Scripture Readings: Isaiah 11:1–10 | Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19 | Romans 15:4–13 | Matthew 3:1–12
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)
Last week we began our journey through Advent, the season of anticipation and waiting for the coming of Christ, not only at Christmas, the celebration of His birth, but also at His final arrival to bring the story of our present, conflicted world to its completion… ushering in the Kingdom of God and the rule of our Risen Prince of Peace.
Each Sunday in Advent, we contemplate a different aspect of the Christian life that Jesus has shared with us now, and that point us toward His future reign. Last week, we explored the gift of Hope. Today we contemplate Peace. And what better gift could we and our troubled world want to receive?
But the peace of Christ’s Kingdom might not quite be what we or our world would bargain for. His peace is not for the faint of heart… but for those who long for true life.
Most often, we tend to think of peace as merely the absence of conflict… the lack of waves rocking the boat, so to speak. But biblical peace is about a much deeper reality, not simply stillness on the surface, but the complete union… the coming together and working in harmony of those who could pursue conflict, but who instead create something more: a community where all alike are truly embraced and blessed.
This is exactly the beautiful vision Isaiah offered us this morning in our first reading, offering images of God’s promised peace that seem to have no place in our world today:
“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” (Isaiah 11:6-8)
Each creature in this vision remains what they are, but are no longer a threat to one another. Even the most natural and ingrained enmity and conflicts shall cease. This is the vision that Isaiah offers of the future reign of the LORD.
But as St. Paul reminds us, in our second reading, God’s future Kingdom has already come to us in Christ, opening up unexpected avenues for His peace to be at work in the lives of His people. As I mentioned last week, much of the Letter to the Romans deals with the coming together of two very different communities bound together by their faith in Jesus Christ: the Jewish Christians, descendants of Abraham who were the first to receive the truth of the Gospel… and the Gentile believers, non-Jewish Romans, Greeks, and other Mediterranean peoples who were now being drawn to towards the light of Jesus Christ.
St. Paul goes to great pains in this letter to show how both communities, with all of their differences, are now one in Christ, that their old suspicions and grudges and prejudices must be set aside so that they can share together in the new life of God.
St. Paul writes: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5-7). Far from some future ideal, St. Paul claims that God’s peace is to be our Christian calling now. Our new pattern of life, even in the messiness of the present… and how the Living God is glorified, and His Kingdom made known.
And yet… today we have to ask: are we Christians really known for living together in peace? Are we able to come together despite our significant differences, and work in harmony? Or like everyday wolves and lambs, are we more likely to tear each other down, or simply hide and have nothing to do with our brothers and sisters who aren’t in our community?
How often have we struggled to live in harmony with our own fellow parishioners here at St. Luke’s? Perhaps not in open conflict, but in closing off our hearts to one another?
And how often are we Christians actively seeking the wholeness, the healing, the peace of our wider communities? Seeking out ways to share with our neighbours this gift we all truly need?
My sense is that we Christians can get pretty good at not rocking the boat… at avoiding outright conflict, if we want to. But I think many of us, including myself, have a whole lot to learn about practicing God’s kind of peace… which as our Gospel lesson this morning reminds us, calls us towards wholeness, completeness, and harmony well beneath the surface… and which will cause a stir, and even makes some waves if we choose to truly pursue it.
Today we heard, in Matthew Chapter 3, probably one of the least peaceful sermons, as John the Baptist confronts some members of the religiously devout Pharisee movement, and the well-connected Sadducees, who ran the Temple, when they came out to hear John and be baptized in the wilderness. Matthew 3:7-8 “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Turn around. Don’t just go along with the crowds, or show off your piety. God’s Kingdom isn’t about the surface, appearance of holiness or goodness… or public opinion… its about lives realigned with the Living God… re-oriented to walk in His ways.
Change what needs changing beneath the surface, John says to them, and us, because one much greater than John is on the way to set God’s world right at last.
Matthew 3:11-12 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Sifting, discerning, judging between what is true and false, what is godly and wicked, what is wholesome wheat and what is worthless chaff… to bring about true peace… harmony beneath the surface… John’s challenge reminds us that truth is itself essential.
Isn’t this what we see at work even today? When we try to hide our wickedness, our brokenness, our evil from the eyes of others, we cut ourselves off from any chance of genuine peace. When we prefer to live a lie, their can be no harmony… either inside our hearts, or between the people in our lives.
One powerful example of this was shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, on his recent trip to visit war-torn Ukraine. Despite vigorous attempts by the Russian leadership to reframe the story of what they have done, and are doing to their Ukrainian neighbours, and despite the many increasing pressures to bring an immediate end to the conflict, Archbishop Welby chose instead to call for our increased commitment to the truth.
The following comes from a recent BBC article: While visiting the city of Bucha, “He suggested there could be no peace in Ukraine until Russia "stops lying" about what it is doing, including the massacre of civilians in Bucha…
‘There were atrocities committed here. There will be no peace until we stop lying.
We have to tell the truth however painful. There can be no way forward based on lies.’
Before leaving Bucha, the archbishop lit a candle in a chapel beneath St Andrew's church and began a prayer with the words, ‘our hearts cry out in anger and protest’, and [he] called for peace and for justice.”
There can be no true peace without truth. This is true in Ukraine, and in our own lives as well.
We dare not settle for surface level calmness, while our wounds and our wrongs go unchecked underneath, where no one sees. We too need to turn around, to change what needs changing… to deal with the damage we’ve done, and which has also been done to us.
We not only need to take seriously the Christian practice of confession… of regularly telling the truth to ourselves, and each other, and especially to God… but we also need something more than telling the truth… to we need a Saviour. We need Someone who knows the truth about us all and can put us all back together. Someone who can sort out the mess we have made of the world, once and for all.
This is precisely the promise that we affirm each week when we confess our faith using the words of the ancient Creeds of the Church, when we say we believe that Jesus Christ the risen Lord will return “to judge the living and the dead”.
We are confessing that Christ will come again, to shed God’s light on everyone, establishing the truth forever, and exposing every lie... even the ones we don’t even know we believe, but are still getting in the way of our attempts at peace. As the scholar Ben Myers reminds us: “The judgment that Christ brings, moreover, is not just a division between two kinds of people. When Christ’s light shines into our lives, it creates a division within ourselves. None of us is entirely good or entirely bad. Each of us is a mixture. The bad grows up in our lives like weeds among the wheat, and the two are so closely entwined that in this life we can’t easily tell the difference (Matt 13:24–30). Sometimes our worst mistakes turn out to produce good fruit. And sometimes we discover that our virtues have produced unforeseen collateral damage. Our lives are not transparent to ourselves. We cannot easily tell where the bad ends and the good begins.”
We can’t have peace without the truth… but none of us knows the whole truth. All of us get tripped up at times by lies.
Which is why it’s such Good News that Jesus is coming again “to judge the living and the dead”… that nothing can be hidden that will not be brought to light and properly dealt with. That all wrongs will be made right. That all injustice will be sorted out once and for all. That Christ is coming as God’s chosen one to clear the way for everlasting peace. As Isaiah put it:
“He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” (Isaiah 11:3-5)
In short, the Prince of peace is not coming simply to make us play nice, but to bring wholeness and healing and harmony to our broken world. To uncover every lie, that the truth may be fully known. But beyond Isaiah’s and even John’s wildest expectations, at His appearing Christ came not to slay the wicked, but to be slain for them… and for us all… completely offering up His life to win our full forgiveness.
He allowed Himself to be crucified to reconcile us to God… to completely repair the shattered relationship between us and our Creator.
His gift of love at the cross completely exposed our human unwillingness to live God’s way… as we killed the Prince of peace in the most barbaric and public display.
But it’s precisely through this atrocity that Christ was working to bring about God’s complete peace… providing for our pardon and forgiveness through His broken body and poured out blood.
Knowing full well how horrid we humans have been to ourselves, to each other, and to our world… Christ was and is completely committed to our re-creation… our transformation… our participation in the Peace of the Living God, He alone can share.
“So it is a comfort” Ben Myers goes on to say “to know that one day someone else will come and lovingly separate the good from the bad in our lives. The confession that Christ will come as judge is not an expression of terror and doom. It is part of the good news of the gospel. It is a joy to know that there is someone who understands all the complexities and ambiguities of our lives. It is a joy to know that this one—the only one who is truly competent to judge—is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He comes to save, not to destroy, and he saves us by his judgment.”
True Peace is a precious gift of God in Jesus Christ… offered to us now at the cross, and which will one day fill the whole world completely when He returns. And we are invited to take part in God’s peace today by receiving His forgiveness: by allowing His light to shine on our lives, so we can see and confess our need for our Saviour, trusting in Christ’s mercy and saving love at work in the cross.
And as we receive His pardon and peace, Christ begins to share His peace through us… drawing us together to take part in God’s truth, and embody His forgiveness… not only with each other, but with our troubled world. Pointing forward to the day when the reign of the Prince of Peace will be complete, and helping all those around us experience this precious gift even now… so that they may join us in praising God, and preparing for His Kingdom to come.
So, this Advent, in the words of St. Paul: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13). Amen.
 Sarah Rainsford in Bucha and Andre Rhoden-Paul in London Archbishop of Canterbury: Russian invasion must not succeed (BBC News, Friday December 2, 2022) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-63833573
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 92–93.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 93.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School