Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another.” As we journey through Advent together, Rev. John Weems will ask, “Where is the peace?”
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Our second reading today comes to us from the great philosopher and theologian, Theodore Geisel. You may know him as Dr. Seuss:
“Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot . . .
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
Do you know someone who is a bit of a Christmas Grinch?
I am always cheerful, especially when waiting in long lines or getting smacked on the head by someone carrying a sack of presents on the bus. I serve at a church, so I don’t personally know any Grinches–still, I hear that they are out there.
Many of them are in restaurants, right now.
People who were just at church, saying “Peace be with you,” are often the perpetrators.
Instead of reflecting joy to the world, many Christians are behaving as though their heart is two sizes too small.
Still dressed in church clothes and wearing crosses, some of our Christian brothers and sisters are making Jesus cringe. In one actual instance, a customer left his waiter a tip. As the waiter came from the across the room, he saw what appeared to be a crisp $10 bill. When the waiter picked it up, he was alarmed. On the back of what was actually a fake bill, it said, “SOME THINGS ARE BETTER THAN MONEY, like your eternal salvation, bought and paid for by Jesus.” The waiter was truly moved. Truly moved to say, “I have never been stronger in my atheism.”
Incidents like these have prompted service workers to create a website called, “Sundays are the Worst.”
Whether you are new to church or a longtime member, we can rightfully wonder where that peace we were passing actually went. If people who join together to worship and supposedly become more loving cannot even treat a restaurant employee with respect, why would the world respect our faith? When Christians make the news, it is too often for dark reasons. Where is the light?
Our Scripture lesson from Romans provides hope and a challenge:
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony
with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul writes in 15:5-6, continuing in 15:7, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
How in the world are we supposed to live in harmony with people who think that way?
Patrick J. Howell lifts up the faith thinking of Peter van Breeman, who says that “A friend is someone who knows everything about you and still accepts you,” adding, “that is the dream we all share: that one day I may meet the person with whom I can really talk, who understands me and the words I say—who can listen and even hear what is left unsaid, and then really accepts me. God us the ultimate fulfillment of this dream.
Put another way, everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.
Living in harmony does not mean that we accept hatred, aggression, sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or any –ism or phobia that excludes and oppresses.
Welcoming one another as Christ welcomes us does not mean that we welcome every behavior.
It does mean that we seek to understand and realize that arrogantly condemning those with different views rarely leads to transformation.
Earlier in Romans 12:2, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Chances are, the Grinches in our life have a hardened heart for some reason we may not fully understand. Perhaps their mother or father or other loved one did not affirm them enough, or even worse, abused them.
In other cases, people have unresolved grief from some event—the untimely loss of a job or a family member—that is triggered in ways they are not fully aware and take out on you.
Will we exclude the Grinch and choose not to participate in God’s transformation, or could we be called to be part of the change of heart our Creator is seeking?
After the Grinch had stolen every present, even the Who-pudding, Who-hash and roast beast, he expected Christmas to be cancelled. He listened to hear them, cry boo-hoo:
“He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?” . . .
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!’
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!
And what happened then . . .?
Well . . . in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!
One of my favorite parts of the story comes at the end. The people of Who-ville, most especially Cindy-Lou, should have told the Grinch, “Shame on you!” Instead, they welcomed him to their table to share in their feast. In fact, he was even allowed to carve the roast beast! (Sorry, rhyming is addictive).
Many people in the world give us reason to write them off, to do anything other than make peace. As we prepare come to the communion table this morning, we remember that it does not belong to any denomination or building or earthly leader. It is the Lord’s table. We invite every Who and Grinch with this blessing from Paul in today’s reading from Romans:
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 1957).
 Peter van Breeman, SJ, As Bread That Is Broken (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1974), 15.