A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, December 7, 2014
Matthew 1:18-25 ESV
As noted last week, our overall theme for this Advent season is “Advent: Season of Angels,” since the presence of angels is so prominent in all the Advent-Christmas scripture passages, and the mention of angels is so prevalent in most of the beloved Christmas carols.
Since the second candle of the Advent Wreath is the Candle of Peace, I thought it fitting that today’s topic be “Angels: Emissaries of Peace.” Maybe you noticed that “peace” was mentioned in three of the four stanzas of this morning’s opening hymn, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”
Stanza 1. “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, From heaven’s all gracious King.”
Stanza 2. “Still through the cloven skies they come, With peaceful wings unfurled.”
Stanza 4. “For lo, the days are hastening on . . . When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling.”
And, of course, one of the most beloved Christmas passages of all is the line in Luke’s Christmas story that says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
And so, all this is to say that the idea of angels as emissaries of peace is solidly grounded in the Christmas stories and Christmas hymns.
But I also noted last week that while “angels” in the Bible most often refers to heavenly agents or messengers, sometimes the word “angel” refers to a human messenger or agent. So here is the question of the day: Where, in today’s world, might we run across angels of peace?
I don’t know about you, but I have been disturbed by all the events that have resulted from the August 9 shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. For weeks now, one can hardly turn on the morning or evening world news without hearing about more protests, violence, burning of businesses, and looting. And the protests and violence have spilled over into other parts of the country as well. Are there any angels of peace in Ferguson, St. Louis, and other cities that have been affected by this racially-charged tragedy? And if there are, who are they?
A week or so ago, I happened to catch a news segment about one person in particular who is seeking to be an emissary of peace. On Sundays he is a Black pastor who is preaching and calling for reconciliation and peace. But Monday through Friday, he serves as a police officer who is out on the streets, in the troubled neighborhoods, where he is also working for reconciliation and peace. And I am sure there are a lot of other pastors and police officers, just like this Pastor-Policeman, who are striving to achieve peace and reconciliation in the midst of violence and unrest.
And then, what about Pope Francis? I have a growing respect for the new Catholic Pope. I feel like Pope Francis has brought a breath of fresh air to the Catholic Church and is edging the Catholic Church toward some positive changes, especially in the area of social issues. But one of the most important initiatives of Pope Francis is his commitment to “interreligious tolerance and outreach,”1 especially with Jews and Muslims. The Pope is seeking to foster better understanding, tolerance, and acceptance across religious lines. A good illustration of this is the Pope’s recent visit to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, a visit which served as a reaffirmation of “his belief in interreligious dialogue.” While there, Pope Francis had a meeting with the Grand Rabbi of Turkey. Regarding Islam, the Pope stated, “no one can say that all followers of Islam are terrorists, any more than you can say that all Christians are fundamentalists.” The Pope paid a visit to Istanbul’s 17-century Blue Mosque. “He faced Mecca and prayed should-to-shoulder with a senior Muslim cleric. ‘I came as a pilgrim,’ the pope said afterward. ‘I prayed above all for peace.’” From where I stand, Pope Francis might rightly be seen as an angel or emissary of peace.
But what about us? Are there any ways that we, too, might become angels or emissaries of peace during this Advent season? The sad truth is, the days leading up to Christmas can be some of the most hectic, stressful, peace-less days of the entire year. Many of us feel pulled in too many directions. We allow ourselves to get over-stressed with all the gift-buying, gift-wrapping, grocery shopping, and event-hopping that we feel has to be done. Then there are the impatient shoppers and inconsiderate mall parking lot drivers to be dealt with. And practically every day our mailbox is filled with end-of-the-year solicitations from organizations pleading for our financial gifts. If we are not careful, the “season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men” can easily become the season of fighting on earth, hatred toward men.
And so, it behooves us to enter the Advent-Christmas season with a conscious commitment to be emissaries of peace. Ahead of time we need to make a point, whenever we find ourselves in a less-than-peaceful situation, to try to be a peacemaker in the midst of turmoil: at family gatherings that can sometimes become political, religious, or nursing-old-wounds battlegrounds; in parking lots that can easily look like one of our children or grandchildren’s video games where one tank tries to zap the other tank as people vie for that one vacant parking spot; in crowded department stores where long lines and short tempers prevail; we can, perhaps, be agents of peace.
In such instances, we just need to step back; take a deep breath; not allow ourselves to be sucked into the downward spiral of turmoil; look for a way to turn the spirit of the moment the other way; and in a soft, reassuring voice seek to bring calm to the situation. In other words, seek to become emissaries of peace.
One day this past week, I stopped by Dollar General at lunchtime to pick up a few items. I ran in, quickly gathered up what I had gone in for, and then went to get in line. There was only one register open and about a dozen people waiting to check out. So there we were, most of us in a hurry, I surmised, checking the time, some starting to feel impatient. But then I noticed this one lady at the head of the line who had pulled her rounded-up cart out of line and was letting everyone go ahead of her. She let at least twenty people go ahead of her, and she was as cool as a cucumber. What a thoughtful gesture, I said to myself. It was a little thing, but her act of generosity changed the situation dynamics.
I recently finished reading the Travels of William Bartram, who was an early Quaker naturalist. I had underlined one of Bartram’s serendipitous prayers, and as I was copying notes to my naturalists’ quotes journal I thought this prayer most appropriate for this Sunday of Advent. Bartram’s prayer goes like this: “O universal Father! Look down upon us, we beseech thee, with an eye of pity and compassion, and grant that universal peace and love may prevail in the earth, even that divine harmony which fills the heavens . . .”2
May such be our prayer as well during this Advent season, but also our daily aim: to strive to be emissaries of peace, where peace often is so lacking and so woefully needed in our world. May it be so. Amen.
1Deborah Ball, “Pope Calls Extremism a ‘Grave Sin,’” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 1, 2014.
2William Bartram, Travels and other writings. Library of America, 1996.