Into the Neighbourhood - The Coming Kingdom of Peace

This is the first of the Hope and History Advent Candle Liturgies that we will be using in Belfast South Methodist this morning (and I hope elsewhere too). It includes part of my sermon for the morning... But let me include a spiritual health warning. If our commitment to the Kingdom of Peace is only a matter of gathering in a holy huddle around an advent ring and reciting this or another form of words, then we are an irrelevance to the future of this world... For me the key part of this liturgy is the bit that may well be neglected in most settings... the closing exhortation and benediction, and what flows from it. The benediction does not just act as a bookend to the opening candle-lighting ceremony, but is about the incarnation of these words into flesh and blood actions in the coming week... taking the promises of peace and making them a reality in a city and world that really needs to know that peace...

VOICE 1:       There’s a day coming
                       when the temple mountain of the Eternal I Am
                       will be recognised as the greatest of all mountains;
                       it will be raised high above all other peaks,
                       and all the peoples of the nations will flow uphill towards it.
                       Many will come and say,
VOICE 2:      "Come, let us climb the mountain of the Eternal I Am,
                       to the house of the God of Jacob.
                       Then he will point out his paths,
                       so that we may walk the way we should."
VOICE 1:       The law of God will be proclaimed from his mountain,
                       the word of the Eternal I Am from his holy city.
VOICE 2:       He will settle disputes between the nations with justice
                       and will reconcile divided peoples.
VOICE 1:       They will melt down their weapons to make pots and pans
                       and swap their knives for farming tools.
VOICE 2:       Nation will not declare war against nation,
                       nor will they stockpile weapons any more.
VOICE 1:       Come, you children of Jacob,
                       let us live in the light of the Eternal I Am.
Based on Isaiah 2:2-5
Lighting the Candles
VOICE 2:       We light this first candle
                       in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of peace;
                       As a symbol of our commitment
                       to promote peace and reconciliation in this neighbourhood.
                                                  
Advent Song
Glens of the north, rejoice;
river and moorland-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing:
Christ comes, the promised Prince of Peace;
To rule and make all conflict cease.
                                                  
VOICE 1:       Let us pray:
                       We thank you Lord
                       For your promise of peace for the world.
                       We humbly admit that in the past
                       we have not always sought the path of peace,
                       but have contributed to a world of conflict and division.
                       Forgive us and help us to forgive those with whom we are at odds,
                       wherever the fault may lie.
                       May you shape our words and actions 
                       so that we may be peacemakers wherever you have placed us.
ALL:              for we ask it in the name of your son the Prince of Peace
                       And for the sake of his coming kingdom. AMEN

Reflection: Are we there yet?
Anyone who has taken a journey with kids in the car will be familiar with the refrain "Are we there yet?"
Advent is a reminder that we are not there yet... That the Kingdom has not yet come in all its fullness. As impatient readers we may leap to the back of the book we will find at the end of Revelation that it will come and all will be well, but if we flick forward a few pages from that we will find that things might get worse before they get better. Jesus himself said that. He told his followers that the news would be filled with all sorts of scare stories (was Jesus prophesying the rise of the Daily Mail?):
You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.                                    Matthew 24: 6 (ANIV)
But he also warned them against all sorts of people claiming insider knowledge of God’s plans…
Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.                                                            Matthew 24: 4b-5 (ANIV)
Frequently I encounter people who recite a litany of the world's ills before saying: “Just goes to show that the Lord won’t be long in returning.” That includes a Filipino nurse who saw Taiphoon Haiyan/Yolanda as God's judgement on her nation and proof that Christ was on his way back and a correspondent who saw the story about Paul Flowers, former chairman of the Cooperative Bank, a Methodist minister and a personal friend as part of God’s judgement on the Methodist Church in Britain and the Cooperative because of their boycott of Israel which, together with the agreement with Iran regarding nuclear power shows that it won’t be long before the Dome of the Rock is replaced by an new temple, prompting Jesus return…
I'm not convinced. I prefer Jesus' words:
No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.                                                                                      Matthew 24:36 (ANIV) 
As we look at the prophecies of Jesus and Revelation and other parts of the Bible, we can certainly see the upheaval that they foretold… We are living in a world that is not at peace… and will not be fully at peace until Christ's Kingdom of Peace comes in all its fullness… And I am not talking about peace in terms of a lack of conflict, but the Biblical concept of peace… Shalom… 
  • A world where there will be no war or weapons of war… no community conflicts over flags or borders or resources… 
  • A world where the resources of the world are fairly distributed between nations, and there are no yawning chasms of inequality within nations or between communities… 
  • A world where there is unity without the need for uniformity… where there can be diversity without disagreement… 
  • A world where those at the top are not there through the selfish manipulation of power and influence but because of sacrificial service... 
  • A world where people do not find themselves marginalised or belittled or abused… 
  • A world which is itself not abused or misused, polluted or over-populated. 
  • A world that has been redeemed... reconciled... recreated...
That is the sort of world that the scriptures speak of… That is at the heart of the gospel… the good news that Christ came to bring… that he died for… And Jesus says:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.                                                   Matthew 24:1-14 (ANIV) 
But when Jesus talks about preaching he is not just talking about preaching a coming Kingdom of Peace… Pie in the sky when you die by and by… He is talking about promoting the values of that Kingdom here and now… Living as colonies of Christ’s Kingdom of peace… Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.           Matthew 5:9 (ANIV) 
If we truly are sons and daughters of God, followers of the Prince of Peace and citizens of the Kingdom of peace… Then we are called on to make peace… Not just be peacelovers, but peacemakers. Not simply seek peace and quiet, but at times actually risk getting into trouble for the sake of forging real gospel peace…
Are we there yet?

Benediction
Go out into the neighbourhood
to put flesh and blood on God’s promise of peace.
May his kingdom come and his will be done
in this neighbourhood as it is in heaven. AMEN

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