“Second Sunday of Advent”: Mark 1:1-8


Rev. Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier
Kingston Congregational Church
Dec. 6, 2020
Isaiah 40:1-11
Mark 1:1-8


Peace Signs


Like many other parents, when our children were very young, we used to
able to trick them into a few moments of peace and calm by asking them if
they wanted to have “a quiet contest.” Usually played in the car, we’d say,
“Let’s have a contest and see who can be the quietest until we get home!”
Sometimes we would sweeten the pot with a reward, say a quarter, for
whomever could stay silent the longest. The lure of competition and the promise
of reward often gained us a good 5 minutes of peace, which in those years and
especially in the car, felt like a blessed eternity. As our children got older their
silence was not so easily bought, we sometimes resorted to simply imposing
quiet when the noise in the car got too loud. Or if we were lost or in traffic, or
otherwise stressed, sometimes the appeal for quiet came out more like a threat:
“Would you all just give me a moment’s peace!” But that kind of peace―peace
born of anger or enforced by intimidation―is really a misnomer. It might be quiet.
It might sit still. But it is not peace. Peace, as the Bible defines it―shalom is the
Hebrew word―is not fearful or cowering. Rather, “Shalom implies not simply the
absence of conflict but also the blessings of God, a full and whole life, fertility of
the land, and joy in community.” While frustrated parents or military dictators 1
might be content with pacification, peace on-the-surface-only is not peace.
Historians teach us about the “Pax Romana,” the peace of Ancient Rome
imposed on the lands they conquered; and indeed when that military
superpower held sway over the known world in the time of Christ there was a
certain calm that prevailed. But it was the calm of domination, the peace of
cooperation enforced at the point of a sword. It was not the peace promised
by the prophets and the psalmists; it was not the shalom of God, which goes so
much deeper than surface peace and superficial calm. Which reminds me of a
story.


I wonder if you have read and remember the book, The Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis? When the heroine of the book, Lucy Pevensie,
arrives in the land of Narnia through the doorway in the back of the wardrobe, it
is winter in that wooded land. In fact, it is always winter in Narnia, because the
white witch who fancies herself Queen has cast a spell over the land by which it
is always winter but never Christmas: cold and frozen but joyless.
Now, there is a special peace and quiet to snow covered woods. If you
have ever walked or skied through the woods on a winter’s night you know how
calm and quiet winter can be. And for a season it is lovely. But endless winter,
like enforced peace, is really suppression by another name. Put a wand in your
Wendy Wright. The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming. Nashville (Upper Room, 1992). P.131 1
hand and a crown on your head and you can achieve a certain amount of
cooperation and control. But not peace.


And that is sometimes our mistake as well. We equate peace with calm
and control, with placidness, with smooth surfaces and untroubled waters. But
peace―real peace, shalom―is not so much about calm and control as it is
about is about life lived fully and faithfully. Order is one thing and shalom is quite
another. As one author writing about the peace promised to us in Advent, put it,
“Peace has to do with the fullness of things, with lion and lamb lying down
together, not a world without lions.”


If Jesus could, on the eve of his own crucifixion, around a table of love
and sacrifice, say to his disciples, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” he
could not have been talking about calm and control. Their lives like his were
about to spin into disorder and disarray. No, the peace Christ brings, the peace
Christ lends us, is, as he says, “not as the world gives.” It must be a sort of peace
of heart or a centeredness of spirit that Christ makes available to us, because it
certainly is not a life without conflict. Because Jesus promised us that
too―conflict, that is. He said if we follow his way, and live his word, and love the
way he does―crossing boundaries, defying convention―our lives will know
conflict for we will be swimming upstream, moving against the tide of a world
that does not truly understand faith, hope and love, a world that mistakes calm
and control for peace.
Ibid. P.141 2


Wendy Wright, in her Advent book, The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season
of Christ’s Coming, writes:


The infant in the manger at Bethlehem comes with a message of peace,
an announcement that all sad divisions, all the irreconcilable pieces of our
public and private lives will be brought together in the celebration of
shalom―God’s blessing, God’s peace. This will not, I think, occur when all
conflict has ceased. For creative conflict is a necessary component of
growth. Rather, peace will reign when our forgiveness of self and others is
wide and deep enough to create new possibilities and, without the use of
violence, to transform our seeming impasses into new freedoms and joy.3
Peace, inner peace is a strength and quality of soul that does not shun
conflict out of fear but may even enter into it, seeking reconciliation and
transformation. God’s peace will probably look a lot more like spring than winter,
a lot more vibrant and alive, disruptive and disorderly, than a clean, quiet,
frozen surface. Real peace―Christ’s peace―just might wake us up to something
deep down inside us we never knew was there, changing our lives in alarming
but salvific ways.


Later on in the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, after Aslan
the Lion (the Christ figure in the story) has returned to Narnia and the battle to
save Narnia has begun, he and the two Pevensie girls, Lucy and Susan, leave
the heat of the battlefield and run to the Witch’s castle, where all is still, quiet
and calm. There in her courtyard and throughout her castle are granite-like
figures of creatures and animals she had turned to stone, “pacifying” them with
her wand when they proved a threat to her reign of joyless winter. In a
Ibid. P.142 3

wonderful scene of chaotic freedom, Aslan tears throughout the castle bringing
the stone-like, faithful Narnians to life by breathing on them. They will be needed
for good to triumph. And where once there was stillness and silence, there is
now movement, noise, and excitement―a tumult of life.
After his resurrection, according to the gospel of John, Jesus enters the
upper room, where the disciples had locked themselves away in fear, and
speaks these words, “Peace be with you,” and then breathed on them, and
said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” (John 20:20-22). And we know what
happened then: the church came alive―not always neat and orderly, but alive,
alive from within, stepping into action, engaging in the ministry of transformation
and love, as messy and imperfect as transformation and love can be, but
holding onto a peace of heart and fullness of spirit that the world cannot take
away.


That kind of peace, the peace of Christ, God’s shalom, is lived in a world
filled with lions as well as lambs. Jesus said, “I have said this to you that in me you
may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I
have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And so, in Advent we wait, and hope,
and prepare for the One Isaiah said would change the very landscape of the
world―lifting valleys, lowering mountains―and John said would fully immerse us,
baptize us, into the energetic freedom of the Holy Spirit―we wait for that One to
bring life and light into our lives and into this world that God so loves. So, while
we wait, while we prepare a place in our hearts and a place in this
tribulating world, let us remember his words: “Peace be with you. Receive the
Holy Spirit.” Settle for nothing less than the vibrant, living, transformative
―disruptive even― peace of Christ. Even now it is breaking through the frozen
surface of a world that all too often mistakes placidness for peace. But, be of
good cheer, he is so much bigger, so much fuller, so much more than that. The
mountains and valleys are rumbling already. Praise God for the change real
peace will bring!
Amen.

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