"Coming Home for Peace" by Rev. Jason Smith
Well 73 years ago this Friday, December 10, 1948, delegates at the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This upcoming Friday December 10 is international human rights day, a day celebrating the adoption of the Universal Declaration, a document that proclaims “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family being the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Peace in the world. In our Gospel text for today, on this second Sunday of Advent, we come face to face with Zechariah proclaiming that a messenger would come to guide our feet into the way of peace. Who are the messengers in our time? Can children be messengers? Can a baby can be a messenger? A baby without words or even thoughts can convey a message from the beyond, from God?
I sometimes look at my son baby Elton, and wonder, “where did you come from? From nothing it seems, this baby comes to inhabit a space with a message, with a purpose a blessing from the beyond? After all, children are closer to the beyond than many of us are.
Our text for this morning is called the “Benedictus” after the first Latin word in the text (“Blessed”) a canticle, or a hymn of praise that is proclaimed by Zechariah the priest but it seems to be a message of peace from the beyond.
Picture this: One day, Zechariah the priest had gone into the temple to light some incense, leaving the congregation outside praying, and the angel Gabriel appears. Long before he would sing the song we hear today, the Angel Gabriel visits Zechariah the Temple priest and tells him that a messenger would be coming, a messenger in the form of a baby.
Advanced in age, he scoffed at the notion of having a baby. Be careful when you laugh at God’s plans, because the joke may be on you.
After he has his laugh, Zechariah is made mute, unable to speak. This is a story of blessing of course for Elizabeth to be with child during this period! But also blessed to have a mute spouse for nine months! Peace on Earth! Goodwill toward women! Don’t ask Elizabeth which is the bigger blessing! The baby or the mute husband. Just let her enjoy this moment!
But the blessings go beyond this bliss. No she is blessed to be bearing the prophet of the Most High, the preparer of the way, the messenger on the pathway toward of peace. Preparing a world in which we might be at home for peace.
In our lives we will encounter these messengers from God, and these messengers are the ones who show us the way forward, the way home, toward peace. Sometimes these messengers are unlikely figures, persons we would never imagine to be delivering a message. But sometimes God’s imagination is broad enough and wide enough to center these unexpected voices at the center of leading us to come home for peace.
In the wake of the devastation of World War II, in response to the horrors of the Holocaust and the trauma of war, the global community came together to form the United Nations, a home for all persons to find spaces where diplomacy, conversation, and negotiation are elevated to create a forum, a home for peace. The new organization sought to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelet served as the chair of the committee to draft the declaration, along with 18 men.
According to historian Rebecca Adami, it was actually women non-delegates who made some of the deepest impact on the document. Hansa Mehta, Minerva Bernandino, Begum Shaista Ikramullah, Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux. The most progressive impact on the document came from messengers who were women, and who had experienced injustice marginalization in various forms, and these women served as messengers creating home for all of humanity in one document for peace. These women have long not been recognized for their impacts, but did so much to bring us home for peace.
The messengers of peace can be unexpected. When the moment comes and the baby is finally born, the mute Zechariah proclaims a message of peace by heralding the one who would prepare the way, paved in mercy, courage, and hope.
Elizabeth delivers a message of peace in the form of John the Baptist, through her pain and agony and labor life from the beyond; Baby John the Baptist brings a message of peace coming into the world as a silent, innocent child, with no words, only a baby’s cry from the beyond;
Somehow these three, create a home for peace with a profound message from the beyond. And friends, this isn’t an ancient story, this is one that we can live out today and right now. Coming home for peace is about finding the message within ourselves, within each other, within our communities.
It’s about listening creatively to the ways in which God is speaking to us right here and now. It’s not always a personal journey but can be something that in community we find together. As a people, as a congregation, as a family, coming home for peace.
See I learned this week that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone document for human rights in our context was not just created by men, but in fact women made it more open, more equal, more universal.
When the committee suggested the phrase “All men are born free and equal" Indian delegate Hansa Mehta suggested it be changed to "All human beings are born free and equal.” Minerva Bernandino of the Dominican Republic staunchly argued for the inclusion of “the equality of men and women” in the preamble. Begum Shaista Ikramullah of Pakistan advocated for the inclusion of Article 16, on equal rights in marriage, which she hoped would be a way to combat the widespread practices of child marriage and forced marriage.
Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux of France successfully championed a section for non-discrimination based on sex or gender. It was through the efforts of these marginalized voices, carrying messages of peace from beyond traditional contexts, that we have the Declaration, the foundation of modern human rights, and the most translated document in the world.
So what does coming home to peace look like for Northminster Church? In this moment of transition, of remembering God’s call for the life of this community of faith, to what messengers should we be listening to, and whose voices who aren’t the loudest or the strongest should be lifted up? After all, it’s our role to make sure the voices for peace are being listened to, voices echoing the words of the prophets, voices calling for the innocents to be rescued from their enemies, voices clamoring against fear.
On this Advent Sunday of Peace, I come with the belief that the way of Peace is not a personal journey alone made for one type of messenger. It’s a journey we make with others. It’s a journey we make by finding the voices inside ourselves to speak to the message of God’s from the beyond, a message of God’s ways being prepared here on earth, the message of salvation for all peoples, the message that one day the dawn will break on all, guiding our feet in the light of a new morning into the way of peace.
Each of us is called to be messengers in our own ways for our own communities, to bring about peace with our unique gifts and talents, to come home for peace.
After working with others to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt was convinced that the work of coming home to peace did not end with the words they printed on the page. She said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
Coming home for peace. Thanks be to God. Amen