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Advent Week 4: Peace with Bishop Palmer

I’m Gregory Vaughan Palmer, your resident bishop here in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. And I want to say to you boldly, Season’s Greetings. I don’t say that to be generic, but to say that this season evokes in all of us a sense of anticipation about what God continues to do in our midst, and who God continues to invite us to be in this Advent and Christmas season as people who bear love, joy, hope, and peace into the church and into the world. And it is that peace that I want to speak to you about as we approach Christmas Eve 2017.
 
One of the ringing messages and continuing messages of the Bible is the call to be peacemakers and peacebuilders. And we hear that against the backdrop of so much in the Holy Scriptures that remind us of the disruptions, the chaos, the violence and the war of our way in the world. Human beings sometimes have just made a mess of things. And we’ve even sometimes done it in the name of God and in the name of religion. But God in Christ, who we are focusing on in this season of Advent and as we anticipate the birth of our Savior anew, is calling us to be peacemakers and peacebuilders in our world.
 
When I look at the lectionary readings for Christmas Eve and particularly the one from Isaiah 9 and the 6th verse where there is this litany of names about the one who is to be born in this prophetic word. It says, “And he shall be called…” And then it rings out at the end, “Prince of Peace.” What if, dear friends, we really believed that because the one who is the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God, Mary’s little baby, the baby born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger really came into the world to be a sign of God’s intention for us to live peaceably with our neighbors and with all of creation. And I’m here to proclaim to you that that is why God in Christ came into the world, to help us to see how to do that and to summon us to join the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in the work of Christmas, which is always the work of bearing peace into the world. “And his name shall be called Prince of Peace.”
 
If you turn to one of the other readings for Christmas Eve, Luke and the 2nd chapter, you have that wonderful story and that celestial light show, I like to call it, where even the shepherds are shuddering in fear. And then the angel comes to them and says, “You need not be afraid, that what’s happening around you is the bearing of good news into the world. And you may rejoice and be at your ease in that good news.” And then there is this promise: “Glory to God in highest heaven and on earth, peace.” 
 
So the call, the summons, the invitation and the continuing word to us about God’s intention in the birth of the babe of Bethlehem, is that we, too, would live into the peace that God invites us to and intends for us, and with our eyes strictly trained on Jesus. Not just in the manger of Bethlehem, but throughout his life and ministry we see the pattern of peace, of peacemaking and of peacebuilding in his day and time and in his risen form his equipping us to do the same in the church and in the world.
 
And so as we sing our carols, as we light our candles, as we gather at altars and around family tables of food, may we remember that all of these are to be signs and symbols of the peace that God yearns for us to receive, to embody and to pour into the world.
 
I end with this: When I was a young lad I was a part of the Philadelphia Boys’ Choir. And I never shall forget the first time we premiered singing. We weren’t the first to do it, but our choir premiered singing the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” at Irvine Auditorium on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The curtain pulled back and we stood there like soldiers until the spirit of the song took us over, and then under the leadership of our director we gave it all the gusto we had. That song has been emblazoned on my mind and in my heart for years and is a continuing summons at Christmas and at other times of the year that I, Gregory Vaughn Palmer, have been called to be a peacemaker.
Listen to some of the lyrics:
 
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.
With God our Creator, 
Children all are we.
Let us walk with each other 
in perfect harmony.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let this be the moment now
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow,
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally. 
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.1
 
The babe of Bethlehem is beckoning to us from the manger and asking us, will we assume the vocation of being peacemakers and peacebuilders in our day and in our time? My prayer is that we will join Mary in saying, ‘Let it be so with me.’ 
 

 

God bless you and Merry Christmas.
 
1. "Let There Be Peace on Earth" UMH 431 Words by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson © 1955. Assigned to Jan-Lee Music, © renewed 1983. Used with Permission.