The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Guest Sermon - December 9, 2018
  Rev. Sandy Daly

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 11:1-9
Sermon Title: Peace-ing Us Together

Isaiah paints a beautiful and hope-filled picture of peace for his people - a people long in exile, Jerusalem and their temple destroyed. Too much violence… too much injustice…too much violence… too much injustice.

This vision of peace, where the lion lays with the lamb and all shall dwell together, and the Prince of Peace judges with truth and compassion… this vision not only comforted the people of Isaiah’s day. It has been the inspiration and hope of artists, musicians and poets throughout the centuries. We all breathe a deep sigh of desire for this vision of peace.

In advent we are called to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. To prepare, John the Baptist cries out to all, “ Repent!” which means literally “re-think”, to reflect so as to change,     to turn your mind, to change your heart. How can “rethinking” help us prepare for the coming of our Lord? How can it bring us the peace we seek? What must we re-think – repent – or change to make room for Jesus to be born anew into our lives?

To bring us Peace of mind…peace in our world… to peace us together?

In order to prepare, first we need to pause, to stop in the hectic pace and all the activity of daily living - to pause and listen. We need to develop the habit of listening… listening for peace. Listening for peace always evokes for me     an image of someone leaning forward with a hand to their ear waiting to hear sound of peace… or a peaceful stillness. Certainly this is one way to experience peace: to listen to and appreciate stillness; to experience the quiet of a house where all have gone to sleep or maybe not yet awakened. I love to sit in the quiet of the living room just before going to bed, with only the Christmas tree lights on, and rest in that peaceful stillness. We need these peaceful moments to soothe our weary souls, and not just in advent. We need to receive in our hearts the tender signs of love all around us. We need these moments to slow us down and open us up.

This inner peace then gives us the strength and courage for outer peace, for responding to the call to be a peace-maker, whether in our relationships or our world. Both require intention – choosing peace. Both involve listening.

I propose three kinds of listening that can lead to peace in our hearts and peace in our world:
listening to God… listening to one another… and listening to those in the margins of life. Three persons from the Christmas story offer us examples: Mary, Elizabeth, John the baptizer.

FIRST: Listening to God. “Oh for some peace and quiet!”  How often in our loud and busy world we crave the muffled quiet of the snow-carpeted woods, the flicker of a summer evening’s campfire, or the peace of still waters     reflecting the glow of the setting sun…? How often in our loud and busy world we crave peace in our hearts – the peace that comes of relationships set right and a clear sense of priorities; the peace that is the absence of conflict and turmoil. This peace in our soul is a gift, flowing from knowing to whom we belong, knowing that we are the prodigal child, the wandering lamb, the lost coin … and that God searches for us even so, and embraces us, cherishes us. We live in a world where the still, small voice of God is too often drowned out by messages of materialism, sex and politics…     drowned out unless you are listening. This peace we crave is in that quiet inner voice of God, the voice we hear in our prayers and our dreams, in the private meditations of our time alone with God.

Fear not! The angel said to Mary… and she listened, opening her heart in faith to God. Amid the turmoil and questions that must have followed her in her life, there was a peace in knowing that God was with her. She belonged to God – a precious child. We too are invited to turn from our fears and to rest in the knowledge that we are loved, even as we are, each a precious child of God…and God is with us.  This can bring us a peace beyond understanding. Like Mary, we may listen for God.

And then there is the need to listen to one another. Listening for understanding; listening for forgiveness; listening for hope. Mary turned to Elizabeth for comfort and guidance in a time of confusion and anxiety. And Elizabeth listened. She welcomed Mary and believed in her. This is the kind of listening we all hope for. This is the kind of listening we can offer one another as a gift. The embodiment of this compassionate and radical acceptance is Jesus himself. We are called to follow him, to be God’s people – a community of faith - to walk beside, to encourage, teach, forgive, challenge, embrace, grow…    and to listen… to listen to God and to one another. Listening with our hearts will bring peace into our lives and into our relationships. Who do you know that needs this kind of listening?     Can you offer it as a gift… the gift of peace? Like Elizabeth, may we listen with love, not judgement, and allow the life within us to leap with joy at the gift of life in another!

And that brings me to a third way of “listening for peace”: listening to those in the margins. Jesus said, “I have come to bring good news to the poor… release to the captives, sight to the blind, …to let the oppressed go free…” As followers of Christ, we are called to do the same. John the Baptist says “Prepare the way!” … Prepare the way for love! He brought the good news of hope into the wilderness. He did not preach in the temple, but rather to those on the outside - those for whom the world was a hostile place, where there was fear…  anger… violence… hopelessness.

Can we too be the bearers of GOOD NEWS? Not just where we are comfortable – but into a world where ancient rivalries stoke conflicts that seem eternal; where religious misunderstanding and racial intolerance have been the source of hatred and violence for far too long? How can we listen to one another in a new way?

This broken world is the world that God loved two thousand years ago…ten thousand years ago…and loves today through the living presence of Christ.

How can we listen to all the different voices in our world and help to peace our world together? Jesus clearly calls us to tend his sheep; to clothe and feed the poor, but also to overturn the tables of the money-changers, and to love not only our friends, but also our enemies. To be peace makers we must also be justice seekers and justice workers. Peace and justice go together – one cannot be without the other. For this we must truly listen to the voices of the oppressed. We must listen to voices very different from our own; voices that are hard to understand. There are those who are filled with hate and fear, and that is hard to listen to. We must listen with open hearts – to understand… to understand what lies at the root of injustice, or hurt, or fear, in order to bring peace. This means not only listening, but the possibility of rethinking – repenting – and change. This is the baptist’s cry.

We each have tremendous resources     and with it a tremendous responsibility to use them for the good of all. Listening to the oppressed and needy people of our world – truly listening causes us to “rethink” – to wrestle with the fact that changing our way is not easy and it can feel overwhelming. As peace-makers we need to examine the way we live and ask ourselves – how are we still part of the problem, and what new ways can we find to be a part of the solution? And then to begin to change what we can… just one thing at a time. Justice is the way to peace in our world… and justice for all, here or anywhere in the world, means some things have to change.

Think of Mary… or Elizabeth… or John.  Think of the different ways they responded to God’s call as part of the healing and peace-bearing in their world. Preparing the way for Jesus to come into our hearts is both tender and hard. Beyond the scene of love at the manger is the scene of self-giving love and sacrifice on the cross. Jesus offers us peace – a peace that the world cannot give - for God is with us. And we, like Mary, are his beloved. We are called to be peace-makers: compassionate and accepting, as Elizabeth was to Mary; courageous and bold, as John the Baptizer, calling out for new ways. And only by our deliberate intentions and the grace of God will we be able...    to peace us all together.

Let us pray… Loving God we pray for peace – for peace in our hearts as we struggle with questions, with hope and loss… Be with us we pray. Help us to find peace in our relationships, to show mercy, kindness and understanding to each other. Give us the courage and faithfulness to be peace-makers in your world, that we all may come to know your kingdom – peace on earth and goodwill to all. We pray for Christ’s sake and in his holy name. Amen.