Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 24, 2017
Isaiah 9:2, 6 – New Revised Standard Version
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
For unto us a child has been born, called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.”
The story is told of Autherine Lucy. She was the first African American student accepted to the University of Alabama after a federal judge handed down an edict that the university could no longer deny admission to persons based on race. But on the day Autherine got to campus, a mob jumped on top of the car in which she was riding. As she walked across campus, eggs were thrown at her. Bricks were thrown at her. There were cross burnings. Chaos reigned. Finally, the president and trustees of the University told Autherine to leave “for her own safety” and the safety of the University. The day after she was dismissed, newspapers expressed their relief. The headlines read: “Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today.” “There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama.”
A few weeks ago, when I began to think about my message on Christmas Eve, I thought, “I’m tired of talking about the latest heart-breaking crime against human decency.” The outrageousness of each morning’s most recent tweet. While I love the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I hate the reality of it.
So, I decided I’m not going to talk about
No, I thought, we’ve had enough. I concluded, tonight is just for real glee and jubilance and delight. Peace on earth, goodwill to men, women, and children everywhere. Sound good?
Except that story, told by Martin Luther King Jr., called to me. He noted that, of course, the peace of which newspapers spoke was not peace; not the achievement of something positive but the absence of tension. And, at that, only temporarily. I took Dr. King to heart and realized that if I decided not to talk about the modern examples of gleeful cruelty by King Herod and Caesar Augustus; if I ignored the delight in enabling a greedy Empire, and all the rest, it wouldn’t mean we could enjoy a peaceful Christmas Eve. We could, but it would mean we have achieved our idyllic silence and blissful peace on the backs of damned.
If we shut our mouths in the face of injustice, we can achieve peace. Or, if not peace, at least its deception. We can achieve peace if we simply accept that it is OK for the poor to be sacrificed on the feasting tables of the rich. Or, if not peace, at least a moment of delusion. You understand. Sure, it’s peace. But it’s what Dr. King called an “obnoxious peace.”
I was taken by the notion of “obnoxious peace.” But with a different twist. Finding ways to be obnoxious until it is real, genuine, and authentic. You and I are worldly enough and sophisticated enough to already know that peace is not the absence of tension or anger. What is it? It is the positive presence of justice and fraternity. We also know that, until then, there won’t be peace on earth, goodwill to men, women, and children everywhere. So, Good Christian Friends, what do we do in the meantime?
On Christmas Eve, we rejoice in the birth of the Prince of Peace. Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting. But, curiously, Jesus himself declared “I’ve not come to bring peace but a sword.” Put that into a Christmas carol and try to sing it!
What does Jesus mean? Surely, he wasn’t speaking of a literal weapon. This is not scriptural justification for pistol-packin’ preachers everywhere. So, was Jesus speaking, perhaps, of making a dramatic gesture of discontent? Engard! Whatever it is, it certainly means he will not settle for obnoxious peace.
Christmas Eve is the conclusion of the season of Advent. Behind me you can see the banners representing Advent’s four themes. We proclaim that in the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, tonight is the fulfillment of those themes. O Little Town of Bethlehem says it so beautifully, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Yes, here tonight!
And in that spirit, here tonight, I want to ask you to do something. I want to ask you to be a little more obnoxious, by means of love. But be careful of the love of mere sappy Christmas sentiment. I ask you for the real, genuine, and authentic kind that Jesus taught. Love that is deep and profound. And difficult. At times, even obnoxious.
Jesus taught about love for God – the whole-body, heart, mind, soul, and strength kind of love. He taught about loving our neighbor as our self. All of them. Yada, yada, yada. Yet unpleasant, problematic neighbors are one thing. More difficult, most difficult, is his doggone insistence that we “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” Talk about obnoxious.
So, I want to share quickly and briefly three things Dr. King said about how we love our enemies. 
“First,” he said, “we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.” Not to ignore what has been done or to put a false label on an evil act. In fact, we must continue to resist all the methods and means of hatred and violence, whether we’re in front of the White House or on the streets of Denver – and then not settling for obnoxious peace. Sitting in the hallways of Congress demanding it. Staying on the phone until they block our number. But – and it’s a big but – underneath it all, under the resistance, we must believe in reconciliation with our neighbors. Resistance for the sake of reconciliation with the neighborhood that is our nation, including those called enemies, all the way to friending again those whom we have blocked.
It’s simple. Well, maybe not simple, but we must simply believe that we will come together again. Not just once again when, one day, someone else is in power, but today. Tonight. Jesus’ birth was an act of reconciliation with a world that deeply troubled God. God kept trying, through various means, like prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah and Amos and more. But this time, God tried by becoming one of us. Bottom line: All the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love begin and end in the pursuit of reconciliation.
Second, we must remember that an element of goodness may be found in even the worst enemy. And, we must also remember, there is some element of evil in us too. But no one is beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love. As Bryan Stevenson says of men and women on death row, we are all more than our worst mistake.
Third, we must not seek to humiliate our enemies but win their friendship and understanding.
However, I must say, when I hear Steve Bannon and his white supremacist “good people on both sides, believe me” buddies; when klansmen and neo-nazis quote the 48 Laws of Power, and specifically Law Number 15 to “Crush your enemy totally,” I have to wonder if I’m just being a sucker. Because really, how do we respond to those who quote:
1. Do not sympathize with your enemies. That gives them time to strike at you.
2. When you hope for reconciliation, it will make you hesitate. You’ve got to destroy them first or they will destroy you.
3. Give your enemies nothing to negotiate, no hope, no room to maneuver.
When you hear statements like that, perhaps we have to start first with the question “why” before answering “how” to love our enemies. Yes, we can pray for those who persecute you; sure, I get that. And then move on. But why does Jesus insist on the deeper, more profound, and profoundly more difficult “love” for our enemies?
If you remember Dr. King’s famous line, we’ll know why: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Just remember the mantra: When they go low, we go high.
Secondly, why do we love our enemies? Because hate destroys us and any hope of our own wholeness.
Lastly, why do we love our enemies? Because we never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate. Only with the hope of reconciliation. Through forgiveness. That’s the source of real joy.
Of course, while reconciliation must be part of healing process, there can be no healing while wounds are still being inflicted. For example, upon the poor, against refugees, Muslims, people of color, transgender people – whether in Washington or at home. That’s why the people of God, the followers of Jesus, must practice the kind of love which Jesus taught.
Only that is the antidote to obnoxious peace.
“My friends,” Dr. King said, “we have followed the so-called practical way for too long now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hate and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of humankind, we must follow another way.”
The way of love. The way to peace. By the presence and persistence of obnoxious people. Of course, in full disclosure, to be clear, an obnoxious Jesus was ultimately executed. But the hatred that tried to destroy him only created a movement of people – here, tonight, I pray – committed to being obnoxious. Until justice reigns. And reconciliation reunites our country. And our neighborhoods. And our families. When we can truly proclaim with glee, jubilance and delight: Peace on earth, goodwill to all men, women, and children everywhere. Sound good?
It’s already happening. Women are being believed. A child predator was not elected. The name of our former KKK mayor is being removed from groups and organizations, just like the Confederate statues that keep coming down. Access to marriage equality continues to grow, now coming to Australia, the 25th nation around the globe. A black man was elected mayor of the Montana state capital, a transgender woman to the state legislature, repudiating the self-described “chief homophobe of Virginia.” The arc is long, sometime achingly long, but it ultimately bends toward justice.
“For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
For unto us a child has been born, called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting, the Prince of Peace”
 Mathew 10:34
 Christmas sermon, 1957 “Loving Your Enemies”
 Read his book Just Mercy