Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,[Baruch 5:1-4 NRSV]
and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory’.
Each year within the Church the second Sunday of Advent is called the Sunday of Peace. And each year on this Sunday we read – either from Luke, or from Mark, or from Matthew – the story of John the Baptizer and of how he went out into the wilderness and there preached a baptism of repentance and the good news of the coming of the promised one of God.
The only mention of peace in the assigned readings is in the psalm, which is actually from Luke’s Gospel: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [verses 78-79]
These words are part of the canticle commonly known as the Benedictus, or the Canticle of Zechariah, which is said or sung at Morning Prayer with slightly different wording.
However, there is also an alternate first reading suggested for today. Instead of Malachi, the lectionary also offers an apocryphal reading from Baruch (see the introductory verses above), which I have preached from on occasion. In the reading you’ll note the words, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory,” from which I took the title of today’s post.
I lament that we don’t read more frequently from the Apocrypha. The blessed Martin Luther considered these books as profitable to be read and included them in his translations of the Bible. But that is another reflection for another day.
When we speak of peace, we often contrast it as the opposite of war. The problem with that line of thinking is that the aim of war is not peace, but victory. And any victory won by violence, only out of necessity leads to further violence.
But peace is so much more than that.
Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. Shalom brings with it the understanding that peace and wholeness is not something which anyone but God can give. From this perspective you are whole, complete, accepted, forever. When you say “Shalom” to one another, when you use this gift, remember who you are – God’s people forever.
Down deep inside of every human being, there is a longing, a deep God-given longing, that there would be a greater sense of peace within ourselves, within our families, within our nation, and between nations.
But where is that peace to be found?
The focus on John the Baptizer and his call to repentance is the key.
The word repentance literally means turn around – to go in a different direction, to change. It is that simple. And, some might say, at the same time that difficult.
It is a call that comes to communities of faith, to congregations, denominations, to families, to neighborhoods, towns, cities, and nations, to a whole world.
It calls us to turn from lives of self-interest to lives in which God’s interest in the well-being of all, in the “salvation” or healing of all, becomes our interest as well.
God sets all of this in motion through Jesus Christ, and God makes it happen through the Holy Spirit.
It is deliberate that we hear this call in Advent, as we begin the new liturgical year. And we repeat this call each year – because it is the truth we need to hear.
I close with a prayer from Howard Thurman which was written sometime in the 1950’s. Thurman was a product of his time, which explains the absence of inclusive language. But even today the prayer speaks to that longing for peace and the call to repentance on which we focus this second Sunday of Advent.
A Prayer for Peace
Our Father, fresh from the world with the smell of life upon us, we make an act of prayer in the silence of this place. Our minds are troubled because the anxieties of our hearts are deep and searching. We are stifled by the odor of death which envelops the earth because in so many places brother fights against brother. The panic of fear, the torture of insecurity, the ache of hunger – all have fed and rekindled ancient hatreds and long-forgotten memories of old struggles when the world was young and Thy children were but dimly aware of Thy presence in the midst. For all this we seek forgiveness. There is no one of us without guilt, and before Thee we confess our sins: we are proud and arrogant; we are selfish and greedy; we have harbored in our hearts and minds much that makes for bitterness, hatred , and revenge.
While we wait in Thy Presence, search our spirits and grant to our minds the guidance and the wisdom that will teach us the way to take, without which there can be no peace and no confidence anywhere. Teach us how to put at the disposal of Thy Purposes of Peace the fruits of our industry, the products of our minds, the vast wealth of our land, and the resources of our spirit. Grant unto us the courage to follow the illumination of this hour, to the end that we shall not lead death to any man’s door, but rather that we may strengthen the hands of all in high places and in common tasks who seek to build a friendly world of friendly men, beneath a friendly sky. This is the simple desire of our hearts which we share with Thee in quiet confidence.
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