Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 6, 2020
“May the Peace of Christ Be with You”
Isaiah 40: 1-9
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 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.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 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.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
“The peace of Christ be with you.” I miss saying that and hearing the rumble of 100 people saying back “And also with you.” I guess, like a lot of other things, a lot of other things, I took that for granted. So, let’s do the next best thing: When I say, “the peace of Christ be with you,” type “And also with you” in the comments or chat on Facebook or YouTube or Zoom. Or, if you’re watching on a big screen TV with no keyboard, send me an email later. I’d love to “hear” those words from 100 of you again. It would feel like a little bit of normal. I’ll give you a minute.
And now, like we do in the worship service, if you are watching with someone, turn to your neighbor and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.”
Today is traditionally Peace Sunday on our Advent journey, words set by the opening line from the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures for today – also known as the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah proclaims “Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God.” Speak tenderly. Peacefully.
Let me quickly point out that the “Book” of Isaiah is really three documents put together from three distinct periods hundreds of years apart. First Isaiah is a warning to the nation to change its ways, to end injustice toward widows and orphans and so much more, or they will suffer the consequences. They didn’t. So, in Second Isaiah, in the midst of suffering the consequences of their inaction, having been dragged off to exile to sing songs of Zion in a foreign land, the prophet now promises that one day they shall return home, with this beautiful imagery: through valleys lifted up and mountains made low, where uneven ground has become level and rough places plain.
Our reading today from chapter 40 is the beginning of Second Isaiah. It is that promise of their return home one day. Unfortunately, Third Isaiah is how they returned home and found everything in ruins.
But back to Second Isaiah. The promise. As the text says, her debt has been paid. Eugene Peterson translates verse two: “She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.” Doesn’t that sound good!?
Yes! It’s over! Ding, dong, the witch is dead. Hallelujah! We made it! At noon on January 20, having held our collective breath for four years, we will finally breathe again. What a relief! As Isaiah said, “We’ve been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.” Amen.
The president-elect even promised on Thanksgiving, “Life is going to return to normal.” That feels so good. Peace in the land. Fewer tweets. But as Robert Reich said, returning to normal would be disastrous for America. An end to the constant lies will be wonderful, but do we really want “normal?”
Everyone has heard of Dr. King’s March on Washington speech, “I Have a Dream.” We call it his “I Have a Dream” speech. But do you know what its actual title was? “Normalcy – Never Again.” Wow. Did you know that?
Therefore, God forbid we ever consider “normal” acceptable again – especially if we equate normal with peace. Perhaps what we really want are boring politicians. Boring, competent people doing their jobs without scandal. But boring doesn’t bring about peace, or at least, the peace of Christ.
As you’ve no doubt heard before, peace is not the absence of tension. Peace is the presence of justice.
Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor of Jesus’ time, could bring about peace – through conquest, through violence and force. He even called himself the Prince of Peace, among other titles like Divine, Son of God, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. But living under Caesar’s peace meant Roman domination. His “peace” was one of brutality, poverty, and oppression.
That’s one reason to for us to say, “The peace of Christ be with you;” not just peace be with you. Other forms of peace might require the subjugation of those who say, “And also with you.”
Caesar’s peace required the silence of suffering people. Silence about suffering will make things appear peaceful. Protesters are often charged with “disturbing the peace.” The peace of Christ, however, requires health and wholeness – shalom. Not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.
So, when I say, “May the peace of Christ be with you,” I don’t want us to simply celebrate and settle for an end to drama in our land, quietness, but a renewed commitment for a noisy push for that which will bring justice. There can be no peace without an end to suffering, without holding those who cause suffering to be accountable.
The church in America, the white church in America, has often tried to trade silence for peace. That is not the peace of Christ.
May that peace of Christ be with you – and the whole world – now and every day forevermore.
I love being the