Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1 Midweek) - 2010

1 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 24:36-44 (Isa 2:1-5, Rom 13:8-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

World peace has been a dream of mankind since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

The Roman Empire conquered so many peoples that they claimed to have achieved a “pax Romana” – a Roman peace. Never mind that this “peace” was really repression of anyone who disagreed with the Caesar.

In more modern days, the twentieth century saw World War I come to an end, and it was declared to be the “war to end all wars.” The League of Nations was then supposed to bring world peace. Of course, it didn’t happen. And in fact World War II came along within a single generation and was even worse than the “war to end all wars.”

After World War II, the United Nations was created. And at the UN building in New York, there is a peace monument depicting a man beating a sword into a plowshare, directly referencing our reading from Isaiah: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

These days, it would be more accurate for the UN to report that pruning hooks are being fashioned into spears, plowshares are being converted to swords, mines, explosive devices, and implements of terror.

The UN’s dream of peace is more like the prophet’s words: “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” For we know that the secret to world peace is not in the United Nations, nor any human organization or ideology. Peace is prophesied by Isaiah and delivered by the prince of peace. He is the one who beats swords into plowshares and fashions a cross of death into the tree of life!

For the secret of peace lies in uncovering the cause of conflict. All conflict – whether between nations or within the struggles of a single human heart – has at its root: sin. In the words of St. Augustine, we all (men and nations alike) in this fallen world carry the “lust for domination.” The desire to take that which has not been given, the wandering eye that does not trust God’s grace to be all sufficient, the idolatry of using force to achieve what can only be wrought by love – is the source of every war, every fight, every contention, and every cause of unhappiness.

This is why we not only ponder the Lord’s first coming as a baby lying in a manger, nor even focus solely upon His atoning death on the cross by which we are saved and have everlasting life – for we also ponder the endgame of this fallen world, the time of promise when He will come again to judge the living and the dead, when He will return to truly pound our swords and spears into plowshares and pruning hooks, when He comes at that great and wondrous hour that “no one knows, not even the angels in heaven.” For that will be the time of peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace exempt from marching armies and scheming diplomats.

For we worship the Prince of Peace in a congregation whose name, Salem, means peace. We pray “Lord, have mercy” because we seek peace with God, and we pray: “I pray you of your boundless mercy… to be gracious and merciful to me” because we sin so prolifically against both God and man. We sing: “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.” We sing: “The peace of the Lord be with you always” and “Amen.” We sing to Christ that Lamb of God “that takest away the sin of the world,” saying: “Grant us Thy peace.” We sing the prayer: “Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” And the last benediction in the liturgy ends with this blessing: “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

We Christians know that peace, true peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace promised by Isaiah is not to be found in the decrees of dictators who declare peace by stifling freedom, nor is this peace won in marble-and-granite parliaments by self-important diplomats and bureaucrats. No indeed, this peace is given to us wrapped in the nail-scarred hands of the Prince of Peace! It is a peace won at the cross with the Lord’s cry of triumph: “It is finished.” It is the peace declared by our Risen Lord on Easter morning: “Peace be with you.” It is the peace that is internal, in the heart, given to us by grace, and received by us through faith. It is the forgiveness of sins and the conversion through the Word of God.

There is an old spiritual that likewise quotes our Isaiah reading, especially the promise: “neither shall they learn war anymore.” The song is called “Down By the Riverside.” And while it is hardly a hymn of the church, it is a song that speaks the Gospel’s truth that this promised peace of Isaiah is not found in the lofty places of this world, but rather in lowly wet places where Holy Baptism is administered. The song connects the Sacrament of Baptism to Isaiah’s promise of peace:

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

Dear friends, it is not a bad thing to pursue peace through diplomacy, through restraint, through laws, and through appeals to human rights. But apart from Christ, any peace secured in these ways is merely temporary and fleeting.

We Christians understand the cause of war lies in sin and the hope of peace is found in the Savior, in His cross, in His sacrificial death and resurrection, in His blood shed for you and given to you with His body as a Holy Declaration of Peace between you and God the Father Himself, signed in the blood of the Son and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

And so, dear friends, dear fellow soldiers who fight against the enemies of the Kingdom, we wait for our Prince’s return, His final advent, His sudden coming like a thief. For “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” The time is at hand when the implements of violence will be retooled, and the baptismal promise will become an eternal reality: we shall not “learn war anymore.”

For there is coming a “pax Christiana” under the Prince of Peace, a Kingdom of mercy and life and joy that will never end for those who believe and are baptized. Let us watch and wait with joyful expectation for His coming. The Peace of the Prince of Peace be with you now and forevermore! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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