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Baruch 5.1-9

John 14.1-7, 25-31

A Little Peace of Joy

Second Sunday of Advent

I’ve been friends with Boot for nearly forty years.  When I first moved back to Connecticut from Michigan, he was a member of my church and invited me to join his Saturday morning running club.  Over the years, he and I have had a trove of wonderful memories to treasure, and even though he was closer to my Dad’s age than my own, we were peers in nearly every respect.  I have a lot of stories to tell about Boot, even one or two I can tell from the pulpit.  Here is one.

Our church’s organ needed replacing in the early 1990s.  Through her musical connections our organist learned that the college chapel at Hartford’s Trinity College was getting a brand new organ and their current one, an Ausitn organ still in fine condition, was available.  We decided to go for it.  It was not inexpensive, but we understood we could save some money by helping with the disassembly at Trinity and shipping it to Bridgewater ourselves.  Fortunately Boot had a pickup that matched the length of a number of organ pipes, so we carefully loaded them for the 52 mile journey.  But as he drove west on I 84, his truck began making this strange noise he had never heard before.  He pulled over somewhere around New Britain and listened carefully, but the noise had stopped.  Thinking all was well, he resumed his drive, and there it was again, and it seemed the faster he drove, the louder the noise grew.  He stopped again, and sure enough, no noise.  Part of him was reluctant to keep traveling with such precious cargo strapped to his truck, because who knew what the truck would do next.  Sure enough, coming into Waterbury it was back, and it sounded like ghosts were following him.  And finally, as he passed through the mixmaster at Route 8 he realized what was going on:  every time his truck picked up speed, the wind resistance grew - the organ pipes were singing!  It was a dissonant song, to be sure, because it was sharps, flats and naturals all at once, but it kept the old Bootman laughing rest of the way home.

Boot’s dear wife Ann passed away in September.  She had battled dementia for several years, and Boot had visited her every single day at her care facility.  The minister at my old church was new, and didn’t know either Boot or Ann very well, but knowing what a good friend he is, she kindly invited me to offer Ann’s eulogy.  So I did, it was early November, and it struck me as the service began that it had been twenty-three years since I last stood in that pulpit.  The time for the eulogy came, and as I looked on that sea of old – in both senses of the word – old and familiar faces, I confess I got a lump in my throat, partly because of my dear friend’s loss, and partly because of the flood of memories that came rushing back, and had to gather myself before beginning to speak.  It was such a joy to be in that place in that moment that I just had to take it all in.

But I mention all of this because of what happened the next day.  It was communion Sunday here at the United Church, and after the announcements and the prelude and the introit, I stood to offer the usual good morning and welcome, and the same feeling came over me, only more powerfully.  You probably didn’t notice it, but I couldn’t speak right away.  I felt that same lump in my throat and I had to gather myself before I began.  It was like the day before, only more intense and at the same time even more joyful.  And I looked out on all of you with a powerful love and affection, and thought how fortunate, how blessed I am to be ministering with you and among you all.  In that moment as in so many others, a feeling of pure unmitigated joy washed over me..

Now I understand that today is the second Sunday of Advent, and the theme for this day is usually Peace, with Joy coming next week.  And come it will, as Karli and our choir bring us a cantata that will be chock full of joy.  But because of the cantata, I’m not preaching next week, and don’t want joy to be lost in the shuffle.  And besides, in so many instances peace and joy are inextricably intertwined. We don’t have to look any further than the story of the nativity for this, where the angel announces, in one moment, “Behold I bring you good news of great joy,” and then in the next, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.”  Joy and peace, wed together in one angelic breath.

Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe.  In the old days the role was called “amanuensis,” which roughly translates to “secretary” from the French escritoire, the one who writes things down.  Today we’ve kind of flattened out the term with “administrative assistant,” but by whatever name, that was Baruch.  In fact it is likely that the entire Old Testament book of Jeremiah, all 52 chapters of it, was recorded by Baruch.  This morning we get the scribe in his own words:

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.  Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.  For God will give you evermore the name, ‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory…’  God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of this glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from the Lord.”

God will lead with joy in the light of glory.

Now it is true that it seems we have to search a little harder to find joy these days.  I won’t bother to repeat yet again the litany of troubles present in the world around us.  But I would lift up the words of Jesus Jennifer read this morning when he spoke about the kind of peace God brings.  Remember, when the angels sang of Peace on Earth, Jesus was born into a world that knew more strife and poverty and oppression than we could possibly imagine.  Israel was ruled and occupied by the Roman Empire, most Jews lived in poverty, slavery was the rule of the day, and the Jews had few rights as we understand them.  If Joseph and Mary’s contemporaries had heard the angels sing about peace on earth likely they would have scoffed at the disconnect.   I would imagine the song sounded as dissonant as those organ pipes in the back of Boot’s pickup.  But for those with ears to hear, they sounded like sweet, sweet music.  Because people of faith hear with different ears.  “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said in John 14, “my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hears be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  I do not give to you as the world gives.  The peace that comes with the advent of the savior is a kind of peace that is unlike anything the world has to offer.  Liz Miller makes the same point in this morning’s Advent devotion. 

“John the Baptist is an unlikely candidate to be the one who heralds peace each Advent, yet there he is.  He has the task of proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, even as his wild, unsightly existence flies in the face of our modern trappings of what peace looks like.  John offers a peace that turns upside down our expectations and points us back to God’s holy love of radical acceptance.”

God’s peace does not look like the world’s peace.  In the person of John peace is wild and woolly.  In the person of Jesus peace is a newborn child.  In the voice of the angels peace is the precursor to joy.

Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza – there’s that name again - Baruch Spinoza famously wrote, “Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue born out of the strength of the heart.”  If we imagine peace as the absence of war, or the end of gun violence, or racial and economic justice, or gender equality for all; if we imagine joy to be the absence of sadness or the vanquishing of oppression or the release of our burdens – well, these are all good beginnings, but they can only carry us so far, because we are imagining peace and joy as the absence of all that they are not.  But peace and joy are much more than the sum of lack of their antitheses, they are virtues born of the strength of the heart, both human and divine.  “I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

So yes, today is only the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of peace.  But the Bible stories remind us that peace and joy both parts of the whole – a whole which is also bookended by hope and love and everything that makes the season a season when what is divine becomes human and what is human participates in divinity, not because anything is absent or missing but because the presence of Jesus fills to overflowing every human heart and every corner of creation since these stories were first told.  It is why we tell them again year after year after year.

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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697

 

From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.

 

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