Preaching is a delicate art. Sometimes, in the midst of turmoil, preachers are called to let theology take a backseat as we flex our storytelling muscles. John the Baptist has been known to bring out the worst in preachers. It is difficult for many preachers to resist the temptation to mimic John the Baptist’s shrill rhetoric. Far too many Advent sermons fail to empathize with the travails of the season. This story/sermon is an attempt to bring comfort to those who are busy hustling and bustling during Advent; a gentle reminder that peace begins in us.
It was just a shabby little basement apartment. It was far too damp for a newborn baby, but it was all they could afford. It was a damp rainy west coast November afternoon when Carol’s Aunt and Uncle brought little Liam home from the hospital. They must have fought in the car on the way home from the hospital because the argument that they were having when they got out of the car seemed like it had been underway for quite sometime. Carol was waiting in the driveway with her four-year-old cousin Michael and her parents. They had spent the morning getting the shabby little apartment ready for the new baby’s arrival and trying to convince Michael that a new baby brother was a wonderful thing. Carol had no idea what her aunt and uncle were arguing about. She heard her mother mutter something about saving their battle for another time; after all they were about introduce Michael to his new baby brother Liam.
Carol was just thirteen when Liam made his appearance in the world. In those days, thirteen was considered a prime age for babysitting. So, Carol would head over to Aunt Val’s and Uncle Dave’s every day after school to help out. It was Carol’s job to take Liam for a walk each afternoon so that her Aunt Val could get supper on the table in time for Uncle Dave’s arrival from work. Carol would pack Liam up in his pram regardless of the weather and head for the park. Michael would tag along behind them. In the weeks that followed Liam’s arrival, Michael changed quite a bit. He became unusually whiney. He didn’t seem to enjoy much in life. He whined about everything. He whined about going to the park and he whined about having to leave the park. He whined whenever he was told to be quiet because the baby was sleeping and he whined when he was asked to help with anything that had anything to do with his little brother. Carol’s Mom said that it was all very normal; children don’t much like it when a new baby takes their position as the only child.
Carol disagreed with her mother, but she kept her thoughts to herself. Carol was convinced that Michael’s whining had more to do with his parents’ whining. Ever since they had brought Liam home from the hospital, Val and Dave had taken up whining themselves. They whined about dirty diapers, about being tired all the time, about the messy apartment, about the crying baby, about how small the apartment was and about how much whining Michael was doing. When they weren’t whining, Val and Dave were fighting. They fought about everything. They fought about whether or not the baby should sleep in their bedroom. They fought about whether or not Michael should be sent to his room as punishment for waking up the baby. They fought about dinner being late; about whether or not Uncle Dave should have to change dirty diapers because he was too tired from working all day. They were always arguing about money. One time they even managed to have an argument about paying Carol the .25 cents an hour that she was paid for helping out after school. As Christmas approached they argued about how they were going to pay for Christmas. The more they argued, the whiner Michael got.
One afternoon, Carol arrived to find Aunt Val screaming at Michael because he’d been playing with the contents of Liam’s diaper bag and had managed to shake talcum powder all over the living room. When Val saw Carol, she pointed to the pram and said that she had better take the kids out and that I shouldn’t bring them back until she’d had some peace. Judging by the state of the living room, Carol figured that a trip to the park wouldn’t quite cut it – so she took her little cousins home with her. Carol’s Mom told Carol not to worry. She explained that Val and Dave were just having trouble coping and that all that they needed was a little peace. Carol’s Dad headed over to their apartment and picked up enough supplies so that the kids could stay with them for the weekend.
The next morning Val came by and explained to Michael that he was going to stay with his Carol and Aunt and Uncle for a few days so that she and his Dad could get a little peace. She told Michael that she had opened his piggy bank and brought his Christmas money so that he could get his Christmas shopping done. Carol was charged with the responsibility of helping Michael get Christmas presents for his Mom and Dad and new baby brother with a grand total of about eight dollars. Carol wasn’t too happy with this task because she had my own shopping to do and her own limited budget to overcome. She thought she had about twenty dollars to cover her own family and her little cousins. But off they went. Michael and Carol headed into town to do their Christmas shopping. Carol figured they could get everything we needed in the drug store. But Michael wasn’t happy with the selection of goods in the drug store. He kept whining on about something he’d seen a few weeks ago down at Magee’s Furniture Store. Carol insisted that Michael didn’t have enough money to shop at the furniture store. Eight dollars would go farther at the drug store. And so on Carol’s insistence, Michael had to buy an Old Spice soap on a rope for his Dad, some really cheap perfume for his mother and a small rattle for his baby brother.
Michael was disgusted with his purchases and wouldn’t stop whining about the furniture store. Carol decided that she could do a better job of shopping if she came back to the drug store without Michael so they headed home. Carol’s Mom and Dad had some shopping of their own to do so Carol was left to baby-sit Michael and Liam.
Somehow, Carol doesn’t know when he did it, but she suspects he waited until she was changing Liam’s diaper Michael disappeared. By the time her parents got home, Carol was convinced that Michael must have run away. Her Dad suspected that Michael probably just went home and so he set off to see if he could find Michael. But Carol decided to check out a different idea. She got on my bike and headed straight for Magee’s furniture store.
When Carol got to the furniture store, Mr. Magee asked her if she was looking for anything in particular, she told him she was looking for a small boy about so high who would be wearing a read jacket. Mr. Magee smiled and told Carol that there was a young man who’d been admiring the ornaments at the back of the store for about an hour. Carol headed to the back of the store and found Michael admiring a collection of snow globes, those small ornaments that depict a scene and when you turn them upside-down snow begins to fall. Michael had his eye on one globe in particular. It contained a small nativity scene, complete with Mary and Joseph, and shepherds and an ever so tiny baby Jesus. Perched atop the stable was an angel.
Michael carefully showed Carol what happened after the globe was turned upside down and as the snow fell on the small nativity, Michael explained that Mr. Magee had told him that the Angel was a special messenger from God who had brought good news to all the world. He pointed to the words inscribed on the base of the globe and said that Mr. Magee had told him that they spelled peace.
I told Michael that they said a little more than that. The words spelled peace on earth. Michael just smiled up at me and said isn’t this the perfect present for his Mom and Dad. Carol explained that the price tag was nine dollars and besides he’d already bought some lovely gifts for Christmas.
Michael didn’t react the way Carol expected he would. She figured he’d start up with the whining again, but instead he just looked up at her with sad eyes and insisted that peace was just exactly what his Mom and Dad really wanted.
Carol brushed away the tears from his eyes and suggested that it was time we were going. Michael turned the globe upside down one more time and as the snow fell on the holy family we set off for home.
On the way home, Michael wouldn’t stop talking about the snow globe. He went on and on about what happened when you turn the world upside down. Carol held on tight to his hand and explained to him that they simply didn’t have time to worry about the snow globe. Christmas will soon be here! Come on! There is no time for this. They had to get ready. Christmas is coming.
Sometimes out we are so busy out there in the wilderness preparing for Christmas that we simply miss it altogether. We are so busy preparing the way that we fail to see that Christ has already come. Christ is right here in our midst asking us to turn the world upside down. All too often, we limit ourselves to playing the role of John the Baptist. We so good at shouting, “Repent, turn around, prepare the way of the Lord.” We know exactly what is wrong with the world and we’re so prepared to tell people how to go about fixing it. We know exactly what it would take to set the world right and so we stand shouting in the wilderness. But we are not called to be John the Baptist. We are called to be Christ. We are called to set the world right. The Spirit of the Most High is upon us, because God has anointed us. God has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of God’s favour.
The world has been turned upside down by the powerful, the greedy, the vengeful, the selfish and the cruel and it is not our job to stand around and complain about it. We have been called to set the world right-side up. We have been called to work with God to establish peace on earth. It never ceases to amaze me that God breaks into our world, not with angelic armies or fire and brimstone, but as a tiny, helpless infant murmuring in the night, a helpless infant, born into a family on the run. But the story of God’s amazing presence the world, is not just a story from long ago, it is our story. It is not just about shepherds and angels and Magi, but about us. This story is not just about any baby. It is about our baby. Isaiah’s voice echoes through the centuries, “A child has been born for us, a son given to us.”
Carol’s Father didn’t seem to mind that she gave him an Old Spice soap on a rope even though he’d given up using Old Spice for a long time. Her Mom, who never wore perfume, actually seemed delighted with the tiny bottle of cheap perfume that Carol to gave her. Baby Liam was too little to notice the rattle that Carol carefully pinned to his bib. But Val and Dave seemed positively overjoyed with the snow glob that Michael proudly presented to them. Michael carefully explained that the inscription on the bottom said, peace on earth and that that meant that it wasn’t just a present for his Mom and Dad but for everyone.
That little snow glob is sitting on Val and Dave’s mantle each and every Christmas Eve as they wait for their grown sons to arrive to celebrate. The message is still the same, Peace on Earth, Good will to all and the truth is that Peace on Earth still begins with peace at home. Whether that home is in a lowly stable in Bethlehem or a shabby little basement apartment on the west coast; a mud hut in Afghanistan, or a Manhattan townhouse, or even in a split level in Newmarket. Peace on earth begins when realize that a Child has been born for us, a child given to us; and that child is named Emmanuel, God is with us. God is with us and we are changed forever more by that child sleeping in the manger. God is with us. Peace on earth, peace in your home and peace in your hearts. God is with us. Peace on earth and good will to all. Amen.