Sermon for Advent II, Year B
Based on Ps. 85:1-2, 8-13 & II Pet. 3:8-15a
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Righteousness, justice, peace and repentance…. What do all of these share in common with each other? According to our psalm and second lesson today, they share a lot in common. For the psalmist, and for the writer of II Peter, righteousness, justice, peace and repentance all go hand-in-hand ~ since they are all gifts from God, as a result of God's presence and ruling over our lives.
In both the psalm and the II Peter passage, all of these gifts from God work together to create renewed, restored relationships between God and God's people, between people with one another, and, eventually, involving a whole, new creation.
In our psalm, the Israelites are just returning from their Babylonian exile. The psalmist gives God's people a vision of what is in store for them as they enter the Promised Land again. The psalmist speaks in Very Human Terms concerning God's gifts. In fact, So Human that these gifts are personified.
"Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other." Here, in very human, picturesque language, the psalmist gives us a tender, loving vision of the future. It's a picture of cooperation and harmony, where everyone is able to live an abundant life.
The Hebrew word here for "righteousness," is also often translated "justice." It's A Loaded Word, which emphasizes right relationships in every area of our lives. It involves loyalty and integrity in one's behaviour so as to honourably and with all fairness distribute to others what is their due. Righteousness and justice are especially concerned with The Weakest And Poorest People In Society ~ people who have been denied rights and privileges because others have kept them oppressed and underprivileged by a system which clearly favours some, but discriminates against others.
That's why some Christians living in the poor nations are working to change the systems in their societies. They believe that God supports their cause, because the Bible teaches us that God loves and cares for the poor, the widow and orphan, the stranger, the underprivileged in this world. So, for the ancient Israelites, if one worked for justice, one was a righteous person, because God is concerned with justice in this world.
The psalmist, interestingly enough, connects justice, righteousness with peace. Indeed, for God, and for the Israelites, they go hand-in-hand. United Nations Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, also understood this connection, when he said that peace is not possible without justice, and justice is not possible without peace.
For the ancient Israelites, peace meant much more than just the absence of war. It meant good health ~ physically, mentally, and spiritually. It meant prosperity for humans as well as for the whole creation. It meant a perfect unity and harmony within the whole creation.
The following story, told by the Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson, in her book, Turning the World Upside Down, points out something of what it means to live in peace. "During my last visit to China, I told my friend Liu about T.Z. Koo, a Student Christian Movement visitor from China to Winnipeg during my student days. Liu confirmed what T.Z. had told me so many years before: that in the Mandarin language, the printed characters for peace may be translated literally as "rice in the mouth" and "a roof over your head." But, then, after much deep thought, Liu ventured hesitantly and with a tender smile, "There is a third meaning to the Chinese character for peace ~ two hearts beating together in understanding, friendship, harmony, and love."
In our II Peter passage, the writer also connects righteousness, justice and peace together. Similar to the psalm, our II Peter passage gives the early Christians and us a vision of Christ's second coming, which shall involve the creation of: "new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness/justice is at home."
I rather like this image of righteousness or justice being at home. When one thinks of home, one tends to remember what is common and familiar; what makes us comfortable and secure so that we can "let our hair down" so-to-speak. When Christ comes again, righteousness/justice shall be at home because it will be common, familiar, comfortable and secure. Just as home is the place where we dwell ~ so in the new heavens and earth, righteousness/justice shall be so all-pervasive that it shall dwell among God's faithful people.
As we wait for Christ's second coming, the writer encourages and instructs us to: "strive to be found by him (i.e., Christ) at peace, without spot or blemish." In other words, the writer is assuring us that in Christ we are at peace, reconciled with God. Therefore, as a result of that peace and reconciliation, we are instructed to be at peace with; to be reconciled with each other.
Another very close connection is made by the psalmist and the writer of II Peter ~ involving righteousness, justice, peace and repentance. The psalmist says that: "those who turn to (God) in their hearts" shall be the faithful people, who shall receive the blessings of righteousness, justice and peace. In the Hebrew, that is what repentance is all about ~ it literally means "to turn around or to return." Israel, after straying from God and the covenant on many occasions, would turn around and return ~ thanks to God's prophets who pointed them back in the right direction.
Our passage from II Peter also emphasizes the importance of repentance. In this passage, repentance is viewed as God's loving patience; allowing people ample opportunities to repent as a preparation for Christ's coming again. There's a wonderful story, which I read in The Edmonton Journal a few years ago that illustrates this very well. It goes like this: "God can forgive us for our offences against God, but we must ask forgiveness for offenses against each other."
"The story is told of a European Rabbi, Yisroel, who went to a shoemaker at the end of the day for some repairs. Apologizing for coming when it was nearly dark, he offered to return the next day if the shoemaker had trouble seeing his work. Responded the shoemaker: "As long as there are candles, I can fix the shoes."
"The story shows, said Yisroel, that "as long as there is life in a man or woman, there is still time to make repairs, still time to repent and turn to God (and a neighbour)."
Advent is a time in the church year when we are called back to turn or return to our God ~ as well as to one another. This is the appointed time, full of opportunities for living under the power of God's gifts of: righteousness, justice, peace and repentance. These are the Advent Ways of walking to prepare ourselves for meeting Christ. For, who knows, our Lord may come today or tomorrow. Shall we be prepared to meet him when he comes?
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