Peace Blows In (12/6/2015)

Advent Candles
Advent Candles

A Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Text: Luke 1:68-79

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The ancient hymn echoes the word of the more ancient priest and prophet as he exults over the miracle child of his old-age – John, the Baptizer, who is born to prepare the way for Emmanuel, “God with us.” With quavering voice, he sings, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” What a beautiful song, a profound testimony to his deep-seated belief that the God of his ancestors will redeem his people according to the even more ancient covenant and not only his people but all who “sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

The first light of day creeps across the horizon. The daily promise of enlivening light is renewed. And as the light glows faintly in the east, the wind begins to blow, caressing the earth with a gentle breath. It is a phenomenon of nature that light and wind work together in this way. Day dawns and peace blows in, freely given to each and all.

The new day presents a clean slate. It is full of promise and it is met with great hope. The day is ours, a precious gift from God. What will we make of it? As the sun brightens, the wind picks up. How will it move us along through the day that lies before us? “I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift…if hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use, I’ll seek the seas at his behest, and brave another cruise.” Will this be our song as we awake to greet the new morn and rise to walk with the wind on our wing?

So often our days begin like this. We start off with the best of intentions but the promise of the day is not fulfilled. Sometimes it seems that our lot in life is to find trouble in or bring ruin to each perfectly formed day given to us. The light may shine but we find ourselves wrestling with fear of darkness and death. The wind may caress and try to lead us along, but we resist, refusing to dance with her. We insist on going on our own way, whatever the cost. The fullness of life is promised by the light and lifted by the wind. Hope, love, joy, peace, are revealed in the light and blow in with the wind. We welcome them at first but then anxieties rise up and fear creeps in. The light becomes too bright and we no longer trust the wind. We close our eyes and turn our backs as despair, apathy, hatred, sorrow, violence and war grow all around us and we long for a new day to come.

It is frustrating to talk about peace on days like this when it seems so far away and unattainable. The angel urges, “Fear not.” But that is much easier said than practiced. As our anxieties rise, we build walls and take up arms against stranger and neighbor alike. We invest obscene amounts of our God-given resource into maintaining massive military machines. We use and abuse the earth, caring little for the intricately woven beauty of creation. The world becomes dark and chaotic, in desperate need of redemption. This is the world of our Advent. Into such a world Christ comes – then and now. We want to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or some word of good cheer in what should be a mystical, magical season of the year, but the words ring a little hollow and they stick in our throats.

Even Pope Francis, that gentle lover of life and purveyor of compassion, is wrestling with the season. In a recent sermon he said, “Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes…” but he proclaimed, “it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path.” We have not let peace blow in on the crest of the morning. At this time, instead of singing “Joy to the World,” he suggests, “We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it.” He concludes, “God weeps, Jesus weeps’” (Jen Hayden, Daily Kos, Reported in Ken Sehested’s Prayer and Politiks,

When I thought about the theme, “Peace Blows In,” I thought immediately of Bob Dylan’s great gospel anthem, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The young prophet/poet asks:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man ?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand ?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

This mysterious wind. Does it come from and lead to a meaningless apathy or does it blow us toward the path of peace and righteousness? Dylan, himself, says of the song: “There ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind – and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some…But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know…and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many…You people over 21, you’re older and smarter” (Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, pp. 63-64).

Too many who ought to know better have turned their backs on what comes blowing on the wind. Peace blows in and we can’t be bothered. It looks like an old newspaper being whipped around and we kick it aside or throw it in the trash. It’s old news, an ancient word not relevant for today’s reality. How can we make peace and maintain our security at the same time? How can we love our neighbor, let alone the stranger, when we have to look after ourselves? How can we care for creation without altering our self-serving lifestyles? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. The question is whether or not we welcome it.

Remember how Jesus schools old Nicodemus about the wind of the Spirit that “blows where it chooses…you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes”? He insists, “You must be born again, Nicodemus.” But Nicodemus can’t let go, isn’t ready to dance with the wind. See the day spring, feel the wind blow. Don’t you know God loves creation, loves you, so much that God is willing to take on human form to illuminate the path peace, to show the way to God’s Beloved Community, ordained from the beginning of time (John 3:7ff).

Quite a variety among the clueless density of Nicodemus, the heart-felt anguish of Pope Francis and the hopeful exultation of Zechariah. But the Advent message remains the same for them and for us: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The joy of Zechariah is wisdom for Nicodemus, healing for Pope Francis and hope for us, that we may know such wisdom, healing and joy in our own lives and in the world we inhabit.

How many roads? How many seas? How many times? How many ears? How many deaths? How many years? How long, O Lord, how long? In our frustration and our crying out, something stirs. The first light of day begins to creep across the horizon. The daily promise of enlivening light is renewed. And as the light glows faintly in the east, the wind begins to blow, caressing the earth with a gentle breath. Peace blows in. If we greet it with open arms, it may yet lead us to redemption for ourselves and all creation. May it be so. Amen.

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We are a progressive Baptist Church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. We have been in Palo Alto since 1893. We celebrate our Baptist heritage. We affirm the historic Baptist tenets of: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom

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