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Advent 2: Accepting (Peace)

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Advent Candle

Last week, we lit the candle of HOPE.
This week, we light the candle of PEACE.
We are trusting God to realize our deepest hope … our waiting is a sign of our trust.
[light 1st candle]
We are trusting God to bring peace … we accept that we are invited to participate in this peace-making even as we long for the full peace that only Jesus can bring when He comes to make all things new.
[light 2nd candle]

Sermon Intro

This week I stumbled on a quote that has been like a rock in my shoe … Australian theologian Michael Frost posted this....
“This Advent, please don’t just sing about the kingdom of God. See yourself as an agent of that kingdom, sent to bring healing, restoration, and repair to a broken world, in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
What if this is just how life is? This right now. Our own lives just as they are. But also the way things are in the world. What if the current state of things is a permanent condition?
A quote like this makes me realize that though I profess to believe that there this more going one, I often live as though this is it.
Advent, among other things, is a season in which we wonder exactly these things. Is this it? What difference does it make that Jesus came as an infant…and what difference would Him coming again make?
Advent is a season during which, even as we prepare out homes and our hearts for Christmas festivities, we wonder together where our hope comes from. As Christians, we take time to lean into the hope that we still have for Jesus to bring His kingdom in full. And we hold space to name all the places into which we know God’s peace - God’s shalom, wholeness - needs to flow.
Our text this morning, comes from a potentially unlikely source for an Advent sermon. The Old Testament book of Esther.
It’s actually a really great story - full of good guys and bad guys and plots and reversals, intrigue and resolution. (It is about a 30 min read.)
From Judy Fentress-Williams:
“Set in the Persian court of the fifth century BCE, the story of the beautiful, orphaned Jewish girl who becomes queen is often cast as a type of fairy tale. Against all odds, Esther finds herself selected as queen to Xerxes, but no one in the court knows her true Jewish identity. Her privileged existence is challenged when her cousin Mordecai calls her to go to the king on behalf of the Jews who face genocide at the hands of Haman, the king’s highest-ranking official. Esther risks her life to plead for her people and wins them the right to defend themselves. Haman and the other enemies of the Jews are defeated, and the victory is commemorated with the festival that came to be known as Purim.”
This morning, we’ll hear the account of Mordecai going to his niece Esther. Marlene, will you come now and read for us. Please stand for the reading of God’s word.
Esther 4 NIV
1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. 4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why. 6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. 8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people. 9 Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” 12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Two famous phrases… “For such a time as this” and “If I perish, I perish.”
Perhaps you know this story? Or you’ve heard these phrases used or quoted.
What does the story of Esther have to do Advent?
What does a story from the Old Testament, set in the Persian court of the fifth century have to do with 2022? Or even with the birth of Jesus that we are preparing to celebrate?
Why are we thinking about a beautiful, orphaned Jewish girl who becomes queen?
Well, I’m so glad you asked.
In this moment of Advent, as we wait with hope, as we seek peace - which includes longing for things that are broken to be made whole AND accepting our own role in the mending of things… in this moment, what can see in this text?
As the people of God, we know that there is more going on than meets the eye, we expect reversals and we recognize that sometimes we are called to play a part in those reversals.
“Each survival story is a communal memory that informs one’s sense of identity. Assimilation is required for survival in a foreign court, but too much assimilation is death to the Israelite identity. The right balance must be attained in the stories so that the characters adjust enough to survive, but resist practices and beliefs that undermine their identity as God’s people. In the court tales of Daniel and his countrymen, the exiled Israelites risk their lives to preserve their religious identity. In the Joseph story, Joseph operates within a foreign power to save many people, including his own, from the ravages of famine. In Esther, the Jewish diaspora in Persia is confronted with the threat of genocide.”
We see (at least) two depictions of identity as people of God. Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai lives as one whose Jewishness is obvious and is what Fentress-Williams calls “a catalyst for anti-Semitism.” She goes on to say: “Esther embodies a different way. Her assimiliation enables her to occupy a place of (relative) power, and from that place she acts to save her people.”
Esther, on the one hand, has no business being Queen, or being the subversive agent to save her people from the threat that Haman’s edict is to them.
But on the other hand, as Mordecai points out… maybe she is exactly where she is “for such a time as this.”
Pastor and professor Dr. Brenda Salter MacNeil puts is this way,
“Unlikely leaders find themselves in significant structures and we shouldn’t count anybody out.”
When faced with the challenge of going before the King, Esther says her famous line, “If I perish, I perish.”
Teri Peterson: "There's something there about Esther deciding to take on the risk of standing up to the death-dealing powers, rather than simply papering over the problem and pretending everything is fine (ie, don't wear mourning clothes, don't make a scene, etc). Peace doesn't come from pretence, it comes from courage.”
As the people of God, we know that there is more going on than meets the eye, we expect reversals and we recognize that sometimes we are called to play a part in those reversals.
At the Table:
And it’s not just Old Testament stories and accounts that contain these great reversals… there are more in the New Testament. And during Advent especially, doesn’t Esther remind you of someone else?
Someone who was also a young Jewish woman.
Someone who was also living under a military occupation.
Someone who, though limited in her options, also takes action.
Someone who also found herself invited into something much bigger than anyone might have imagined…
For such a time as this… and both Esther and Mary were in a strategic places at a moment where they were invited to live .
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
As the people of God, we know that there is more going on than meets the eye, we expect reversals and we recognize that sometimes we are called to play a part in those reversals.
And so, we come to the table this morning - and discover that here too, is a place of waiting, of hoping, of longing for peace, but also hearing the call for us to participate in the SHALOM that God is bringing …
So, this morning, we remember - looking back, to Esther, to Mary, and to the child Mary agreed to bearing. We remember that Jesus did indeed come - and we are living between the two comings. We find ourselves here at the table this morning remembering His first coming, but also anticipating the promised coming… and we want to find ourselves in that story. And this table invites us to do exactly that.
Our identity is found here most of all. We are invited here. And we discover that we belong to something bigger than just ourselves. A kingdom that is here, but that is also coming.
Our agency is reignited here. We are not demanded to be here. We are not force fed this meal. We choose to come. We bring ourselves willingly. And we receive here from Jesus himself.
And here we taste of the great reversals of the kingdom of God that Mary sang about…
Luke 1:46–55 NIV
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Pray - Let it be with us according to Your word. Bring Your kingdom. Fulfil your promise… those promises you made to Abraham and his descendants. And those promises that are fulfilled in Jesus - and that are still being fulfilled… bring down rulers from their thrones, lift up the humble, fill the hungry with good things. We are hungry for You. We trust in Your mercy… and rejoice that it does indeed extend from generation to generation. And keep us from being those who are sent away empty because we have placed our trust in the things we have rather than in You who provides all.
Holy Spirit, come on this bread and this wine and use these to strengthen us in the ways You know we need You.
These are the gifts of God for the people of God.
Servers, will you come now?
As you go, may you see yourself as an agent of the kingdom of God, sent to bring healing, restoration, and repair to a broken world, in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
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