Rev. Chris Snow
North Hill Christian Church
December 8, 2019
Over this past week I have become increasingly aware of how much I use words of peace on a daily basis. If you have received an email from me or read my sign off on my newsletter articles or the like, you will notice that I finish with the words “Peace in Christ.” On a number of communications in the past few weeks, I came to recognize that those words concluded a message that assured the recipient that I had something under control and they did not have to worry. In other times they were used to provide hope through a moment of crisis. All in all, these words are meant to instill a sense of comfort to those who hear it.
When we pass the peace of Christ each Sunday, we use it as a way to enter into that attitude of worship as we honor each person present here. It is meant to be comforting and an avenue through which we are united together in this time. My hope is that as we greet each other, we might be ever mindful of how we seek to provide a place of comfort in which we can all encounter the divine. Clearing away those distractions, so that we can simply be present in this space seeking the divine.
I am also aware that when I come face to face with someone experiencing crisis that while they may be seeking resources or assistance with the issues that they are facing, they are also seeking a sense of peace. They are looking for at least a moment when they can lay their burdens down and find comfort. There have been many times that individuals in crisis have just come into our building to find warmth and comfort. They come seeking the peace that God promises.
When someone comes to me and pours out their struggles with the church or their faith because of the condemnation that they have received, they are not looking for a debate. They come and share with me because they know that I will provide a moment of peace and comfort. And to be honest, sometimes they are surprised when they find a place of peace rather than derision.
Our text this morning comes out of the context of the people of Judah who are in exile, and have struggled and labored under the oppression of Babylon. As they are suffering and seeking those moments of peace, we hear these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
Declare to the people these words of comfort. Do not compound their suffering but rather declare their liberation. Do not pile on with condemnation and accusations, but rather lift them up out of the pit and embrace them. The people have suffered and it is time for them to find peace. Speak to the people and proclaim words of comfort for their suffering shall come to an end.
Then we hear these words, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of our Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”
In my time of being a runner and cyclist, the one thing that I always dread seeing near the end of a long run or bike ride is a hill. Not just any hill but a steep incline that hides the apex. Or even a steep descent that requires my upmost focus unless I loose control and crash to the bottom. When my body is already starting to show signs of fatigue and strain, and in front of me is an obstacle to the finish line. A barrier to the sweet release that comes with being able to just sprawl on the ground as a sense of completion and exhaustion wash over me. It would be a welcome site to see the last stretch of a route to have been made even, no hills or valleys to deal with just nice and even.
We hear out of this text the call to prepare the way for the Lord. Prepare the ground. Prepare the route, so that the obstacles that prevent us from encountering the divine are removed. Clear the way so that the people can know the peace and comfort of our God. Clear those barriers that have been set up between God and the people so that they may encounter one another once more.
Earlier this week I was part of a conversation with other clergy about how we preach the Gospel out in our community, and primarily to the unchurched. Overwhelmingly the responses were about being present and removing those barriers that arise due to stereotypes. Removing the barriers by being another human being seeking to bring good news into the world by being in relationship with others. Removing those barriers to proclaiming the gospel by throwing out the image of the sidewalk preacher on their soapbox. Removing the obstacle that comes with that imagery, so that one can simply be present and in conversation based on relationship rather than an agenda.
Removing those barriers so that those who are seeking to know the divine may find moments and places of peace rather than condemnation and judgement. Providing a relationship that reflects the relationship that we ourselves have with God. One based on love and forgiveness, acceptance and encouragement.
As we prepare to celebrate our savior’s birth, are there those obstacles that we have set up, that prevent others from finding God’s peace in this time? Are there those barriers that we have ignored and left standing, even if they serve no purpose, that tell those in crisis or distress that they must change first? That they must first suffer and be judged so that they may change before coming to know the divine?
This summer we had an individual who after dropping off their sibling at camp declared that they wanted to go to camp. But there had been these unspoken barriers in place that made the question of if they would be welcomed valid. My response was, to say yes, as long as there was still room. What resulted in the removal of that unspoken barrier, was a youth who felt absolutely loved for who they are, and was able to experience a place of peace and comfort even if the rest of their life was not so. In declaring the willingness to welcome another in Christian fellowship we provided this youth with a place of peace that led to tremendous transformation.
As we seek to declare the peace of Christ, each week, it is our responsibility to prepare the way for that peace. As we pass the peace of Christ we are practicing the removal of barriers and obstacles so that when we are in the world we can more easily pass that same peace. Let us prepare the way of the Lord and make a highway for our God to come close. Prepare the path so that obstacles are removed and those seeking after God may recognize the presence of the divine. May we recognize where those barriers are and push them aside. For as we do this, we make way for the Good news of Jesus Christ.