Sermon for Christmas Day 2014

Text: Luke 2:10
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

 

Christmas peace

Christmas can't go by this year without referring to the unplanned and unofficial truce that was held during the terrible hostilities of the First World War exactly 100 years ago.  It was Christmas Eve 1914.  The soldiers in the trenches came to this war believing that it would be all over by Christmas and they would be home with their families sitting in front of warm fires and eating Christmas pudding with brandy custard.  But instead they were in the mud and the freezing cold of Flanders fields with enemy in a trench some 45 metres away.  Morale was low.

The guns had stopped and all was quiet.  It was a welcome break for the lonely soldiers as they sheltered in their trenches.  All of a sudden one of them heard singing.  They scrambled to edge of the trenches to hear better and yes, a few sturdy German voices were singing Christmas carols and there were candles and Christmas trees stuck in the mud along the edge of the German trenches.  When the carol finished the English soldiers sang a carol.  Then once again through the stillness of the night a German tenor began to sing, “Stille Nacht, heilige nacht”.  Next a German began singing “O come, all ye faithful” in Latin and night echoed with the voices of men in both trenches. 

Slowly men from both sides emerged from the trenches and began to share what they had – cigarettes, chocolates and biscuits, and showed one another the battered photos of loved ones at home.  As dawn broke, Christmas worship services were held in no man’s land and a football match was even started and the soldiers, who had until recently been shooting at one another, played until they were exhausted.

Research has discovered that this happened at several locations on both the western and eastern fronts when the celebrations of the birth of the Christ-child drew hostile forces together as brothers and for a while gave them a taste of the peace and goodwill that the angel talked about when he said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

For just a while on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, in the middle of the hell on earth that humanity had created filled with hostility and senseless waste of life, there is peace and friendship between enemies.  Remembering the Christ-child and the events of the first Christmas brought these men together but it was so temporary.

If those men, German, French and British, could have chosen they would have declared peace then and there and made their way home but the war continued and millions more died.  What happened to the good news of great joy about “peace on earth” that the angel had spoken about to the shepherds?  We know that the Christmas story itself ends in violence as King Herod in a fit a jealous rage sends his soldiers into Bethlehem to find the newborn king and leave a trail of death and grief behind them.

In our world today we have seen as many acts of violence and terror as there have ever been.  A siege in Sydney, school children murdered in Pakistan, a family of children slain here in our own state, that’s not to mention the restlessness that doesn’t hit the headlines.  Anxiety, overwork, friction, anger, impatience, arrogance, pride, jealousy, harsh words, a lack of compassion and understanding take control of our lives.  We feel uneasy about the path life is taking us.  We are unhappy how the stress in our lives is affecting our relationship with others, even our closeness to God. 

We feel guilty how all this is affecting us and those whom we love.  We are restless, we are caught up in something that we can’t stop.  We just want some peace and downtown.

So what is the peace that the Christ-child brings to us at Christmas?  Is it just wishful thinking or is it something that is real and can make a difference to our lives?

The first thing that needs to be said is that it is evil, sin and death that destroys our peace in this world.  Think of any restless and unhappy time when you have yearned for peace and you’ll always be able to trace it back to something that has gone wrong in your life or the world around you.

It is that wrong, that evil, even death itself that Jesus has come to destroy. Just as peace in the World Wars came at a price, the price of the lives of many men and women, the peace that God gives also comes at a great price.  It came at the cost of giving his own son into the hands of evil and allowing them to treat him shamefully and finally killing him.  He endured the pain of the cross for you and me to set things right again.  He has defeated everything that can stand between us and the love of God; everything that prevents us from enjoying peace. 

God’s power is at our disposal. 
His strength is our strength. 
His Spirit guides our ways. 
His love watches over us and keeps us safe.
His presence gives confidence, boldness and peace.
Paul boldly states, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7 NRSV).

So what did the angel mean when he promised peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased?” How come there is so much trouble in the world right now if the angel got it right?

There are two things to note here.  Right now until Christ comes again there will always be trouble and sickness, wars and terrorists, death and grief, but Jesus has brought into our lives a new way of facing these things.  He has given us a peaceful outlook, a boldness, a confidence, that regardless of what is happening to us and around us, the love of God that caused the almighty to send his own Son to be born into this world and placed in a manger and then to die on a rough Roman cross, this love will never let us down or leave us. 

Jesus gives peace in the face of uncertain days when health issues arise.
Jesus gives peace when we stand at the grave of someone dear or face our own dying day.
Jesus gives peace when we reach out and ask for forgiveness after a falling out.
Jesus gives peace to the guilty conscience.
Jesus gives peace as we remember in Communion that he died for us and we are his dearly loved children.

We see the peace of God at work in the life of the apostle Paul.  Even though he was hungry, his life was in danger and he sat in some dirty prison he was relaxed, contented and at peace.  He says, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me”.  It is possible to have real peace – the kind of peace that comes from knowing that everything that is wrong in our lives, every evil, everything that upsets our happiness, doesn’t rule our lives.  These things still happen but they don’t fill us with the same terror as they would otherwise because we are safe in the loving arms that were stretched out on the cross for us.

We are encouraged by the apostle, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15).  That not just a statement but a challenge.  In our busy, frenetic, chaotic lives there is often little time for peace.  We need to take the peace of Christ more seriously. 
It’s easy to erect barriers between each other with cruel words and unkind actions but the peace that comes from Jesus enables us to restore friendship and harmony. 
To be restless, to be stressed and lack personal peace in our lives is common; get to know the peace that comes from Jesus. 
Our world prefers confrontation and violence.  Let those of us who know the Prince of Peace demonstrate what it means to prefer peace and forgiveness and reconciliation.

The peace that the angel spoke about makes a big difference in our lives right now but that peace will only be fully realised and complete when we reach our heavenly home.  The baby in the manger, the One who came to save us from our sin, is the only way to eternal life.  He is the only way to this eternal peace in heaven.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is some other way.  Living a good life.  Doing the right thing.  Being a good person.  These are some of the reasons people have given why they think they will rest in peace in heaven.  The baby in the manger is the only way.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!  Without me, no one can go to the Father” (John 14:6). 

Jesus came to this earth to offer one and all peace, now and forever.  It is free and there for the taking.  “Those who live and believe in me will never die” he says. 

Those soldiers that Christmas in 1914 had a very special and unique experience.  In the middle of hell on earth; in the middle of one of the worst experiences that a human could possibly have in this life, there came an unexpected peace.  It changed those men to the degree that in many places along the trenches the men didn’t want to resume shooting at one another.  If it was up to them, they would’ve ended the war that Christmas Day and all gone home, but instead they were replaced by men who continued the fight.  The peace of the Christ-child had touched them for a short time and gave them a foretaste of what is to come. 

One old soldier nearing his last days is reported to have told his grandson that he was looking forward to going to the place where there was nothing but peace and shaking hands again with those German blokes he had met in no-man’s land in Flanders fields so long ago.

Peace – real peace – the kind of peace that the angel spoke about is a gift from God.  It’s found in a manger and on a cross.

It’s no wonder the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th December 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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