Peace: The Light That Shines in the Darkness
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
December 8, 2019 Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Luke 1:57-60, 67-79; Matthew 3:1-9
We just heard one of the most beautiful passages in our scriptures, from the Benedictus of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways… 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.”
John the Baptist grew up to challenge the realms of Herod and Caesar, saying that the realm of God was at hand and calling people to give up their old ways and turn completely to the way of God.
Jesus came after John using the same slogan. He taught what it means to be a citizen of God’s realm and have its laws of compassion and love rule human society.
Jesus and John were part of the same movement as the Prophet Isaiah eight hundred years before who said the words that we know best from Handel’s Messiah, written 2500 years later: “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain…lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: behold your God.”
These voices are calling us today to play our role in the same movement. The book Active Hope tells us the good tidings that the Great Turning toward something like God’s realm on earth is happening. Millions of people are taking to the streets and working in their communities and on their farms and in their homes to bring about a society that lives in justice, sustainability and peace.
The dawn from on high is breaking even now upon us. The only thing needed is us, giving all we possibly can to help make it happen.
Think of all the beauty of those who have given their lives in so many different ways, artists, activists, teachers, mothers and grandmothers, engineers and entrepreneurs who have contributed their part toward a healthy and sustainable world. Think of the meaning of those lives, think of the deep peace they found within their darkness and struggles. That beauty, meaning and peace can be ours if we give our all as they did, so it is important to us as well as to the world that we overcome whatever holds us back.
The book Active Hope describes a set of stages that can free, invigorate and empower us to use our gifts to play our unique role in the movement to transform the world.
The first stage is gratitude. We naturally want to protect and nurture what we feel grateful for and love, so we start our work to change the world for the better by appreciating and wanting to save what is good.
But the cost of love is inevitable pain at the damage, suffering or loss of what we love. Honoring our pain is the second step, because if we are grateful for the natural world we will rightly feel pain at every habitat or species lost. If we are grateful for children and love them, we will rightly feel pain thinking about all the suffering they will go through because of what we have done to the world.
Last year on the Advent Sunday of Peace we faced that pain. Gus Speth spoke that day to us all, including our children before they went back to Pageant practice. He talked about the Youth Climate Lawsuit that he is assisting.
Gus was speaking just three months after scientists told us how little time human civilization has to completely end our climate changing emissions.
After Gus spoke I talked about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I said, “We truly are at a moment like that in history. Things were terribly wrong, and the people knew it was up to them to fix it… They had to rise to what their time demanded, and their first step was to make a promise…: “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
I said, “It is time that we consider making our own pledge. No one else is going to come along. The children are looking to us…. Will you promise your vote, your voice, your time, your gifts and talents, your resources, your church to make the world these children inherit as livable as the one given to you when you were a child?
“They need to know that adults are standing with them, working hard to create a peaceful and healthy world.”
I ended by asking, “If you will stand with the children…, if you are ready to promise whatever you feel able to give, please stand now so they may see you.”
If you were here, I suspect you were as deeply moved as I was, because every adult in the sanctuary stood up as one.
Since then we have done much in Strafford, but clearly our society is far from the kind of response we need. Our only hope for changing national leadership and mobilizing all our resources to create a sustainable civilization is for people like us to rise up, each of us using our individual skills, talents, influence and resources in ways that give our lives meaning and joy, risking bold actions to bring about the Great Turning.
We have the wisdom we need to design a golden civilization, yet something is keeping humanity from fulfilling the dream that Jesus and the prophets and our wisest Native American and immigrant ancestors all shared.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone have given us the four steps we need to gain the personal and collective power this moment in human history requires. The last two steps are to change our way of seeing so we recognize our oneness and interconnectedness with all creation, and then to find our own unique way to contribute to the well-being of life on earth.
I will talk about the step of evolving a new way of seeing next week after the pageant. I will talk about us each bringing forth our own contribution as fully as we can on Mary Sunday, the 22nd, because she is the great model of delivering our gifts from God to the world.
Before we can take those steps, we have to take the step of dealing with the inner obstacles that block us from fulfilling our calling and creating the world we dream for our children. Active Hope lays out that step in the chapter, “Honoring Our Pain for the World.”
Pain can take the form of grief or outrage or any strong negative feeling. We need to listen because often pain is giving us important information. To bury it under avoidance and denial is to disable a survival mechanism. Those who are most in danger when their house is on fire are not those who panic but those who convince themselves they can take their time.
Studies have shown that if no one is responding to smoke filling a room, people will ignore their inner alarms even when they start to cough, but as soon as someone leads the way, if enough people follow, catastrophe can be averted. Our pain over what is happening to the earth is the Spirit telling us we need to do something fast. If we can get past what blocks us, it will help others get past what blocks them. That is why we need to honor our pain—it is holy, it is serving an important purpose and it points us to the path of healing and peace.
People need more than just information about a crisis if they are going to respond appropriately. Active Hope says, “When people are able to tell the truth about what they know, see and feel is happening to their world, a transformation occurs. There is an increased determination to act and renewed appetite for life.”
When we find peace in the midst of our pain we are able to act more effectively. Speaking and listening compassionately and caringly to our shared truth helps us find peace with what we are feeling. It connects us deeply to one another and to the world, which is another life-giving form of peace.
This is what we will be doing here on December 21st in the gathering we are calling “The Longest Night: Facing the Darkness Together.” We will be experiencing how our pain connects us, and how the darkness can help us find the light we need.
The authors of Active Hope recall how in every great adventure story the heroes eventually realize that the crisis they face is far beyond their capacities to resolve. They see how the fate of their world depends on them finding the allies, understandings and tools they need in order to overcome their limitations and meet the challenge.
This is where we emerge when we go into the darkness of our pain with courage and endurance. We come out changed, seeing with clearer vision what we need to do. We come out with an adventure ahead of us, in the company of all the saints, living and dead, who have dared believe the beautiful words, “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.”
Let us pray in silence that we may find the peace within our pain, the light within the darkness that will lead us on our own hero’s journey as part of the movement that Jesus is calling us to join…