I would like to strongly encourage you to attend the Christmas concert on Sunday night—“The Voices of Christmas.”
We don’t have a cast of thousands—but we do have over 50 children’s voices and over 50 adult voices—and an orchestra.
These folks have been practicing for months.
And one of the best gifts you can give to them is to be present—and to bring family and friends.
The message and music are moving and meaningful—please be here!
There are also numerous narrators who help tell the story.
Here are some excerpts from the voices of the narrators:
“Happy Holidays! Tidings of comfort and joy! Merry Christmas!”
“These are the familiar voices of Christmas we look forward to hearing year after year.”
“Your neighbors, your relatives, kids you know and kids your kids know…carolers and coworkers, shoppers and clerks…”
“Even strangers, though they don’t feel like strangers…”
“The voices of Christmas have been with us through many centuries.”
“They belong to fictional characters like Ebenezer Scrooge who said, ‘I will honor Christmas in my heart and keep it all the year.’”
“And they belong to non-fictional characters like Helen Keller, who said, ‘The only real blind people at Christmastime are those who don’t have Christmas in their hearts.”
“The voices of Christmas bring another message; more reflective, more eternal.”
“The voices echo the words of the hymnists…and the first voices of Christmas are found in the ancient pages of Scripture.”
“We invite you to become one of the voices of Christmas!”
And that is our theme for this season of Advent and Christmas.
During worship we will reflect on the various voices of the season.
Last Sunday Rev. Lowe shared “A Voice of Hope”
In coming weeks we will hear voices of joy and love.
Today we listen for “A Voice of Peace.”
In fact, the 2nd weekend of Advent is designated as “Peace Sunday.”
Over 55 years ago a Council of Churches started the observance.
Now, the Peace Sunday observance calls people to use their resources to inspire, educate, and encourage ongoing efforts to preserve the peace of the world.
The Peace Sunday observance may be over 50 years old, but the dream has been around for a long, long time.
DO YOU PRAY FOR PEACE?
Do you long for peace in our world, our country, our community?
Do you long for peace in your home, in your heart?
Do you dream what seems to be an impossible dream?
Many of us have been excited about the news from Iraq.
Thousands of soldiers are coming home.
Hopefully the December 31 withdrawal date will become a reality.
But we also know in our heart of hearts that peace is elusive.
Our track record as human beings is not very impressive.
Historians remind us that of the 3500 or so years of recorded human history, less than 300 of those years have been without war.
“Making peace is infinitely more difficult than resisting evil.”
But the dream, the longing has been around for centuries.
TODAY’S LESSON CAPTURES THAT DREAM.
Isaiah’s great vision has been described as the “peaceable kingdom.”
It is one of our most enduring expressions of hope.
We have seen it expressed in drama, music, and art.
You have probably seen the painting by Edward Hicks.
He depicts a literal interpretation of Isaiah’s vision.
The wolf, lamb, leopard, lion, kid and calf are all sharing the same pasture, grazing, and resting together.
The image is one of peace, love and tranquility.
But we wonder if we can really pull this off?
Isaiah teaches that the Spirit of the Lord will rest on the leader who brings us peace—this one will have gifts of wisdom and understanding.
The leader will bring justice for society’s lowly and left out and lonely.
And God will have to be involved to bring harmony, health, and hope.
But sometimes it’s easier to imagine for animals than people!
Some of you have the “Coexist” bumper sticker on your car.
What happens when you start putting faces on that suggestion?
We have trouble even getting our own folks together.
You have also seen another bumper sticker (A House Divided—UK and UL).
Can we all get along…really?
While the chances are slim that we will ever figure out how to establish peace on earth, it can—and does happen—here and there.
It can happen as we personally embrace God’s vision and strive to make it work in our own personal worlds.
Jesus prays, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
But too often, we’re trying to get people into heaven—without also trying to get heaven—the realm of God—to the people on earth.
And peace in God’s realm carries a broader meaning.
Frederick Buechner has a powerful perspective on matters of peace.
He says, “Peace has come to mean the time when there aren’t any wars—or even when there aren’t any major wars.”
“And most of us would settle for that.”
“But in Hebrew, peace—shalom—means fullness; it means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself.”
“One of the titles by which Jesus is known is ‘Prince of Peace.’”
“But he used the word in two radically contradictory ways.”
“He says to the disciples, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.’”
“Later on, the last time they ate together, he says to them, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.’”
Buechner says, “For Jesus, peace seems to mean—not the absence of struggle—but the presence of love.”
Sometimes we are called to struggle for wholeness, for peace.
SO WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
It seems that many of us are intimidated by the task at hand.
How can I—one person—make any difference in the world?
How can we—one church—make any impact for peace?
It all seems to be too big…to daunting…too risky…too…
But God will be in these kinds of efforts…
And the marathon of peace begins by taking one step at a time.
Some of you will recognize the names of these three women…
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman.
These three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sirleaf is the President of Liberia, Gbowee is an activist in Liberia, and Karman is a human rights activist in Yemen.
They were selected because of their nonviolent struggle for the safety and rights for women to fully participate in peace-building work.”
The selection committee said, “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women have the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
Karman is the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sirleaf is Africa’s first elected female head of state; she said, “For the past 8 years we have had peace, which ended 14 years of civil war.”
“And this should be attributed to the country’s women.”
“They were from all walks of life—working for peace in our land.”
She has earned the nickname “Iron Lady” for her toughness.
And this Harvard graduate and mother of four sons has also published a book, which is called, “This Child Will be Great.”
Does that sound a little like the words of the prophet Isaiah?
So where do we begin?
What is our most important act of peace-making?
Our next one…our next one.
Billy Graham has been in the news again because of his health.
He once said, “Peace often must begin with ourselves.”
“Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea.”
“When I love someone, I seek what is best for them.”
“If I begin to take the love of God seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor.”
“I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be, to bring them peace.”
That sounds a lot like shalom…wholeness…peace.
Few of us will ever be called on to do incredible things.
But all of us can do small things in incredible ways.
Our efforts can have what someone described as “glo-cal” results.
Local efforts can ripple out and have a global impact.
And it can be as simple as shopping at the Alternative Giving Fair.
It can be as simple as helping with an outreach project.
The gifts we give to these helping ministries are peace-offerings.
All of our hands-on efforts this month are peace-offerings.
A few dollars will buy an animal or a meal or groceries—and those are peace-offerings because it is hard to experience shalom when you’re hungry.
Small gifts will provide a blanket or help with the utilities—peace-offerings—because it is hard to experience shalom when you’re freezing.
Peace-offerings can provide transportation or a place to stay—because it is hard to experience shalom when you can’t get to work or don’t have a place to stay.
Peace-offerings provide support for promising young ministers to empower them to become the next generation of prophets and peacemakers.
Ultimately, peace comes from God…it is a gift from God.
But we pray that we find ways to become instruments of peace.
We need to listen closely to the Voice of Peace.
There must be transformation—we cannot stay the same.
We must be transformed to become voices of peace in this world.
We must be changed to become channels of God’s peace.
Let there be peace on earth… and let it begin…