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Thursday, November 25, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122:1-9, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, that season of anticipation that looks ahead to Christmas. I’m writing this on Thanksgiving morning. The Oregonian newspaper that was delivered to our door this morning weighed four pounds! It included three large packets of advertising, many of them announcing sales starting at 3 or 4 or 5 A.M.

I guess that’s the way the world begins Advent. It makes me wonder how many people would be drawn to a 3 A.M. sale on “Peace.”

Many in the Old Testament lived in anticipation, and peace was very much a part of that anticipation. They looked here, there, and everywhere for a king who would right the wrongs of this world and bring peace, justice, righteousness, harmony, prosperity, and general well-being.

Some of that longing is evident in the reading from Isaiah, chapter two, which includes those familiar words about nations beating “their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4) Psalm 122 includes prayers for peace. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem . . . Peace be within your walls . . . Peace be within you.” It talks about seeking your good, i.e, the good of the city.

Some within Judaism saw the birth of Jesus as a sign of such peace and well-being. Part of the message of the angels in the Christmas story is that peace and good will have come to the earth. Christians through the ages have struggled to understand what that peace means, when, at times, there seems to be no peace. The expectation of a peaceful kingdom has been sometimes reinterpreted so that it refers to a spiritual kingdom, a reign in the hearts to men and women.

It’s so easy to give up on the dream of peace. Last night Margie and I watched a documentary about John Lennon, of Beatles fame. It paid a lot of attention to his peace activism. He acknowledged that there had been a lot of disappointment, that “flower power” hadn’t brought in the peaceable kingdom. He urged people to never give up. Here we are thirty some years later, and it still hasn’t arrived. Imagine how discouraged those people throughout biblical history must have become as they awaited the fulfilment of the dreams God had implanted in them!

For Christmas one year, John Lennon and Yoko Ono posted Christmas greetings on bulletin boards all over the world, in many languages. The most prominent feature of the posters was huge print declaring, “War Is Over.” In slightly smaller print underneath, it said, “If You Want It.” At the bottom were the words, “Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.”

“If You Want It.” Sounds kind of idealistic doesn’t it? In the light of the other two scripture readings for this Sunday, I’d be inclined to say instead, “If We Live It.” Notice, I didn’t say, “If We Work For It.” That’s important also, but it starts with each one of us living it.

The Epistle and Gospel readings both address a darker aspect of the long-awaited arrival of God’s justice. It included a day of fearful judgment. People sometimes dreaded its coming. They wanted to know exactly when it was going to happen—like some people in our day. Jesus put an end to that by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Not even Jesus knew, so I guess I don’t have to spend a lot of time working out schemes and calendars so that I know the exact time.

Instead, Jesus says, after acknowledging that there are indeed some scary times ahead, live in readiness all the time, be wide awake in your living all the time. (vss. 42-44) Paul, in Romans, talks about living “honorably” as the day nears. (Romans 13:13)

So, what does all this have to do with getting ready for Christmas? Some have decried the fact that we seem, at times, to focus all our benevolence on limited times of the year—most notably Christmas and Thanksgiving. The Christmas Spirit, they say, should prevail year round. The dream of peace is not just a Christmas dream; it is a something we hope will be realized every day of the year.

We might move closer to making it a reality if we lived it every day. Being ready in the Epistle and Gospel lessons in not unlike John Lennon’s declaration, “War Is Over: If You Want It.” Being ready is not so much living in either fear or anticipation. It is looking to the dream embodied in Christmas and beginning to live it now, and each day of the year, in all that we do and say. If we do that we will be ready, for whatever comes, whenever it comes. And who knows? Maybe what comes will be peace!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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