Dec. 6, 2015 (Advent 2)
Peace; Fixing Relationships
Do you like movies? I love movies. I also enjoy watching movie trailers/ previews. These days they make really fancy movie trailers like they are movies themselves. What I find interesting about movie trailers is that it reveals some information and doesn’t reveal the rest, and sometimes they even misguide us in some aspects so that we will be surprised when we watch the feature films. Movie trailers are supposed to make us curious and interested while preparing us for the feature film. There are some trailers that you watch and think, “I really really want to watch this movie!” But I think good trailers don’t misguide us too much; just a little to give us the pleasure of being surprised later on. Some trailers misrepresent the movie so much that people get angry after watching the movie. Some trailers don’t live up to the quality of the movie, and some are so well presented that it can make bad movies look good (and then people feel betrayed after watching the movie). Good movie trailers arouse our curiosity and give us pleasant and just the right dose of surprise when we watch the movie. So we could say that movie trailers are very important in the movie industry.
In today’s gospel text, we are introduced to John who is called the Baptizer or Baptist. Kimberley United Church, meet John the Baptist. John, meet Kimberley United Church. Actually we meet John at the beginning of Luke’s gospel as a part of the nativity story, but this is the adult John we are meeting here. I started today’s sermon by talking about movie trailers because that’s what John was; He was a movie trailer for the feature film that was Jesus. John and Jesus were living in an important transition period of Israel’s history; before Jesus, Israel and its religion was centered on the leadership of Moses. The Law of Moses called Torah was at the center of their spiritual life. Then came Jesus with the message that it is the spirit of the law (which is love and compassion) that is important, not the individual words of the law. In opening this new era spearheaded by Jesus of Nazareth, it was John the Baptist that prepared the soil for the “Jesus seed” to be sown. And just like a movie trailer, John’s beliefs and teachings were partially the same as those of Jesus. They both preached the kingdom of God and its imminence. But just like we experience surprises when we watch the feature film after watching the trailer, ultimately Jesus was different from John. Unlike John who lived away from the corrupted world in isolation and abstinence to maintain spiritual purity, Jesus went INTO that corrupted world and changed people. Surprise!
John’s purpose was to prepare the people of Israel for the Messiah. He acted as a movie trailer preparing people so that they would be ready to receive the teachings of Jesus when he starts his ministry. But how do you prepare for a great spiritual leader, who is God’s own representative? John prepared the people of Israel for the coming Messiah through baptism of repentance. How do you prepare to meet a very important person? By washing and cleaning, and putting on nice clothes, and so on. To prepare for God’s representative, one has to spiritually wash themselves; that’s what John baptism was about. But since we won’t have a sermon next Sunday, let’s take a peek at next Sunday’s lectionary gospel text to see what this repentance is.
To the crowd that came to be baptized by him John said, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (vv. 8-9) “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” this is what true repentance is about. It’s not about saying sorry and then that’s it; if we repented, it should lead to a serious change in our lives. If we repented for not sharing enough, after the repentance, we should start sharing more. After verse 9, when different people ask John, “Then what should we do?” John tells the crowd to share one coat if they have two; he tells tax collectors not to collect more than prescribed for them; he tells soldiers to be content with their wages. How do we prepare for Jesus? By repenting for both our wrongdoings and shortcomings, and changing our ways of life. To be more precise, we are letting God change us.
Today the second Sunday in Advent is about peace and I am talking to you about repentance; why? Because peace is about mending relationships. I grew up in a very patriarchal society where a lot of wives stayed in the marriage because they had no other choice, not because they were happy or because it was a healthy relationship. A lot of couples divorce these days and a lot of old people lament about it; but in some cases (not most of them, of course), fights and breakups can be healthy. There was a time when I was little, I thought peace was about the outward lack of turmoil and trouble; but now I believe that true peace cannot be achieved without healthy relationships and justice for both parties. For example those who are in abusive relationships, whether physical, verbal, or emotional, should fight and leave; that is true peace, not staying in the relationship as if everything is peaceful. So in our relationship with God, the only way we can have peace is if we have a healthy relationship with God. Doing things that makes God sad (that we call sin) is an obstacle to our relationship with God and our inner peace. Think of our own personal experience with relationships. Don’t we feel troubled and without peace when we have a fight or conflict with our loved ones? Exactly.
This week, let us focus on preparing ourselves spiritually to meet Jesus. As we wash ourselves and wear nice clothes before meeting important people, we prepare ourselves to meet Jesus by washing away our sins and wearing the Holy Spirit. As we cannot mend our relationship with our loved ones without getting rid of our egos and grudges, we cannot mend our relationship with God without getting rid of bad and ugly things that are in us.
Only after we fix our relationship with God and experience true inner peace can we be sent out into the world and work for peace of others, and all of us. That is why earlier today we said our prayer of confession for mending our relationship with God, and then we will pray for world peace later on to mend our relationship with our human brothers and sisters.
So during this second week of Advent, let us first be spiritually cleansed and mend our relationship with God; then pray for world peace and live out our prayers by donating money or working to bring peace to our troubled brothers and sisters of our world, such as through our committee to help Syrian refugees (but of course, that is just one example of what we can do for world peace). During this week of Advent, may the peace of God be with us and our troubled neighbors in our local and global communities. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim