A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on December 5, 2021
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
- In the first year of the presidency of Joe Biden,
- when Ned Lamont was governor of Connecticut
- while Darrell Goodwiin was the Conference Minister of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ,
- the Word of the Lord came to the people of the First Church UCC in Middletown, Connecticut.
Right now. Right here. Not in some far off time, yet to be determined. Not in some imaginary perfect place. But right here, right now.
Not when the paint’s been done. Not when the extra weight’s been lost. Not when the kids become perfect, or the ill are healed, and surely not when Captain Ahab finally catches the whale Moby-Dick. Right here, right now.
That’s when and where Jesus is. That’s where the baby will arrive. That’s where God is, all the time. Right here, in the midst of everything. That’s where God is.
If you are looking for God, you need not yearn for some far off place of imagined peace. God is not only in the stark landscape of, say, rural New Mexico, but here as well. God is not only in our summer homes, or when we are immersed in work, or hobby, or boating on the Connecticut.
Where we are, God is. Where God is, there is peace.
Don’t mistake God’s peace for a the quiet of an empty room. God’s peace isn’t the quiet of nothingness; it’s the peace of worthwhile purpose and meaning. God’s peace is not the lack of human contact; it’s in the hurly-burly of helping those in need. God’s peace falls on those who make our world better – the policeman working the early morning shift; the school bus driver on yet another cold morning, the clerk at the big box store who greets every customer.
And don’t confuse the activity of God’s peace for the chaos of ordinary life. God’s peace is in the midst of life, but it’s not that never-ending pile of laundry, or the never-empty sink of dishes.
God’s peace is in the midst of the chaos of daily life. It is found as we pay attention not just to what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it.
Martin Luther, the great founder of the Reformation, used to say that any work we do, any task we undertake, can be a way of being in God’s presence when we do it intentionally.
I don’t think he ever said that would be eternally easy. After all, he and his wife had six children – this in a time when no one had yet invented the stove, refrigerator, or even indoor plumbing. They kept open house for all Luther’s students, and rented out rooms in their home (a former monastery) to make money. I think it’s fair to expect that that home was more than a little chaotic. In the midst of all that, the Luther family nurtured a sense of God’s peace.
Have you seen the on-line Christmas commercial that features a dad dancing with his baby son? It shows dad dancing for the son in all sorts of places as the son grows up. At first, it’s just about dad having fun, you know? And then it seems to mostly be about the kid’s discomfort as he hits the teen years… but then comes the final scene. A phone is ringing in the dad’s home; he searches for it and finds it in a Christmas present box. He opens the present and answer the new smart phone – and there is his son, dancing with a newborn grandchild.
I’m betting that for a long time, that son thought the dancing was all about his father, and maybe even his dad’s attempts to embarrass him… but on the day he first picked up his own child, he realized that the dancing was a way of showing his child the love and joy of life. It’s all about being clear as to why you’re doing what you do and bringing your why and your what together.
That’s harder than it should be. It’s harder, not because there’s something wrong with us. It’s harder because we’re going through a terrible time. We didn’t expect this, couldn’t plan for it. We’re all stressed; we hoped that COVID would be completely gone by now, and instead we keep getting new variants. Yes, things are better than last year; but they’re not where we thought they’d be. We’re still wearing masks. Life still doesn’t feel safe, reliable…. even at our safest, we’re a little hesitant to go to concerts or gather with the family. Life is harder than it should be, and that means it’s more wearing.
It’s easier, these days, to work off our frustration by being snarky. It feels good to upset people. One of my favorite cartoons has a story running right now about three eighth-graders… one of whom is always critical of the clothes or hair of the other two. “Wow,” she says, “that sweater is…ummm…. really bulky, isn’t it?” or “that hairstyle is very nice, very third grade”…. and the others are totally upset. That’s what our world feels like these days.
Here’s the thing: we don’t need to be stuck in that hard place. We’ll go there, from time to time, but we don’t need to stay there. We can, with intentionality, re-focus ourselves on each day. Because God’s good news comes to us, right where we are, right in the midst of our struggle to live in good, kind, and loving ways.
The peace of God, then, comes to us most clearly when we are trying to live our lives in accordance with God’s way, when we are trying to be people of peace, when we are trying to sustain justice, show mercy, create love, be followers of Jesus Christ in this Advent season.
© 2021, Virginia H. Child