Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Prince of Peace

Hopefully you're not so over Christmas that my little Christmas Eve sermon serves to irritate. With no further ado: 
In 2004 the top selling German newspaper, the Bild, printed only good news in its Christmas Day issue. "No parking tickets today - traffic wardens have day off!" the newspaper with 12 million readers wrote. They still ran the so-called hard news, too, but just spun it differently. Their article on a government official who had to resign under duress had the headline “Merry Christmas! Fantastic severance pay package for Laurenz Meyer.” The paper found positive news from overseas. An Israeli scientist had developed a laser treatment against bad breath and a mugger in Zagreb, Croatia who was always polite to his victims was finally captured by police.
Explaining why the paper had taken that approach for the Christmas Day paper, a columnist for the paper wrote "That's the conflicting aspect of our time - that it keeps producing bad news and puts horror on the assembly line even though we are all craving good news. But the good is never completely lost." That is what we celebrate this night, good news of our Savior has never been lost.
The good news for our time came to some shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
That is what this child brings into the world: peace, peace beyond our understanding, peace without end, without limits. Peace, as many of us think about it today, is something we think of in contrast to war. And that is certainly part of it. Using that measurement, so little of our world is at peace. It is a special blessing that our part in the war in Iraq is over, and soldiers are home with their families for Christmas.
Even in the midst of conflict, peace can be made, if we want. During the First World War, in 1914, a number of ceasefires broke out along the Western Front, between German and British soldiers. The soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches. In some places, they even walked across the lines to exchange gifts and even in a few rare cases played football together. This peace was not something organized by officials or even sanctioned. In fact, those at the highest levels thought it was a bad idea. They ordered the soldiers to not be at peace the following years.
But peace is stronger than that. Peace triumphs over indifference, sin, hopelessness. Peace is not just the absence of conflict. Peace is the possibility of good things, like kindness and compassion, justice and hope. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace. That is, his reign would be one where peace would rule.
Do we believe this peace is possible? Not just an absence of war around the world, but contentment and lack of conflict in our communities and families and even our own souls? Have we given up entirely on the idea, and see it as something naïve and unattainable? Have we just resigned ourselves to conflict and restlessness?
On this night, we celebrate newborn peace. We celebrate that God thought so highly of peace that one of the names for his son would be Prince of Peace. God knew that his people had been in conflict in so many ways through the centuries, in Egypt in slavery, through the journey to the Promised Land when they fought about whether they would ever get there, to the conquests we can read about in Kings and Judges, to the exile, to oppression by the Romans. The people had not really ever had peace, long-lasting deep in your soul peace. And so his son came into the world, born for us, to bring peace.
God has this planned perfectly for his people. God knew he would have to come into the world to transform it and God's people. Then he chose a form that was ultimately inviting, that fulfilled the words of the prophets and proved that He continues to act in the world for his people.
Let us not just hear the words of the angel, but trust in them, of peace on earth, and goodwill to men, of the miracles that happen. Jesus came for you and for me, for everyone who believes that God loves us enough to come into the world, not for His good, but ours. And the world was never again the same.

Jesus comes each day into the hearts of those who love him. Jesus, who took on a human life, gives us a gift that we can never earn, never give back, and never lose. It is the gift of salvation, freely given in love. The good is never completely lost. The peace of Christ be with you. Amen.

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