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  • Writer's pictureRev. Dr. Jim Genesse

Christmas Peace




Our scripture reading this morning is from the Gospel of Luke, the second chapter, beginning with the eighth verse. Hear these familiar words from the Christmas story. 


Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”


13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:


14“Glory to God in the highest,And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”


15So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”


This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. 


Will you pray with me? Gracious God, open our minds to these words and open our hearts to the living word of Christ, that we may be changed today and forever. Amen. 


It was Christmas 1914. The war in Europe was in its fifth awful month and had become a stalemate, with opposing armies facing each other across trenches that ran from the beaches of the North Sea all the way to the Alps and the mountains. The miracle began when German soldiers began setting up small Christmas trees along the trench line with lighted candles, and the British, french and Belgian troops on the other side began to serenade with Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. And then the Germans joined in and they sang together. 


Soon a quietness settled on the battlefield and the soldiers crept out of their trenches, began to retrieve and then bury the dead that were in the no man's land, an age-old custom of truce. But as the power of Christmas Eve began to grow, they began conversations, they shared food with one another, they exchanged addresses and letters and small gifts, they began to play soccer together, and then they expressed deep admiration for one another. 


When their angry superior officers ordered them to recommence the shooting, many of the men aimed harmlessly up into the sky, refusing to shoot at those that they had just shared this special time with. And while it seems a cynical, almost useless gesture, considering the awful carnage that would follow throughout the First World War, it speaks to humanity's desire for peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Christmas peace. that's something we could all use this time of year. I suspect, truth be told, though, it's something we could use all year round. 


Christmas peace. 


Peace is a personal thing. First off, it begins with ourselves. As you may be aware, not all conflict is out there somewhere. Often, the war we struggle most with is the struggle within our souls. Battling that is of our own making, and as the conflict rages within, we suffer from a lack of peace. Now, our attempts to secure peace have a lot of different methods. Sometimes we attack whatever or whoever is causing the turmoil in our lives, seeking to eliminate the source of our distress. Other times we retreat, we withdraw inside ourselves, hoping that our isolation will take care of that reindeer caught in the headlights look that we can have sometimes. 


And then, all too often, we try to simply kill the pain, to drown it out with alcohol or dispense with it using drugs or some other unhealthy behavior to set the hurt aside. 


Well, here are a few ways to consider dealing with our personal conflicts this time of year, or any time of year. 


First of all, we need to make peace with our imperfections. The perfect meal, the perfect party, the perfect decorations, the perfect gift, the perfect whatever. It isn't always possible, simply because we are imperfect people and we are sharing this holiday, we are sharing this life with other imperfect people. Sometimes things simply have to be good enough. Now, for all of us perfectionists, we need to sometimes give it a rest, let go, and experience the peace that comes with Christmas. 


Secondly, we need to all remember that when we die, every one of us will still have things left on our to-do list. 


There will be still places to go, people to see, things to do, and there's no time more true of that than during the Christmas season. Now, since that's the way it's going to be, why on earth do we stress ourselves out, trying to accomplish everything by December 25th? Just relax. You're not going to get it all done and it's going to be okay. Christmas will come, whether you've checked everything off your list or not. Just relax and experience the peace that comes with Christmas. 


Third, find some time in the next 24 hours, or the next couple of weeks, to take in the midnight clear that we sing about, to see the silent stars drift by or to listen to the angels sing about peace on earth. When we make time for Christmas, true Christmas, then we will experience the peace of Christmas. 


In preparing for this sermon, I came across these words: 

When I am troubled and lost in despair,

I bundle all my troubles and go to God in prayer.

I tell Him I am heart sick and lost and lonely too.

I tell Him I am deeply burdened and I don't know what to do.

I tell him that I know he's still the tempe t and he calms the angry sea

and I ask humbly if, in his love, he'll do the same for me.

Then I just keep quiet and think of thoughts of peace

As I abide in stillness, my restless murmurings cease. 


That cure for what ails us in our personal lives is peace. Peace is an inside job. First and foremost. It begins right here in our hearts, as we allow God to change us, to change our hearts, change our lives. It is then that we will truly experience what Paul describes as the peace of God which passes all understanding. 


So peace begins within, but it continues outwardly as we share our lives with one another. Peace is relational. Throughout the New Testament, being at peace is put before us as an aspiration, a goal for us to have worth striving toward. Paul writes in Romans, “if it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone.”


It's not always so easy. 


It was a Christmas Eve service, and the Christmas Eve service included a bunch of children, and one brother and one little sister were standing next to each other, fussing with each other, as children are want to do, as we've already heard, as they sang beautiful words of silent night for the church. The little boy was singing boldly sleep in heavenly beans and his little sister chastised him. No silly, it's not beans, it's sleep in heavenly peas.


Imperfect people correcting imperfect people. 


We got to know what we're looking for at Christmas, and what we are looking for is peace. Peace in our relationships with one another. No doubt Mary and Joseph's relationship was stressed to the max when he discovered that she was pregnant and she had sort of a sketchy story and he was wondering what in the world he should do about it. But God sent a messenger to bring a word of peace. 


Many families will be brought together over the next few weeks, some will be brought closer together than others. It's just a fact. So, as you think about gathering your families around you, make every effort to live at peace with each other. Live at peace with your spouse, teach peace to your children, be reconciled with your family during this holy time.


Get together with your friends and be reconciled to those from whom you have become estranged, and be reconciled with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That is what the peace of Christmas brings. It's not always easy, but we are called to make that effort, as so far as it depends on us, be at peace. 


Peace is also not just personal. It is a global concern. There was a concern for the Israelites some six centuries before Jesus' arrival, when the prophet Isaiah declared, as we heard, that God would indeed bring peace to the world through a child who had yet to be born. And when that promise was fulfilled, the angel of heaven pronounced in a magnificent way that the prince of peace had indeed arrived. 


The world into which Jesus was born was a world at war, in turmoil, and Christmas peace was God's gift to the world. Well, like all generations of humanity that have ever existed, we too, this day, live in a world which is at war. 


Some of you, some of your family members, have made sacrifices to bring peace around the globe, many sacrifices on behalf of others, and others are there even as we speak, missing Christmas with their families. For that sacrifice we are deeply grateful as a nation and as a people of God. The truth is that most of those who fight for freedom hate war most of all, and many of those who cry loudest about the evils of conflict often do little or nothing of substance to attempt to bring about reconciliation and resolution. 


Mother Teresa, beautiful saint of a lady, who has once asked why she didn't participate in anti-war demonstrations, replied “I will never do that, but as soon as there is a real pro-peace rally, I'll be there.”


Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers. As Christians, we are called to be mediators of peace. 


But here's a heads up: World peace is not going to come about by anything the White House does or doesn't do, or by anything that is voted on at the United Nations. It is God and God alone who can bring peace to the world. God and God alone who can vanquish evil and bring goodwill toward men, because peace, real, deep, abiding peace, is ultimately a spiritual thing, not a political thing. 


So we've got peace inside that we seek. We've got peace around us that we seek, but above all, we need to seek, during this season, peace with God. 


You see, peace is not merely the absence of conflict. 


The Hebrew word used in the Bible is shalom in the Old Testament, and it means wholeness, harmony, health, well-being, peace for ourselves and for all of God's creation. Peace truly occurs when we are at peace with our Creator, when the things that separate us from God are done away, with our selfishness, our pride, our sin. Well, that is when we will experience peace and not before. 


And the reason the Christ child, the Prince of Peace, was born at Bethlehem was to restore peace in our relationship with the Almighty God who made us. 


There will be a day when God will finally crush Satan and banish evil. But as that day approaches, peace will come to the world as God bestows it to the hearts of us individually and as we experience the peace of God. Then we will be able to turn around and share that peace with those around us. Not a sappy, can't we just all get along sort of peace, but a deep, abiding peace from knowing the God who is on our side. 


Remember the message of Christmas. Emmanuel we call Jesus, god is with us. Peace, real peace comes to us through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. 


On the night before he gave himself up for us in sacrifice, Jesus told his friends peace, I leave you. My peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and don't be afraid. I have told you these things He said so that in me you may have peace In this world. You will have trouble, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world. 


We heard Genny talking about knowing Jesus and knowing peace. There's an old slogan printed on t-shirts and bumper stickers for a long time around churches. That has always been true: o Jesus N-O no Jesus, no peace, know Jesus. K-n-o-w. Know peace.


Know Jesus, know peace. 


Know Jesus and you will know peace, peace. Remember that Christ Himself is our peace. Remember the joyous proclamation of the angel glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men. Remember that God is not asleep. God is here among us. God is on our side. He is not far off. He is right among us, here with you today. 


Open your hearts to Jesus during this holy season and you will experience the peace that comes from the Prince of it. 


He is God's special Christmas gift to you and it is my joy to share it with you this morning. 


In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, blessed advent and amen. 


Will you pray with me? Holy God, we come to you with many things on our hearts, but first and foremost, we come to praise you for who you are and to thank you for what you do. You have given us a gift that provides us a way back to you when we've turned away, when we've turned within, when we've just ignored you. You love us still and you send your son to bring us back home. 


What a wonderful thought. As we approach the Christmas season, we ask that you would help us to extend that peace to others, to those whom we have hurt, to those who have hurt us, to those with whom we've become estranged, within our family, within our circle of friends, within our church, within our world. We ask that you would help us to become peacemakers, but not just to patch things up, but to provide a peace that comes from your son. We ask that you would hear our prayers today as we lift them to you, praying in the words, praying in the spirit, praying with the heart of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. Amen. 

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