I find it a little ironic that this is the Sunday of Peace, having read through the week's daily lectionary with lots of passages of wrath and judgment. It's also weird because today's Sunday lectionaries are all about preparing the way for the coming savior -- oh, and Paul saying nice things about the Philippians. "Peace" is not a theme I would intuitively extract from this set of readings.
So, when I can't figure out what to do with the lectionary, I go back and summarize each text.
First, we have Malachi, which has two parts. One, a messenger is coming to prepare the way of God. Two, the coming of God will be purifying like a refiner's fire purifying silver.
Next, we have the first of two passages from Luke. This first is what is known as the Canticle of Zechariah.
Again, it's in two parts. God has honored the covenant of old and shown mercy on us, sending us a savior. And you, child, shall be the prophet who comes before this savior, telling the people of their salvation. Dawn from on high will break upon us, giving light to those who sit in darkness, and guiding our feet into the way of peace.
Third is the epistle in which Paul praises the Philippians, longs to be with them, and prays that they may continue to grow in love and insight.
And fourth, the opening of the third chapter of Luke. At a particular socio-historical moment, under imperial rule, the word of God came to John in the wilderness, and we hark back to the prophet Isaiah -- prepare the way of the Holy One; everything will be smoothed out, and "and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
So what do I do with all this?
I was tempted to just ignore the Epistle because it doesn't really seem to fit (and who besides me preaches on all four lectionary texts, anyway?) -- but I'm stubborn and perverse, so this actually made me want to focus on the Epistle more.
There's a song that goes, "the one who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it." I've always found it a bit of a weird song, but of course it gets in my head every time I read this lectionary passage this week, so I've been thinking about it.
We are works in progress.
And God has begun good works, which God will complete. Both events to which Advent is looking forward -- the Christ child and the eschatological Second Coming -- are not about wiping something out and starting afresh but rather about bringing something to its fullest fruition and completion.
The refiner's fire that Malachi speaks of takes mineral from the earth and turns it into something you can make into a work of art or function (or both) -- order out of chaos. I was telling Tiffany on our Advent planning call that in reading the lectionary texts this year, I found myself troubled by that classic Isaiah quotation -- "Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low..." -- because on a literal level I don't like the idea of all the landscape variation being erased; but that on a metaphorical level it can still resonate with me -- the rough ways shall be made smooth.
So, we are preparing the way of God. What does that mean? Does that mean a carpet of palm fronds like the crowds on Palm Sunday? The triumphal king enters the Holy City, the dwelling place of God, on a donkey, and comes not to overthrow the occupying imperial powers or even the temple authorities but rather willingly gives himself (herself) up to be executed by the authorities.
In their book The First Christmas, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan talk about the imperial environment into which Jesus was born. The Roman Empire wanted peace, too, and succeeded -- the Pax Romana. Except that was peace through violence -- not true peace at all, but merely a lull.
The peace that Jesus is about is peace through justice. Where relationships are not defined by nonconsensual power-over but rather where we are all gathered together at an abundant table with FAMILY -- and not the family of origin which is so fraught for many of us, but family of choice. God has chosen each one of us -- named us and claimed us, declaring us the Beloved.
And we are called to help bring about that peace.
When I read the Canticle of Zechariah I get as far as, "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High," and I remember Tiffany preaching on how we are ALL called to be messengers of the Most High [I suspect I'm remembering this].
In continuing to think about what it means to help bring about this promised peace, I am also reminded of one of Marla's favorite phrases: "we make the road by walking." I think I first heard this when she preached on the David and Goliath story this past June. She talked about how there's a lot that's really problematic in that text -- Goliath trash-talks David and David gives it right back, talking about the destruction he is going to rain down on the Philistines. Not exactly modeling an ethic of "love your enemy" and abundant table fellowship. But she pointed out that there's also the stuff about how the Israelites try to clothe David in armor and none of it fits him.
David is victorious despite not because of the assistance of the powers of the world.
Personally, I'm really big on working within the system; but it's also good for me to be reminded that the systems of the world are not God's system.
We are called to do this work -- knowing that God is bringing Creation to full fruition rather than destroying and starting over, strengthened by the assurance that this broken world will be redeemed.
So let us go forth, to prepare the way of peace -- to make that road by walking it.