Sermon for Christmas Day

Text: Luke 2.14
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!
The statue of Christ erected after peace was established between Argentina and Chile

Peace for all

Just a few days before Christmas, a postal worker at the main sorting office found an unstamped, handwritten, messy envelope addressed to God.  Since he didn’t know God’s PO Box he decided to open it.  He discovered that it was from an elderly woman.  She told how she had been saving to give a nice Christmas dinner to a family who lived next door.  This family she explained had a terrible year with sickness and then the father losing his job just weeks before Christmas.  She was writing to God because the $200 she had saved had been stolen and wondered if he could help otherwise there would be no Christmas dinner for the family next door.

The man went to his fellow postal workers and took up a collection for the woman.  They all dug deep and came up with $180.  Putting the money in a plain envelope, with no note or anything, the postal workers sent it by special courier to the woman that very day.  A week later, the same postal worker noticed another unstamped letter addressed to God in the same handwriting. In it, he found a brief note:

Dear God,
Thank you for the $180 that you sent me for Christmas.  I was so pleased to be able to help out the family next door with a nice Christmas dinner and some small gifts.
P.S. It was $20 short thanks to those thieving workers at the post office.

I’m sure if that woman ever found out that it was the postal workers who had been generous givers and that they were not thieves she would have been highly embarrassed.  Maybe at some time you have said something only to find out much to your embarrassment that you had been totally wrong in your judgement of a person or his/her intentions.  I think all of us suffer from foot in mouth syndrome every so often.

When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant we know how upset he was and how wrong he was in his evaluation of Mary’s love for him.  He needed an angel to come and straighten things out and assure him that Mary had not been unfaithful and that the child she was carrying was from God.

When the angels visited the shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem, God left no room for error.  The message given to the shepherds was plain and straight forward.  A baby had been born.  This baby was good news for all people because this was the Saviour, Christ the Lord.  This baby came to bring peace to all people and then the whole of heaven resounded with the voices of God's angels singing a magnificent chorus, Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!  This baby born in Bethlehem is the fulfilment of the promise God had made to send a person who would be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As the heavenly voices faded and darkness returned around the shepherds they were in no doubt that God had arrived on earth.  He had come to bring peace.  This baby is the ‘Prince of Peace’, just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold.

But where is this peace that God had promised. 
Without a doubt somewhere a mother is weeping for her hungry children.
Somewhere there is sadness because someone dearly loved has been tragically taken from them through an accident, disease or war.
Somewhere there are children who can’t understand why their mum or dad no longer lives with them.
For some, today is a day when sadness, depression, loneliness, and the pain of a lost love are highlighted as people around them celebrate with family and friends and all they can feel is hurt.
Maybe there are some here today who say ‘Merry Christmas’ knowing full well that their lives are anything but ‘merry’. 
There are some who would love to have the peace and goodwill that the angels sang about.

It might seem that God got it all so wrong when he promised ‘peace on earth’.  The idea of the Prince of Peace sounds good in Christmas carols and on the front of Christmas cards but is it real?  After 2000 years do we have really have more peace in our world than ever before? 

The peace that the angels talked about is not some nice warm fuzzy feeling when all is well for us and life is good.  Those occasions are rare experiences indeed.  When God talks about peace he is talking about the rough and tumble of everyday relationships. Where there is a break-down in relationships then there is no peace. 
This happens between God and us. 
This happens between nations,
between couples in marriage,
between friends and relatives. 
You think of any situation where two or more people are at loggerheads there is no peace.

The restlessness, conflict and lack of peace that we find in our lives and in our world are caused by sin.  If at any time you have craved for peace in your life, I guarantee that at the back of your restlessness you will find something that is not in keeping with the way God wants us to live.    Anxiety, overwork, friction, anger, impatience, arrogance, pride, jealousy, harsh words, a lack of compassion and understanding have taken control of our lives.  We may feel uneasy about the path life is taking us.  We are unhappy that the stress in our lives is affecting our relationship with others, even our closeness to God. 
Sin destroys our relationship with God. 
Sin disturbs and destroys our relationships with one another. 
It even affects the way we think about ourselves.
We are restless.  We are angry and distressed.  Depressed.  Guilty

Even when we are not directly responsible, we still experience uncertainty and a lack of peace simply because we are part of sinful humanity.

In the early 1900s the people of Argentina and Chile were in just that situation. Their countries were about to go to war with one another over the location of the border.  The people wanted peace but their country’s leaders were leading them down the path to violence and death.  Christians in both countries implored their government leaders not to go to war but negotiate peace in the name of Christ.  As a result both governments began to talk about peaceful ways to resolve their differences. 

That was not the end of it.  It was decided to erect a huge bronze statue of Christ in the mountains between the two countries.  (See picture above) The statue is 8 metres tall.  Christ is holding out his right hand in blessing over the disputing nations. His left hand clings to a cross.  Written on it are the words, “These mountains shall fall and crumble to dust before the people of Chile and the Argentine shall forget their solemn covenant sworn at the foot of Christ.”  

Isn’t that great!  Instead of soldiers dying on a battlefield, men and women and children suffering under the effects of war, the peace of Christ in the hearts of believers won the day and the broken relationship between the two countries was restored. 

At Christmas we sing about the little baby on the sweet-smelling hay with Mary and Joseph quietly watching close by;
and we hear about the little child whom the shepherds visited and wisemen from the east worshipped.
We can get so carried away with the almost fairy tale like story about this baby born in a stable that we forget that this child came to bring peace into our lives and through us into our world. 
Since it is sin that destroys our peace with God and others, then it is sin that must be destroyed and destroying sin was going to mean terrible pain and suffering and dying for this child born in Bethlehem.

The peace that Jesus brought into the world came at a price. 
He gave his life on a cross on Good Friday to destroy the power that sin has to destroy our peace with God. 
His death broke the stranglehold of sin, death and Satan over us. 
He came to defeat everything that fills our lives with sadness and fear. 
He died so that we might have forgiveness, peace of mind, restored relationships with God and with the people in our lives. 

If you really want peace from a guilty conscience;
if you crave for peace in the face of death;
if you long for peace and calm when facing a serious operation or a long term illness,
if you look for peace in the turmoil of family problems and a breakdown in relationships with friends and relatives,
if you are troubled by an unforgiving spirit and an uncaring heart,
then you really need to know the peace that Jesus gives. 
You really need to know that Jesus came into the world to offer forgiveness for all our sin, and to be ‘Immanuel’ – ‘God with us’ in the face of everything that would disrupt our happiness and peace. 

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.  It is possible to have real peace – the kind of peace that comes from knowing that everything that stands between God and us has been done away with through the death of Jesus and that God embraces us as our loving Father.  We are safe in his arms.  It is this peace that surpasses all human understanding that enables us to have peace when there is no peace.  That’s the kind of peace Paul talked about when he urged his readers, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15).

Joni Earekson Tada wrote this.
‘One hot July afternoon in 1967, I dived into a shallow lake and my life changed forever.  I suffered a spinal cord fracture that left me paralyzed from the neck down.  Lying in my hospital bed, I tried desperately to make sense of the horrible turn of events.  I begged friends to assist me in suicide.  Slit my wrists, dump pills down my throat, anything to end my misery!

I had so many questions. I believed in God, but I was angry with him.  Surely he could have stopped it from happening.  How can permanent, lifelong paralysis be a part of his loving plan for me?  Unless I found answers, I didn’t see how this God could be worthy of my trust’.

A friend pointed her to Jesus and his promises that he would never abandon those whom he loved.  He gave his life for her; he was not about to give up on her.  In this love and grace of Jesus, Joni found peace.  She found a new life and was able to use her paralysis to testify to the powerful love of Jesus.  She has encouraged so many people whose life circumstances led them to feel that it was impossible to be at peace with what they had become.  She pointed them to the Prince of Peace.

Jesus said, My peace is what I leave with you.  It is my peace that I give you. 
The angel proclaimed, Peace on earth!’ 
When we are restless and lack personal peace in our lives, there is a peace that comes from Jesus as our Saviour and friend. 

The angels and the prophet Isaiah didn’t get it wrong when they announced that the baby of Bethlehem would bring peace for all people. 
God grant that we who know of the peace that Christ brings may be agents of peace in our families and the community in which we live.    

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th December 2007

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