A Missing Peace in the World

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Rev. Edward Stallworth, Park Road Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
January 5, 2003
Available online at:
http://www.parkroadbaptist.org/sermons%2003/The%20Missing%20Peace%20in%20the%20World.htm
Text: Matthew 2:1-12

What expectations do you have? We certainly should have them because they are personal gauges of how we look at life. Expectations bring about hope and goals and without them, we disappear into the shadow of the mediocre and the mundane. Just last Friday, I witnessed great expectations from the Ohio State football team. Although the rest of the nation, sports writers, and experts expected them to lose, the team expected to win and did so despite the odds. Although it was unexpected for most, they played as if they expected to win.

However, I think we have all experienced the unexpected. I am sure many of us have gone to a critically acclaimed movie to leave feeling disappointed for the money and time wasted? Or has the opposite happened and you enjoyed a movie you did not expect much from. Ever hear the voice of someone, have one image, and then have that fall apart when you see the actual person behind the voice?

On a larger scale, there are those expectations that are shattered by overwhelming joy and excitement. I have never met a parent that said, “I expected to love my child this much.” It seems that children bring more than what was expected. Despite not having children of my own, I see it in the eyes of all of you when you talk about your own children. That holds true to new parents to parents of teens or college students to parents whose children have children of their own.

Not only is that true amongst parents and children but it holds true for anyone in meaningful relationships.  Love is beautiful, whether it is between friends or family, because of the unexpected blessings.

Life is more exciting because it often goes beyond expectations.  However, there are expectations destroyed by tragedy and disappointment.  Nobody gets married expecting to get divorced, but it happens. With the loss of a loved one- whether through divorce or death- one expects grief, but no one expects the multitude of grief experienced.

Expectations are as small as going to a movie and as large as life decisions. What expectations do you have? More over, what expectations have you had that have been shattered with joy or destroyed with grief?  What expectations do you have of God?

In the story found in the second lesson, we read that wise men came from the East because they saw a star rise in the sky and had heard that it would lead them to a child who was born to be King of the Jews.  This is not a sermon explaining the star because that is not the message of the story.  Many have often tried to explain the star with planetary alignments, comets, UFOs even.  But this is incidental.  The fact is, we do not know what the wise men saw, but they saw something that would lead them to Jesus.  Nonetheless, they went on a journey away from their homes to pay homage because they had heard a king had arrived. What do you think they expected to see?  Were they expecting to see a mighty warrior?  A wealthy man robed in gold and silver? Perhaps they expected to see a wise ruler much like themselves? The story never mentions what expectations they brought with them, but one does not travel so far without any. As they traveled into Israel, word of the magi’s visit reaches Herod.

The story then plays out into a drama.  King Herod, who had been in many ways, the King of the Jews, became frightened.  What is also interesting is that the text said all of Jerusalem became frightened with him.  The Messiah was born, and with that came expectations.  And perhaps what they were expecting was something they did not want.

The Jewish people were under Roman rule, and although some received benefits from the Roman Empire, many were being oppressed and there was constant talk of rebellion. Moreover, despite King Herod building a lavish new temple for the Jews, taxes were high and exploitation abounded. Fear crept into the bones of Herod and Jewish aristocrats because the Messiah may have been born. What do you think Herod expected?  The loss of power?  The loss of his life?  All of Jerusalem was also frightened.  What do you think they expected?  An inevitable war? More oppression from the Roman Empire?  What expectation frightened them?  So all went searching for this Messiah, including Herod, who used the magi to seek him out.

The magi, with their expectations coupled with Herod’s paranoid expectations had finally found Jesus.  Not in a castle with abounding riches fit for a king, not in a war barracks setting up plans for a rebellion.  Instead, they found a baby wrapped in the arms of Mary.  The Messiah, the incarnation of God, the Word made in flesh, was with his mother in their humble home.  No words were said, Jesus gave no sermon, and no angel proclaimed Jesus as Messiah. Nonetheless, the wise men knelt down before Jesus as if he were a king.  Do you think they saw what was expected? I think they saw something more.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany.  This is the time when Christians celebrate the recognition of the Messiah.  It was an event of greatness but not at all what was expected. Epiphany was the innocence of a child and not a king. It was a baby held by his mother and not a warrior.

The expectations of the Magi had been altered and they did not see an oncoming rebellion or war, they saw peace.  It was because of the change in their expectations, they chose not to tell Herod.  They had seen the incarnation of peace and believed that Jesus must be protected. However, I wish Herod had seen what the Magi saw. Sadly, Herod’s expectation turned into greater paranoia and through his paranoia, destruction. Herod never saw peace and his demise continued. Fortunately for us, we get to read what the magi saw. Fortunately for us, we also receive a greater expectation.

As a people who celebrate Epiphany, we too must remember that Jesus did not come as a king or a warrior.  He did not lead great armies or rule with an iron fist.  Instead, he gave generously and loved wholly. Even as a child, he lived out the very nature and definition of peace.  That is the example set for us, that is the standard by which we must live.  What would you have expected?  Would you expect the sky to open up and angels to come down with blaring trumpets?  Would you expect God to speak to you in mystical ways, through lightening strikes or visions? Would you expect a cosmic God who is so large that our individual lives are too small? God answered the expectations of the Magi through a child. We can learn from the story of Epiphany that God answers our expectations intimately and unexpectedly.  We learn that God was not recognized by riches or power, but by peace. That is the peace offered through grace and love. Therefore, peace must also be our expectation.

I have heard many say that we are supposed to preach about the ideal.  I strongly disagree.  We are supposed to preach about what should be real.  Peace is never the ideal but the standard. Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Nazi regime, has said “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, peace is our gift to each other.”  In my mind, Elie Wiesel did not take that far enough.  Peace is our responsibility to each other. That is the call of people who claim to follow a God of grace and mercy. That is the example God gave through Jesus and therefore that is the high expectation we must have for ourselves. Peace is the expectation and not an option.

I am not a politician nor am I an expert on foreign affairs. I am a pastor who believes in God’s grace and the ability of humanity. Therefore, this is not just about what is going on in Iraq. I certainly have my thoughts but this goes beyond the current political hot topics. War is not the only word that is opposite peace. Hunger haunts peace, despair destroys peace, and greed ignores peace. From Iraq to North Korea to our inner cities and even to our own homes, war continues and there needs to be an expectation of peace. From the starving and malnourished in far lands to the homeless and to the abused in our own communities, despair continues and there needs to be an expectation of peace. From corporate offices to sweatshops and to individuals, greed continues and there needs to be an expectation of peace. Peace is not passively hoping, but actively doing. It is liberating the oppressed, it is feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and sheltering the homeless.  It is also loving our neighbors, helping strangers, and caring for ourselves.  It is conservation, tolerance, and education.  Peace is active.

It’s true; sometimes we just do not get what we expect. Peace does not always come. However, we must not let that lower our expectations. Have faith in a God of mercy and grace and keep the expectations of peace.

So, what are the expectations of Park Road Baptist Church?  We certainly do have them.  We expect a good choir, and therefore the choir practices diligently. We expect a children’s program, a youth program, Sunday School, engaging worship, challenging sermons, and fellowship, and we actively work towards these things.  Likewise, we must actively work towards peace if we expect peace.

The epiphany the magi experienced on was not supernatural.  The magi received no vision.  The angels never set forth in a blaze of fire.  The skies did not open.  The ground did not shake.  Their experience came from a child.  If the magi can experience peace from a child, imagine what we as a community can do. Likewise, peace is not supernatural or magical.  Peace is what we are called to do.  Perhaps the missing peace in the world is us?  The question is, do we at Park Road Baptist Church even expect it?  Is peace a part of our standard? If so, how?

Pastoral Prayer:

Holy God, teach us what it means to be called your children. Teach us to actively have peace within our lives as well as give peace to others. Lord, give us the vision you had given to the magi through Jesus. It is in your name we pray… Amen.


This sermon is part of a new series compiled by the NC Council of Churches in conjunction with our lectionary-based worship resource Acts of Faith.  We believe that issues of peace and justice can be expressed in the worship life of congregations, and we remain committed to providing accessible and relevant resources to make this a reality.  This sermon was used with the permission of the author, and the views expressed in it are solely the author’s. Please contact us if you are interested in submitting one of your sermons for consideration.

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