"Advent, Peace, and Human Rights" (A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Isa. 11:1-10). ______________________________________________________________________
Every time I read our passage from Isaiah, I'm filled with amazement at the prophet's vision of Shalom. This vision of God's Shalom is one of the most beautiful in all of scripture. It's a vision of peace with justice among all peoples of the earth. It's also a vision of peace for all of God's creation. When the Messiah comes, says Isaiah, there shall be complete wholeness and well-being; no more war; no more hatred; no more aggressive, killer-predator instincts in God's creatures.
As God's people in Christ, we've inherited Isaiah's vision of Shlom too. This vision of peace is what keeps a lot of us going. It inspires us; stimulates us; motivates us to become involved in the work for peace with justice and the implementation of human rights in our world. When we read, listen to and study this passage of Isaiah; all of us realize how far away we are--personally and as a world--from the reality of perfect Shalom. This vision of perfect Shalom is one of our deepest longings--we all want to live in a world where peace, with justice prevail and human righs are respected by everyone. We all long for that day when there will no longer be any wars and hatreds among the nations and peoples of the world. We all long for a time when we, and all of God's creatures live in perfect harmony with one another. This vision of Shalom calls us all up short and convicts us all of our sin; our hatreds; our lifestyles which ignore and even contribute to the injustices of others. It calls us to examine our distorted views and lifestyles, insofar as we are out of sync with God's way of Peace.
Dr. Mary G. Durkin tells the following story, which stresses the need for us people of faith to examine our views and lifestyles, and repent of any destructive ways which hinder the work of peace with justice and human rights:
"Once upon a time, not so long ago, a family, admired by many as an example of people who lived a good life, faced a crisis. For his business and civic contributions his church honoured the father, a self-made, multi-millioniare businessman. Few people, including his own children, knew of his plan to use bribes, threats and paternalistic promises to the poor immigrant employees at one of his factories in an attempt to swing a union election in the company's favor. His son discovered the father's role, when as part of a social justice program at his college, he began working with the immigrants. At the same time, the mother, whose name appeared on just about every charitable fundraising venture committee and who had been honoured at many luncheons for outstanding contributions to church and society, began a behind the scenes effort to keep a home for abused women and children from opening in her local community. Unaware of her mother's efforts, the daughter was on the committee working to find a place for these women. When parents and children finally confronted each other on these issues, each side had the same question: "How could you?" The parents could not understand how the children could be so ungrateful after all they, the parents, had done for them. The children couldn't believe what they saw as total hypocrisy on the part of the parents. It is said that eventually this crisis became a time for both generations to examine their views."
During this second Sunday in Advent, we are confronted with the perfect Peace, which comes with our Messiah, Jesus. As followers of Jesus, our first lesson today confronts us with our sin and shortcomings--since we've all failed in various ways to live and work for peace with justice; we've failed to respect the human rights of others; we've contributed to the violence, hatred and pollution in our world. Yet, at the same time as calling us up short and causing us to repent and re-examine our lifestyles ant attitudes; Isaiah's vision also provides us with a goal to work towards as followers of Jesus, our Prince of Peace. This vision of God's Shalom MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO REMAIN INDIFFERENT OBSERVERS OR PASSIVE BYSTANDERS. WE ARE CALLED INTO ACTION BY THIS VISION OF GOD'S SHALOM.
Already, right now, in the everyday events of history, we are involved in the work of peace, justice and human rights. There are no bystanders or observers--WE ARE EITHER FOR OR AGAINST GOD'S SHALOM. WHAT WE SAY, THINK, AND DO HAS PROFOUND CONSEQUENCES IN EVERY AREA OF OUR LIVES. That's why one wise person once said: "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." That's why another wise person once said: "You cannot have peace without justice." I would add: that you cannot have justice without the protection of basic human rights for everyone. No one knew this better than the prophet Isaiah. In our day, no one knows this better than the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa--Desmond Tutu.
Last weekend, Archbishop Tutu was in Edmonton to attend the International Human Rights Conference there. In an address, he told the audience how thankful he was to Canada for our staunch support of a democratic, free, South Africa where all races are equal.
According to an article in last Saturday's "Calgary Herald:" "Throughout the long night of South Africa's enforced racism, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a "crucial document" that offered a beacon against the "vicious policy of apartheid," said Tutu, commemorating the golden jubilee of the world's charter of rights and freedoms."
Archbishop Tutu and countless other Christians in South Africa and around the world have made a difference by working for and accomplishing peace with justice and the protection of human rights in South Africa. This is a glimpse of God's Shalom breaking into the world. Thanks to the excellent and diligent work of people like Desmond Tutu and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission; South Africa is able to face its evil history and work for healing, harmony and equality among all the races of that nation.
Today, we too are invited to become involved in working to fulfill Isaiah's grand vision of God's Shalom in our lives and world. In our baptism, we share in Christ's baptism--the spirit of the Lord: "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord." This baptismal inheritance of ours makes it possible for us to live with and work for Isaiah's vision of God's Shalom.
Whether it's working and praying for peace in the Middle East; being an advocate for human rights and justice for our native peoples in Canada; signing the "A Call To Jubilee" petition for the forgiveness of debts of the world's poorest nations; reforming the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; ensuring that governments provide adequate funding for health and education in Canada; writing letters to heads of state to secure the release of prisoners of conscience; sending cards of encouragement to prisoners of conscience or visiting them; or helping out with relief aid to disaster zones like Central America and Bangladesh; or visiting the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and providing shelter for the homeless people in our city, province and nation--in all of this and more, we are involved with the breaking in of God's Shalom.
So, people of God, keep burning bright this wonderful vision of Isaiah; so that one day the Messiah, Jesus will come to: "judge the poor with righteousness, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; wolf shall live with the lamb...They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord." Let us keep on the journey towards God's holy mountain of perfect Shalom, where there is wholeness, well-being and health for all without end! Amen.