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In the Neighborhood: Peace

December 01, 2014

Reblogged from:  Matt Rawle

In the Neighbordhood GraphicAdvent is a peculiar season. It is a season of waiting for a Messiah we know has come. It is a time to meditate on the peace, hope, love, and joy Christ established, and yet we pray for these gifts to come into fruition. When we sing, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” we sing not to herald the Christ-child so much as to announce that God’s incarnational work of peace, hope, love, and joy which began in the humble manger continues today. It is a time to celebrate that God put on skin to save the skin we’re in, and it all began with a word.
 
“In the beginning was the Word,” John announces. John’s Gospel harkens us back to the beginning of everything, before there was anything. On this first Sunday of the Christian year it is appropriate for us to turn our thoughts to the beginning of creation. God spoke, and things happened. Like most of scripture frequency does not exhaust its meaning. You can read the story over and over again and still discover something new about
 
God’s love. We could talk about how God first created light and separated the darkness from it. We could talk about how the creation story is a beautiful marriage between the “how” of science and the why of “faith.” We could talk about God creates through permission not power. “Let there be,” is quite different than “There shall be.” It is an inexhaustible story, but today I invite you to hear the creation account as a time in which God spoke and things happened. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” God spoke, and things . . . everything happened.
 
Last week I had the chance to take a walk around the neighborhood and I ran into Ms. Lilly. She was going one way and I was going the next, so we crossed paths a few times. Eventually I noticed that I was gaining ground on her, which was odd because I wasn’t going very fast. I asked her about this the next time we passed, and she said, “Every time I see someone I stop. When I take a walk I exercise my jaw.” Words matter.
 
Words are how we begin relationship. Creation reminds us that there was a time when God spoke and things happened. Then there came a time when God spoke, and those powerful words began falling on deaf ears. In Romans 8, Paul says:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
In the immediate context Paul is talking about the resurrection at the end of the age, but again the season of Advent is a season of kingdom waiting—waiting for what is at hand but not yet complete. I love how Paul expresses Creation groaning under the weight of separation from God. As God’s people turned away, the prophets began filling this space with words about a coming messiah.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ (Isaiah 40:1-5)
Do you hear the language—“God is speaking and again something is happening.” Much like when God looked upon the nothingness of creation and spoke so that there would be light, God looks upon the despair and darkness of the world and God’s word put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood so that light could be in our midst forever and ever.
 
Advent is a time of waiting for that light to grow, but our wait is neither passive nor idle. Advent is a time of preparing—“Joy to the world, the lord is come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room.”
 
Now is the time to plan. Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to organize. This light, this Word will be veiled in flesh. It is a Word with meat on it! It is a Word immersed in action. Part of the blessing of being connected to the church is that you know how active the waiting of Advent can be. Adorning the sanctuary is an act of worship in and of itself. The Hanging of the Greens is not a means of decorating the sanctuary; it is creating an environment for revolution. We surround ourselves with the symbols of our faith to inspire the church to go out into the world to reveal God’s light that disperses the darkness, the evergreen life that death cannot destroy. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. In him was life, and the life was light. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
 
Then scripture says that the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. God’s revolution in the person of Jesus Christ is easy to talk about until it’s happening on your lawn. What would it look like for Jesus to move into the neighborhood? If the Holy Family were looking for a place to stay and they knocked on your door, would you let them in? In order to imagine what it would look like for Jesus to move into the neighborhood, we must first let Jesus in to our own living room. Let every heart prepare him room. What does that mean for you? Maybe that means you need to join a small group so that you might read and pray and share with your church family. Maybe this means that the first gift you offer is an offering to the work of the church, or better yet, every dollar you spend on stuff you match with a dollar offered to the church. Maybe preparing him room means starting the difficult work of ending a destructive habit. Maybe preparing him room means to practice the spiritual discipline of listening. Where there is anger, where there is protest, where there is violence, where there is war, there is no listening. In Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent J. Donovan tells a story about how the Masai tribe in east Africa resolves conflict. When there is a disagreement within the tribe the two parties sit down and listen to each other until one’s opponent can detail the other’s point of view to his satisfaction. Only after both parties can detail the other’s point of view is when discussion of resolution can begin. Imagine if this would happen in Ferguson, MO. Imagine if this would happen before a senate debate. Imagine if this would happen in Israel and Palestine. Imagine if this would happen in your living room.
 
Our Advent journey is one that begins with peace. It is a peace born from a Word made flesh who moved into the neighborhood. Let every heart prepare him room. Amen and Amen.