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Call to Worship and Lighting of the Advent Wreath
On this second Sunday of Advent,
as we look to the coming of the Christ child,
and we come together to join our hearts in peace.
ALL: (respond in local chat using the words that follow)
Christ comes to bring justice, wholeness, and harmony
to every relationship throughout all creation.
The Christic presence continually grants us peace in every situation.
Advent is a time to learn the ways of peace. We set aside the quarrelsome nature that we sometimes cultivate and seek the path of peace that connects us to the Creator in the love we share. Today we light the candle of Peace to stand with and burn bright with the candle of Hope.
We light the first candle of Advent
This Prayer for Peace comes from page 30 in the Union Prayer book, a Classical Reform Judaism prayer book.
Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, Eternal Source of peace and enable our people Israel to be its messenger to all the world. Bless our country, that it may ever be a pursuer of peace and its advocate in the council of nations. May contentment reign within our borders, health and happiness within our homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship and harmony among the inhabitants of all lands. Plant virtue in every soul and may our love for You hallow every home and every heart. We praise you, O God, Giver of peace. Amen
A reading from the prophet Micah (4.3)
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks.”
The Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Peace cannot be achieved through violence; it can only be attained through understanding.”
Matthew (3.1-2, 11, 12b, The Inclusive Bible)
At this time John the baptizer appeared in the desert…proclaiming, ‘Change your hearts and minds, for the reign of heaven is about to break in upon you!… [He said to approaching Sadducees and Pharisees] I will baptize you in water if you have a change of heart, but the One who will follow me is more powerful than I. I’m not fit even to untie the sandals of the Coming One! That One will baptize you in the holy Spirit and fire…the chaff will be burned in unquenchable fire
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
Shalom! It’s used as a greeting and as a goodbye. It’s the equivalent of prefacing every interaction with a prayer for peace and adding that prayer to every leaving. It’s a beautiful use of the word and the concept.
We shared the beautiful prayer for peace from the Union Prayer Book at the beginning of the service. This prayer often calls forth deep emotion whenever I read or say the prayer. It touches something very deeply within me and reminds me that peace underlies every good thing in life. When I read it my mind wanders what might happen if just for one day the world read this prayer over and over until we begin to believe that peace really is our inheritance as children of God. Sadly we too often depart from peace and make our own way in selfishness and hatred. And that brings us to our gospel reading for today.
In our gospel lesson today Pharisees and Sadducees are symbols of people who make pious action but do not change their daily lives. As usual I’m the voice of caution when referring to the Pharisees and Sadducees to make sure that we find the current day corollary for them in our daily lives rather than simply leaving them mentioned and risk giving the impression that the Jewish leaders of the day were somehow worse than religious leaders of our day.
John calls these Pharisees and Sadducees “you brood of vipers.” I literally remember the day in my childhood when I realized that these words are the equivalent of calling someone name, something I was forbidden to do. John, speaking to them, says in my translation… “You bunch of snakes! Who warned you there’d be hell to pay? You can’t just rest on your laurels and say ‘We’re children of Abraham’ so we’re special. You have to amend your behavior like everyone else! Actions speak louder than words or rituals.”
Teshuva is the Hebrew word for repentance. It means “return.” Teshuva is not just for Yom Kippur! This concept is most present in Judaism in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The period of self-examination comes as the New Year dawns and culminates as the gates of heaven are open on Yom Kippur. It is marked by confession, making amends, and coming before God to ask forgiveness.
Sound familiar? It’s the same theological basis upon which repentance is based in Christianity. Admitting our shortcomings, doing our best to right whatever wrong has occurred and for which we were responsible, accepting God’s forgiveness and moving on amending our behavior to do our best to avoid the same mistake.
Repentance is not about sin. It is about forgiveness. It is not about death. It’s about life. Repentance is about returning to our true selves not becoming someone else. And it is a normal and natural part of life. We are not expected to be perfect. We are simply asked to be awake and alert to when we fall short of the goal and be willing to make changes that cause our life course to be changed.
I know you all have probably heard my favorite analogy on this topic. In a boat on the ocean a slight change in the position of the rudder will show no immediate change in direction. But when that change is held over a long period of time where we land is dramatically different than if we had made not change at all.
Now let’s move on to one of the scariest passages of scripture for me as a child. The end of our reading today was used to preach the “turn or burn” sermons I heard as a child reminding me that if I didn’t repent I was doomed to a literal burning hell. I’ve come to be grateful for my upbringing the little Southern Baptist churches with my father and other preachers standing on the edge of the podium preaching hell fire and damnation. Because I can relate to those who still harbor those beliefs and minister to them in a way that I would not otherwise be able to do.
I now understand this business about the wheat the chaff very differently than I did in my childhood to my mid adult life. My immature view of this passage cast people in the roll of wheat and chaff. Some of us are wheat, some of us chaff… wheat and chaff, good and bad. At some point I realized that wheat and chaff are two parts of us, not “us and them.”
I like this image of wheat growing in the field. I saw this a lot as a child. There was a very large wheat field next to my grandmother’s house in South Carolina. You can see in this photo the grains of wheat embedded in what we call chaff.
It’s a great metaphor for the idea that the true nature of ourselves is embedded in our day-to-day lives. It is leafed between the everyday mundane things we do for work and play. And the wheat growing in the field makes clear that what we come to call chaff is what feeds and nurtures the grains of wheat until they are mature. In other words, we have to make some mistakes to learn and grow. It’s a beautiful image to think of wheat growing in a field, the tiny grains of wheat uplifted and even nourished by the stalk, stem, and leaves. Once the wheat is harvested the grain must be separated from the chaff.
I think John is saying that Jesus showing us the way to sweeping our lives clean and ordering our actions to make a better and happier life. Our lives will be filled with wheat and chaff. Our goal is to live so that when we are remembered the chaff is swept away in memory and only the grains of goodness we sewed remain.
Peace on earth is what we say this season is about. We can play a role in bringing about God’s shalom by our daily actions. Advent is a good time to revisit the chaff in our lives and clear it out preparing the way for peace.
What are the tools we can use to reorient out lives? What compass can we use to get our lives moving in the direction of peace, shalom? In the Jewish text Pirkei Avot is this passage: "[Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: It is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it.”
Our task it so return to ourselves, to our true nature made in the image of a loving creator. Our work and our call is to see injustice and do our part to bring about God’s realm of justice love. These are the things that bring us peace.