Held together in one peace

St Andrew’s Anglican Church 



Sunday 9 December 

Malachi 3: 1-4 

Song of Zechariah 

Philippians1: 1-11 

Luke 3: 1-6 

Held together in one peace. ©Sue Wilton 

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every  valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be  made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the  rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation  of God.”  

This is the expansive, joyful vision of what the coming  Messiah means – all flesh shall see the salvation of God. If  there is a word to take away from this Sunday’s readings it is  “all”. Paul’s letter to the Philippians says the word again and  again, emphasising that all share in the grace of God. 

Differences that hinder communion are to be wiped away and all barriers that divide people, those valleys and  mountains, are to be made smooth- whether those be the  barriers of race, ideology, class, gender, sexuality, education  or even religion. And this all happens in a particular moment  in history. The time had come, a time dominated by powerful  men like Emperor Tiberius, Pilate, Herod and Philip, and religious leaders like Annas and Caiaphas. With shocking particularity, across the millennia of creation’s story, there  comes a wild man, John the Baptiser, calling Israel to a change  of heart and a renewal of life oriented around compassion  and justice. It comes at a time when the people under Roman  occupation cry for political liberation. It is in this time, when  those crying out in their oppression long for the dawn of a  new day to break, that the Prince of Peace will come.  

Every Advent, as we journey through this expectation of the  inbreaking of God, we are uneasily aware that more millennia have passed, and humanity remains divided from one  another in so many ways, and peace does not hold sway  across the earth. What kind of Saviour is this who has come,  and what kind of salvation? The first century expectation of a  Messiah was of one who would overthrow the oppressor,  trample down the enemies and reinstate the Davidic kingdom  of Israel. But instead we have a salvation based not on earthly  expectations of power but upon a spiritual dimension where  the Spirit is poured out and we are made children of God, held  together in one peace. This is a truth that cannot be shaken,  despite the reality that universal human dignity and social  harmony are not what we experience. The breaking in of God  to our world is a unique, particular event that begins the new  creation because Jesus comes bringing unity where there is  division and wholeness where there is separation and  alienation. He comes… 

To give God’s people knowledge of salvation: 

by the forgiveness of their sins. 

In the tender compassion of our God:

the dawn from on high shall break upon us, 

To shine on those who dwell in darkness 

and the shadow of death: 

and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Jesus is the union of the divine and human in a world where the divine and human are divided. Not only are we divided  from one another, but we are divided even from the divine  presence found within ourselves. But Jesus is the Son of Man,  or, more literally, the Human One, destined to be the  reconciliation in his very person of all in humanity that is  fragmented and broken. As John Shea puts it, he lived unity under conditions of disunity and this non-fit in the world  became the ‘relentless energy of transformation.’ 

And how does this transformation take place? What kind of  energy doesthis misfit Jesus create that can be birthing a new  creation? What is this power that is enough to fill the valleys,  flatten mountains and make crooked paths straight? The song  of Zechariah reveals it most clearly- it is through the  tenderness of God that we will know salvation by the  forgiveness of sins. It is only through the power of forgiveness  that reconciliation can happen. It is only through forgiveness  that the barriers that divide us one from another can be  pulled down and we shall know peace.  

Both John the Baptist and Jesus came calling people to  repentance through the forgiveness of sins. We often think of  repentance as the sort of breast-beating, self-flagellating sorrow for all the things we have done wrong. The Greek,  however, is metanoia: literally, to have a change of mind.

Where the conventional view of morality is that we owe  people for the things we have done wrong- that we are  indebted and need to pay our due, this is not the Christian view at all. Repentance is actually the change of mind that  occurs when we experience the forgiveness of God- not the  other way around. We all share in the unity of the family of  God because we are all partakers of grace as gift. The new  creation is found anywhere where we let go of the sinful way  of being in the world where we pile up debts against one  another, keeping a running tab on what we owe and what we  are owed. Instead we embrace everything as gift and allow all  the broken and fragmented parts of ourselves to be gathered  up in the limitless love and acceptance of God. Only then can  we begin to see the dawning of a new day and glimpse the  peace into which our feet are guided, as we extend that same  love and acceptance to our neighbour. 

This is why the Advent season is both joyful preparation and  repentance. We are called to make space afresh for the one  who will unite in us the human and the divine, offering  forgiveness and love as simple gift. Repentance is the change  of heart and mind we experience when we surrender to this  encounter.  

In a moment the children will invite us through a drama to  reflect on some of the ways we can get distracted at  Christmass time and miss this encounter. May we instead open ourselves to a journey through Advent to the God who  comes to hold us together in one peace.