Advent 2, December 4, 2022 PEACE

First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
  and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
  the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
  the spirit of counsel and might,
  the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
  or decide by what his ears hear;
4but 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.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
  and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6The 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.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
  their young shall lie down together;
  and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
  and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
 for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
  as the waters cover the sea.
10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

1Give the king your justice, O God,
  and your righteousness to the king’s son;
2that he may rule your people righteously
  and the poor with justice;
3that the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,
  and the hills, in righteousness.
4Let him defend the needy among the people,
  rescue the poor, and crush the oppressor.
5May he live as long as the sun and moon endure,
  from one generation to another.
6Let him come down like rain upon the mown field,
  like showers that water the earth.
7In his time may the righteous flourish;
  and let there be an abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
18Blessed are you, Lord God, the God of Israel;
  you alone do wondrous deeds!
19And blessed be your glorious name forever,
  and may all the earth be filled with your glory. Amen. Amen.

Second Reading: Romans 15:4-13

4Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
 “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
  and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says,
 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again,
 “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;
12and again Isaiah says,  “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises          to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13May 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.

Gospel: Matthew 1: 18-19

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

Children’s Sermon:  “Belling the Cat” by Aesop

Let’s come back to one of my favorite Aesop Fables.  Let’s listen for how the mice found PEACE, our Advent 2 theme.

“The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:  “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful.  All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:  “I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock, my Redeemer, my source of Peace.


         Last week in Advent 1 we laid the foundation of prophecy that gives us HOPE as we face the future.  The Gospel of Matthew opens Advent with the stories of God’s faithfulness to the generations of faulty people in Jesus’ genealogy and God’s faithfulness working through them and the kings that were leading the growing Jewish nation.  We felt the tension that despite a wonderful God predicting a wonderful future not just for Abraham but for all people, something has gone wrong.  The Jews are now living under Roman occupation. We have hope, though, in the face of hard times because God is faithful to bring about his prophecies.

         We are tracking the Biblical Christmas story told by Matthew with the popular movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” so that we can bring the Biblical reality into the Baby-boomer reality we live in.  George Bailey’s life when reviewed by Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class, who is going to be sent to help George, looks promising.  “I like that face,” says Clarence as he sees the choices George has made to bring him to the problem he is facing.  George Bailey has tried to live a life of integrity in Bedford Falls, helping the poor and caring for his family but something has gone wrong.  Money is missing and the bank examiner is at his door.

         In Advent 2 we come to the moment of problem that both Joseph and George Bailey face.  How do we find PEACE in the midst of life’s traumas that challenge our resources?  Matthew zeroes in on Joseph and the dilemma he faces.  Mary, his promised wife returns from a trip to visit her aunt Elizabeth of Zachariah and Joseph realizes she is pregnant.  Houston, we have a problem.  Joseph must decide what to do about a pregnant fiancée and George Bailey must decide what to do about missing money.  How will they find PEACE?


         Joseph, engaged to Mary, along with George Bailey, and perhaps ourselves have stepped into traumas “before…”.  Before what?  The gap between prophecy and perfection will often involve facing problems.   We have a dream about how life might be going to unfold but then something happens.  It is so easy for problems to sabotage prophecy and cloud our thinking.  We get T-boned by life.  The dream is out there and we can almost touch it but then Coved happens.  We about have the money for a down-payment on the next phase in our life plan but illness enters.  The pre-college test scores arrive and the weight of family expectations will not be met.  Joseph has organized all the cultural hurtles to marry Mary but she is pregnant.  Let me just say that Joseph has put all his dreams for his future with Mary. God too has put his plans on Mary.  The problem is not the dream.  The problem is the detours that happen to get to the dream.

     The detours in life often throw us into choices about alternatives like trying to figure out which turn to take when working a maze.  We know the exit we want but how to get there.  George Bailey knows he does not have a booming loan business but he thinks he is solvent.  When his uncle confesses that $8,000 has been misplaced, George panics.  The bank examiner is there and it is Christmas Eve.  Joseph also must decide what to do with a pregnant fiancée.  Both men consider alternatives when unexpected problems block the way forward.


         George madly searches the office for the misplaced money.  He grabs his uncle by the collar and shakes him.  He runs to Mr. Potter, his arch-rival, and bargains for a loan.  He yells at his children and kicks the furniture.  He goes to the bar and drinks.  Then he drives while drunk!  Oh my, a distraught man!  But let’s be honest, we have done all of those tactics.  We have scapegoated a loved one because we are upset about something else.  We may have turned to alcohol or drugs or TV or shopping, anything that relieves the fear.  I won’t ask if you’ve grabbed someone and given the person a good shake.  George does all these things and then when George offers Mr. Potter his $15,000 life insurance policy as collateral for a loan, Mr. Potter suggests George is worth more “dead than alive,” George caves and agrees with the enemy.  The thought of suicide has been planted in his mind.  He stands on the bridge ready to jump.

         Joseph likewise looks at his alternatives.  Under Jewish law he could have Mary stoned.  That kind of revenge would certainly make him appear innocent and salvage his reputation.  Joseph knows he is innocent of breaking the law but no one else does.  This problem is going to be played out in the court of public appeals before his hometown.  Ouch.  Mary is not guilty of sneaking a candy bar but is guilty of adultery.  The pregnancy is the talk of the town.  She is front line news.  My friends, we know this dynamic that is so much in our face today.  Before the trial, the news media has interviewed all possible experts and all possible angles and all sorts of explanations have weighed in on why the person is guilty.  We no longer live by “innocent until proven guilty” and Mary and Joseph lived in times like ours.  The pregnancy was proof enough of guilt of unfaithfulness.  The missing $8,000 for George’s company proved guilt before there was a trial.

         One choice is to shift the blame.  If Mary would cooperate, maybe Joseph could claim rape by a Roman soldier.  Movies like “The Nativity” have Mary’s parents asking her if it was a soldier.  She could have lied and kept the conception to herself but she does not.  George Bailey runs to Mr. Potter and confesses that he, George Bailey, misplaced the money.  Potter knows it was the uncle and George knows it was the uncle but George realizes he will be held responsible and must decide what to do.

         Another solution is that Joseph could quietly divorce Mary.  He would be vindicated, she would live a life in disgrace as a single mother and he could move on.  The solution satisfies the law mostly but does not satisfy grace.  George Bailey stands on the bridge and contemplates the suicide option.  Joseph goes to bed having decided to “dismiss Mary quietly.”


         So often we live in this tension between law and grace and we just don’t know which way to turn.  How can we find peace? Peace is a word used in the Bible a lot but what does it look like in the life of Joseph or George Bailey and especially in our Baby-boomer reality?  Peace cannot just mean the absence of war for it seems like there is always war somewhere in our world.  A friend posted on FaceBook, “Peace . . . does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. – (unknown author)”  As Jesus heads to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus shares with his disciples,   

         “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you         as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let          them be afraid. (John 14:27)”

If Jesus said it, it must be true.  Jesus gives us peace for today and worked eternal peace with God. So let’s look at our text and story.

         “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.”  Joseph being a righteous man tells us that Joseph tried to live his life in right relationship with God.  We are told in James that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (James 2:23).”  Peace does mean that we are no longer enemies with God because of the cross but peace can now come as we live out our faith in our actions. 

         I would suggest that means we are able to live not in conflict with ourselves and our values but can live in harmony, security, and with an inner tranquility even when there is war without.  Jesus is my ultimate model as he stayed in control of himself through the whole crucifixion event.  Peace means we have an internal integrity that is not necessarily based on our own comfort and happiness but on the greater belief system that supports our life.  Jesus was one with God and so could walk through life at peace.

         Joseph had come to peace with God’s rule in his life and would not manipulate to gain Mary as his wife or fight to protect his reputation.  He would satisfy the law as gently as possible.  Do men cry?  I think he might of.  I do not believe that it was an easy decision for Joseph.  Some of us may wrestle with the problem of putting a spouse away because of infidelity but most of us wrestle with other moral problems.  To wrestle is not wrong.  It is human. 

         George Bailey did not wrestle with infidelity but he did wrestle with how to achieve financial integrity.  We do not see a man at peace.  We see a man struggling and desperate.  Interestingly we do see other moments in the movie when George struggles with complex issues and comes to peace.  As a youth, he does not deliver the wrong prescription but chooses to confront the pharmacist.  As a young man he chooses not to travel the world but take on leadership in his deceased father’s loan business.  He does struggle but decides to wed Mary.  He uses his honeymoon money to keep the loan company afloat during a bank run.   He turns down the offer to join Mr. Potter’s team and have a more comfortable life.  As George Bailey listens to that voice inside himself he always chooses a path that demonstrates integrity with what appears to be his core values.  When he comes to his moment of crisis over money, he flounders to find the right answer but his friends know George is not the normal man of peace and a chorus of prayers ascend to heaven.  Next week we will see how God steps in, not only to fulfill prophecy that gives HOPE and to resolve problems that result in PEACE but also to bring JOY into our lives.

         Our Advent 2 challenge this week is to rejoice at the PEACE we have with God because of the birth and life of that child born in Bethlehem.  We are challenged to live in PEACE with our world today as we seek to live with integrity our spiritual values during the stresses and pressures of the Christmas season.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you         as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)”

Let the people of God say, “Amen!”


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