for you. I avoid the shopping malls and box stores. For me, they are not serene places. Our schedules of frantic December activity tend to ratchet up the stress level. The problem of how we will pay for our generous Christmas shopping might concern us. The thought of spending time with extended family might unnerve us. Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. But when we fall short of those expectations we become disappointed with ourselves, feeling even less at peace. While we chase those sugarplum fairies that dance in our head we live in a sense of general uneasiness about our ability to create a perfect Christmas. And we live perhaps questioning the authenticity of our search in the first place.
Into our lives of worry and anxiety come promises of peace. Advertisers tell us that we can purchase peace of mind if we buy their product. Writers and social scientists tell us that we can create a peaceful heart by adhering to their plan. Political candidates tell us that if we vote for them they will introduce plans that bring peace in our neighborhoods and yes, peace on earth. While it is better to hear of the possibilities of peace and prosperity than it is threats of chaos and famine, we tend to have low expectations of these promises. Like Mark Twain we might come to believe that real peace cannot just be done.
Today we conclude our tour of the prophets this Advent season. Although we lit the Candle of Peace two weeks ago, our focus of thought today is peace as described by the prophet Micah. Like Malachi, and like Zephaniah, Micah was not your typical Christmas personality. One commentator calls him “the angriest of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.” Considering what we heard from Malachi two weeks ago and from Zephaniah last week that is quite a statement. Micah was probably a farmer who wasn’t fond of Jerusalem city slickers. He offered his prophecy in the late eighth or early seventh century BCE. The Assyrians had invaded the area and captured the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was located and where Micah lived, was under siege from enemies. There was a sense of uneasiness and anxiety. Certainly there was no peace. Some leaders advocated for bigger armies and military alliances. Most of the people looked for a strong king, someone in the line of David who would rule from a mighty palace in Jerusalem. According to Micah, corruption was everywhere. Judges offered justice, but for a price. Priests would pray and twist the religious law, but for a price. Micah spoke out against the greed and the abuse of the poor. Micah believed that everyone in Judah was on edge because they were looking for God provide a great leader who would support them without asking them to change. They cried “Peace, peace. Yet surely no harm shall come to us. The Lord is on our side.” The people of Judah believed that God was on their side yet they ignored the intention of God, hoping to find their own peace in plans and schemes that create wealth and pleasure.
Micah said that God’s promise was coming- but in a surprising way. There will be a new king in the line of David, but this new king will not rule with military authority. This king will not come from powerful Jerusalem but from lowly Bethlehem. The power of this ruler will not be on the world stage but in lives and in hearts. He will be one of peace who will care for his people as a shepherd. Micah prophesied that God would remain faithful and intervene in the situation but not in the ways that the people expected.
As Christians, we quickly see the parallel between Micah’s prophetic king and the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He was defined as the Prince of Peace. He sought justice and righteousness, siding with the poor and the widowed and the orphaned against those with power and authority. Jesus served God’s end in all things. While there is no direct historical connection, what Micah prophesied for Judah is exactly what we Christians believe that the coming of Christ meant for the world. He is one of peace and brings the peace of God. The peace he brings will not come because of the security our wealth and knowledge and power assures. The peace he brings comes when we understand that we are loved and cared for by God who has become one of us, who looks us in the face and stands with us, and asks that we live in that love. That is all we need and all we need to know. And when one of peace rules the world, the world changes. We are transformed.
Michael Brown of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, tells of a man in his church who had undergone an experimental surgery designed to save his life. Sadly, there was some post-surgical complications. Later he reported laying in his bed in ICU, fearing that his life was about to end, reflecting on what had been and what could have been, thinking about the pain he had suffered and the pain he had caused. He said he lay there measuring his life’s accomplishments and feeling that he was lacking just one thing. That one thing was peace. The next morning a chaplain visited his room, staying only a brief moment and conversing in a light fashion. But prior to leaving he said, “Let me read a brief passage from the Bible and say a prayer.” The chaplain almost randomly read these words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, do I give it to you.” The man said the word struck him like a spiritual hammer. He suddenly realized that his peace couldn’t be planned and ordered. The peace of mind and life he wanted was there when he understood God’s presence and shared of the presence in word and deed.
In his book We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren writes, “Politicians compete for highest offices. Business tycoons scramble for a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Armies march and scientists study and philosophers philosophize and preachers preach and laborers sweat. But in that silent baby, lying in that humble manger, there pulses more potential power and wisdom and grace and aliveness than all the rest of us can imagine.”
The promise to which Micah points is what Christmas is all about. God comes into the world, not in palaces and temples of Jerusalem, but in the quiet hearts and lives of Bethlehem. God comes not in might and power. God comes in a peace that passes understanding, and in a yearning to pass that peace on until little by little the entire world changes. This Christmas, the Prince of Peace will not be born on a world stage but in your life, your living room, this church, your heart. Open yourself to the reality of God’s love. One of peace is coming.