message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the Theme: Something More for Christmas
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
December 6, 2020
2 [a] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David
and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward
and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Ready for Christmas? Ready for Christmas can mean at least two things. One would be, do you have everything done for Christmas – decorating, gift-buying, menu planning, travel details, and such? The other would be are you ready in the sense of that old song, “We Need A Little Christmas?” I imagine a lot of us are ready for a lot of Christmas given this past year’s troubles. I’m willing to bet most of you would vote 2020 number 1 in the “Hard Year” Championships. I don’t have to give all the reasons do I?
As a wannabe theologian, if Christmas was only about what I could buy or cook or drink, I am ready for way more, way better Christmas. You know I am going to talk about what Christmas is really supposed to be about. The problem for me is what the Scriptures say Christmas is all about and what it seems to have become “all about” are, in my opinion, two different things. As a theologian we talk about these “themes” of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. And the confusing thing is that everyone talks about those things, but in reality their version of these things always leaves me wanting MORE. It never seems like it is enough. So let me try to suggest we redirect what we want MORE of from Christmas. I guess the real question then is, “Are you ready for something more for Christmas?”
This week the theme is “Peace,” right? Our Opening Prayer reminded us of the theme of Peace. Well, everyone talks about peace. Publix puts out advertisements that promise “peace.” Coca-Cola nails those Christmas ads for peace. But the concept of peace has always been hijacked for a lot purposes besides selling groceries or soda pop. Those that have acquired the power in this world understand how to manipulate the concept of peace to give us just a taste, while confusing us enough we don’t realize what they are giving us is not “the real thing.”
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, one of the titles of the most powerful man in the world at that time, was a self-given title of “Prince of Peace.” That man, Caesar, ruled having conquered most of the Mediterranean world by violence and armed force. His political platform proclaimed “Pax Romana,” the peace of the Roman Empire. Caesar’s armies provided this peace by armed force and swift execution by nailing people to crosses at the drop of a hat.
King Herod was called “King of the Jews” at the time of Jesus’ birth. He only had that title because he paid for it. He guaranteed Caesar he would take every dollar in tax from the poor, starving people of Palestine and give it to Caesar. Of course it also empowered him to keep everything he could for himself. When he found out that some “wise men,” some “magi” were looking for a “new king of the Jews,” the first thing he did, according to the Bible, is he murdered every child in Palestine under the age of 2.
Fast forward to 2020. Peace on earth? Sure I’m in. But the powerful tell us the way to that is what they call “law and order.” What law and order does is convince you that anyone who protests Caesar’s – er, I mean – the governments practices should be jailed. They tell us “those” people are violent and the only way we’ll be safe – i.e., have “peace,” – is to jail everyone we can. So Florida has the highest prison rate in the country. We jail more people than all but 3 other nations in the world. Last year we jailed 4,500 children under the age of 10 years old. They convinced us privatizing prisons was the way to go. So we have privatized, for-profit prisons. The company that has the contract for this is a real estate investment firm that profits by the imprisonment of as many people as possible. Think there is a connection between that and our rate of imprisoning children? Think there is a reason they define peace as “law and order?”
The Bible has always defined peace differently. The Hebrew Bible defines it as “shalom.” Shalom means for all of creation and all people and their Creator God live in cooperation and harmony. It means there is justice, very different from “law and order,” for ALL people. It is a vision of something never achieved by human government or human society on any large scale. The prophet Isaiah, whom we read this morning speaks about this vision in the verses we read.
He promises that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. I think he means they came to their senses and realized all the false forms of peace were too little. I think he means they saw the light that helped them see through the darkness of rulers from Egypt or Babylon or Persia or Rome. The word translated “darkness” is the same word as the one in Psalm 23 – a word that actually has roots in “a minor Canaanite deity of evil,” who lurked “in dark places ready to destroy the unwary. The word appears to have become a byword for danger and darkness.”
The light that they saw was focused on the birth of a “son.” That son would be called by many mighty titles including “Prince of Peace.” Historians and theologians aren’t sure if Isaiah was talking about a particular historical baby boy, let alone one that became a ruler of Israel. But Christians have found great meaning in the prophetic words. We have come to believe it points us to see the light in Yeshua ben Yosef, better known to us as Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth, called “the Christ.” And of course, you remember, Christ is the Greek word for the Jewish word “Messiah,” which means “anointed one,” as in anointed as King, or Ruler. A new king means the old king is no longer king. The Anointed One does not get anointed to let Caesar’s or Pharoah’s or Babbling Babylonian Kings rule. He comes to take their place on the throne. Real Christmas will be different from all the false Christmas’s based on glitzy sentimental advertising and consuming consumer lust that leaves us lacking what we want and buried under credit card debt, again. That isn’t the pathway to real peace. Thankfully this King of Kings is a Prince of Peace.
I am ready for a new Christmas, one that changes everything, not to the way I want it, but to the way God wants it. I want a real Prince of Peace not a false god who rules for his own benefit while everyone else suffers. I want a peace that is shalom. That’s the Christmas I really want. But that means realizing the false peace promises of would-be kings and false gods aren’t enough. Real peace, as the prophet Isaiah promises is one where the real Prince of Peace will rule and:
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
I am trying to learn what real peace is. I have been moved by several things I have read this year that seem to touch on it. Rev. Cameron Trimble, in her devotional writing called, “Piloting Faith,” [ December 3, 2020 ] said someone had recently asked her, “How do I find peace? I just feel so unmoored, so adrift but drowning in busyness. I can’t pack any more things into my day, but I feel so unsatisfied with my life.” I am hearing this a lot these days.
It is a symptom of our age. We are experiencing change, trauma and drama at a rate faster than at any time before in human history. Philosopher Jean Houston reminds us, you and I have lived 10 to 100 times the life experience of our ancestors of previous generations. This pace is creating anxiety that has many of us feeling disoriented, unsettled and wondering if this is how to live our best lives.
“The psychologist Carl Jung, one of the great explorers of the inner life, described a conversation he had with a Native American chief named Mountain Lake, whom he regarded as a kindred spirit. ‘I was able to talk to him as I have rarely been able to talk to a European,’ Jung recalled. Perhaps because of their mutual respect, Mountain Lake gave Jung a very frank assessment of the way his people saw Europeans.
“Their eyes have a staring expression,” the chief said. “They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are all mad.”
“Jung asked Chief Mountain Lake to elaborate: Why, exactly, did white people seem so insane to the Native Americans?
“They say they think with their heads,” responded Mountain Lake.
“Why, of course,” said Jung. “What do you think with?”
“We think here,” said Chief Mountain Lake, and he pointed to his heart.”
Rev. Trimble says, “This is the key to peace. Thinking from our hearts, the place where God speaks to us most freely. The work of making peace begins with the task of making ourselves whole. The tragedy is that our culture places little value on this. We are all taught at a young age that knowledge comes through reading, writing and arithmetic – all exercises of our heads. We value external results. We have invested countless years, dollars and talent exploring the outer world. We have sailed to every continent, encountered many diverse cultures, and discovered most of the species of plants and animals on the earth. This has kept us busy “doing,” but it has not always deepened our experience of ‘being.’”
“The critical calling of our age today is to explore our inner world. In fact, I believe the survival of our outer world depends on our ability to reconnect with our inner world. It is only when we realize that we are enough that we finally understand that we have enough. And then, we understand peace.
As we share this Sacrament today I invite you to reflect on your inner world and what you need to do to find peace. And I invite you to see this Sacrament as a vision, a promise, of the peace God offers. It is a peace where people of every kind gather and feed one another and enjoy relationships of peace, love, justice, and meaning. I don’t know about you but that sounds like a real Christmas to me. That sounds like real peace. AMEN.