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Advent 2 – Peace
December 6, 2020
I can’t think of a better fable for wrapping up 2020 than the one about a king whose kingdom was in turmoil.
The economy had turned sour.
A neighboring prince was threatening to invade.
His daughter was engaged to a prince he didn’t much like.
All these problems left him consumed with anxiety, and so he sent word throughout his kingdom that he would give a bag of gold to the artist who could create a painting that would bring peace to his heart.
On the appointed day for the judging, nearly a hundred paintings were submitted, and the king spent his entire afternoon walking among the easels displaying the entries.
Many were skillful visions of tranquility.
There were doves, sunrises and portraits of beautiful women picnicking beside gurgling brooks, but none of them brought a sense of peace to his troubled heart.
As he turned away in despair, he spied a painting of mountains and a lake, but in this one the lake was stormy with white-capped waves, the mountains were jagged, and the clouds were thunderous.
And crashing down the side of one mountain was a raging river that plunged into a violent waterfall.
At first the king was angered that someone submitted such a turbulent scene, but then something caught his eye: behind the foaming waterfall was a bush, and in the bush was a mother bird sitting perfectly at peace.
To everyone’s surprise, he awarded the bag of gold to that artist, “Because,” the King explained, “It reminds me that peace does not mean being in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.
Peace means being in the midst of all those things and yet being calm in your heart.
One critical step to living in peace despite the trials and temptations of daily life is to mentally remove ourselves from center stage.
We can understand this idea by looking at the Song of Zachariah that Scott just read.
John’s story begins when an angel appeared to his elderly father, Zachariah, while he was on duty in the Temple.
You remember how Zachariah and his barren wife Elizabeth suffered from an intense longing for a child.
Much to their surprise, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that at long last God was granting their wish.
This is reminiscent of the Genesis account of elderly Abraham and Sarah, who were blessed with a child decades after their normal childbearing years.
The custom was that a boy would be named after his father – in this case, Zachariah, which means “God will remember.”
However, Gabriel said to name the child “John”, which means “The Lord shows grace”.
Well, when Zachariah expressed disbelief, Gabriel muted his ability to speak until after the child was born and correctly named as instructed.
John was an uncommon name at the time, so when it was announced, the family and friends did a doubletake and asked, “What then will this child become?”
In that culture, names carried great significance, and so going out of your way to name a child “God is gracious” must mean that he was to have a great destiny.
With that, Zachariah’s ability to speak returned and he burst out in song – it is traditionally called The Benedictus – or “Praise Be.
His song is broken into four stanzas.
In the first, Zachariah praises God for raising-up a Savior.
Luke 1:68 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people. …
Then in the second stanza, Zachariah reminds us that the Savior is the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises:
Luke 1:73-74 (God remembered) His holy covenant, …
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
The third stanza turns to the role of John, whose life mission is to prepare the way for the Savior.
Luke 1:76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him,
Then finally, the fourth stanza returns to the tender mercy of the Savior who will lead His people out of darkness and to peace.
Luke 1:79 … to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Now, step back and look at the big picture message Zacharia has for us:
Stanza one is about whom? Jesus.
Stanza two is about whom? Jesus.
Stanza three, is about whom? John.
And then stanza four is back to being about Jesus.
That is rather striking when I remember when my son was born at Kaiser Hospital on Sunset.
I thought that the sun would rise and set around this beautiful baby.
For months, I couldn’t take my eyes off him … he was the center of my world.
So, wouldn’t you think that a father, especially one who had spent his life praying for a child, would sing about his own boy?
Zachariah starts singing about Jesus.
He doesn’t get to his own child until the third stanza, and then he immediately starts singing about Jesus again.
What’s up with that?
Well, Zachariah had had nine long, silent months to think this through.
And so, from the very beginning, Zachariah makes it clear that the story of his son is only a part of a greater story about Jesus.
And that makes all the difference in John’s life … in fact, it changed history.
He is just the third stanza of the hymn.
He exists not to be the Savior, but to serve the Savior.
Not to be the center of his own little world, but to prepare the world for the Savior.
I do not miss the crowded shopping malls this year.
I’ve spent enough Holidays pressed shoulder to shoulder with stressed shoppers, each wrapped–up in their own little story, each trying to buy a fleeting experience of the joy that advertisers tell us Christmas is supposed to give us.
But the best kept secret of the holiday season is found right here in Zachariah’s hymn: Christmas is not about you or me.
Christmas is not about our hopes and dreams.
Christmas is about the hopes and dreams of Jesus – the dreams which we serve until they, eventually, become ours as well.
So, here’s my question:
What if, in addition to giving and receiving some wonderful Christmas packages, you also committed this coming year to an experiment?
What if you committed to orient your life totally around Jesus’ hopes rather than your own?
What if you said, “I’m pleased to just be the third stanza of the hymn; I’m pleased to be written into the song of life at all.
“I’ll put God center stage and put myself in a supporting role.”
That way, we can be part of the world’s story, but not owned by the world’s story.
That way, we can give the stresses and worries to God and just do our part in supporting how God handles things.
Tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed seventy-nine years ago, the story of our nation was forever changed.
Listening to the crackling-static radio reports, everyone knew in that moment that it did not matter what they had planned to do with their lives – they were no longer autonomous persons, but now “a people” grafted together, together determining the fate of the country.
My father was a pre-med student at UCLA, but that didn’t matter.
A few days after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was soon flying bombing missions over Germany.
Young and old, men and women, civilian and military, everyone understood themselves as part of their country that was now on a great mission.
They understood themselves as free but not autonomous.
By contrast, many of us today consider ourselves autonomous but we are not free.
By that I mean, we have become enslaved to the illusion that we are on our own to wring a little happiness out of our soulless world.
That is partly why we’re so divided as a nation.
We’re each desperately on individual searches for personal fulfillment and no longer thinking about the heart of the nation.
The more we see ourselves as autonomous, the more we feel alienated, isolated, and disconnected from unifying values and community concerns.
But the Christian faith calls us to step back from the center stage and put Jesus in the spotlight.
Jesus is not just another product or gimmick for us to try in our individual pursuit of fulfillment … Jesus did not come to prepare the way for us.
When we think that, we’ve got it exactly backward.
And when we get it backward, we end up as alienated people left to decide what is expedient for our personal benefit with little concern for our community.
And we are also left vulnerable and carrying the full emotional load of life.
If we even believe, then Jesus becomes just another tool to be pulled out when we need a lift.
No wonder there is so much depression and division in our country today.
So, try this experiment.
Say, I’m pleased to just be the third stanza of the hymn; I’m pleased to be written into the song of life at all.
I will put God at center stage and put myself in a supporting role.
I will give the stresses and worries to God and just do my part in supporting how God handles things.