The Peace of Christmas

Romans 15:4-13; Isaiah 11:1-13
December 4, 2016
Stockton Presbyterian Church, Stockton, Missouri

One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it, with a title over it reading, “Rest in Peace.” The seven-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside him and said quietly, “Good morning, Alex.”

“Good morning, Pastor,” replied the young man, still focused on the plaque. “Pastor, what is this?” Alex asked.

“Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the men and women who have died in the service.”

Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex’s voice was barely audible when he finally managed to ask, “Which service, 9 or 10:30?”

Of the four traditional themes of Advent, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love, I find peace to be the one of the most elusive personally.  It isn’t that I don’t believe God is with me—I’m good with that.  And it isn’t that I don’t believe God has a plan—I’m there.  I suppose it is because I can’t see those things.  Sometimes I can’t see God in my life without looking very closely, and sometimes I’m not quite sure that God’s plan and my journey are on the same path.  You have probably all heard that saying that “God is always on time, although he may act on the 11th hour.  I joked a few weeks ago, as I have been on this journey seeking employment, “God, I know your watching is always on time, but mine is saying it is past midnight right now!”

We approach the peace of Advent as personal peace, of a personal journey and something we hold to ourselves, for ourselves, and maybe a few good friends.  In America we practice a “personal” faith.  Me and Jesus!  And while there is some validity to that concept as we’ll discuss later, the peace of Christmas is so much more than personal peace.  I suggest to you today that while each of us can have peace within ourselves through our faith in God—The peace that is declared by the angels is peace on earth—peace with others—peace that is infectious and changes this world.

Unfortunately, the peace of Christmas, of Christianity, the peace that tells each of us that God Is with me and will take care of ME, and protect ME from THEM is only a very small portion of the promise, of the peace of Christmas.  Peace isn’t just a lack of fighting or a serene group of people who smile and meditate and never fight—outwardly.  The peace of Christmas is the presence of God around us, protecting us, sure, but the purpose of that peace is not to contain us and our worries and anxieties, but to change us and flow out from us, so the peace of God can envelop and transform those around us, like the waves emitting from the rock dropped in the pond.

Prayer

  1. Peace gives us endurance
    1. Anyone who lived through this past election season can testify that there was no peace anywhere, and that condition threatens to continue indefinitely. Democrats were afraid of the Republican candidate, Republicans were afraid of the Democrat candidate, and the Libertarians, well, they just didn’t like either of them.
      Beyond the election, civil unrest occurred, causing cars to be overturned and burned, people shot, buildings looted and destroyed, citizens attacked and hurt.
    2. 4—everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
    3. Many of my friends wanted to just give up in October and into November. They felt they couldn’t endure—what with the commercials, the news broadcasts, the phone calls!  Oh yes, the phone calls!  They were just sick of the whole mess and wanted it to go away.  No peace, no desire to endure.
    4. Yet Paul tells us that the writings, the Bible, teach us endurance and give us hope. There is no peace without hope.  There is no peace on earth without hope for peace.  So what is Paul trying to tell us here?  Is it enough to carry my big Bible to church and read along with the pastor once a week?  Will that give us enough hope so we can experience peace through the week?  Hopefully!  But no, Paul’s intent in this passage is that we learn from the Scriptures, from “what was written,” that we be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  Sure, this can happen without the Bible to read.  Testimonies all over the world tell how the Spirit and even visions of Christ have brought people to faith and to change.  But they did not have the Bible.  We do.  Don’t pray to God for peace if you aren’t spending time in the Word of God, if you aren’t allowing time for God’s Spirit to speak to you and bring you hope.  It is that transformation to hope that will bring you to peace and to be a peacemaker.
  2. Peace helps us accept one another
    1. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    2. Peace in myself, without love for one another, isn’t God’s peace. You see, these four themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, and love, are integral to one another.  It isn’t a pick-and-choose kind of shopping event, but a cohesive way of life.
    3. The same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had: John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  Jesus’ words.  WHOEVER believes, not whoever thinks like me, acts like me, looks like me.  The heart of God reaches out to everyone.  There is a farm on 96 west of Springfield.  On their mailbox is nailed a sign—“God is angry with the wicked”  An OT passage used to say “we are different, and you need to be like us.  Our Dad is bigger than your dad, and our Dad doesn’t like you.”  No, God sent His Son for everyone. God may be mad at their actions, what they do, but God extends divine love to all.
    4. That you may glorify the God and Father. You see, our faith, our relationship with God isn’t just for us, it is for God, it is for the purpose of glorifying God.  It isn’t to make us comfortable and happy, but to challenge us to grow and reflect God even when we’re uncomfortable, even when it’s storming, even when things don’t go our way.  God’s peace, the peace of Christmas, is an outflowing transformation that chases away darkness by its infectious light, helping us to be a servant, as Christ served, despite pain, hardship, persecution, and hatred.
  3. The Peace of Christmas belongs to everyone.
    1. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[a] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
    2. If I have peace, God’s peace, I cannot continue hating my neighbor, the immigrant (illegal or otherwise), the atheist, the Buddhist, the Muslim. The peace of Christmas teaches us to accept one another, not for their good alone, but to bring praise to God.  It doesn’t teach us to simply accept each other’s actions or beliefs or attitudes, but their souls, the creation God made so they can glorify God for his mercy.  Do our worship, our fellowship, our lives reflect God’s grace and mercy to others, especially to those who are different?
    3. Isaiah 15:12 “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations;  in him the Gentiles will hope.”
    4. When we choose to live in real peace, God’s peace, we find ourselves able to love one another, even the “gentiles” in our lives. The drug addicted.  The thieves.  The homeless.  The arrogant.  The hateful.
    5. There is a teaching in psychology, in systems theory, that when I change, it changes the system in which I live and function. God’s love in us, as it transforms us, also transforms those around us, which eventually has the possibility of transforming the world.  That small band of believers after Jesus’ resurrection changed their world.  How can we?

God sent Jesus Christ, not to make us feel good about ourselves, even though that happens.  God did not send Jesus just to help us feel secure and protected, even though that happens when we follow God.  God did not send the Babe of Bethlehem to make us better than anyone else, but to make us like Jesus.

As we share from the Table today, I ask you to meditate on the peace of Christmas.  Are you fearful or experiencing anxiety?  God is with you and will make a way.  Are you struggling?  God will carry you through.  Are you finding it hard to love your neighbor, family member, those who are different?  God will transform you so that the peace in your heart will allow you to love and accept others.  But this only happens through relationship, through time spent in prayer, in meditation, in reading and learning from the Word of God.  Will you make a further commitment today to spend a few more minutes this week—in spite of the hurriedness of the season—in the presence of God, letting God’s Spirit soak down into your spirit?  Take a few moments, while we prepare for the Lord’s Table, to make a mental list of those with whom you do not have peace, those whom you do not accept, asking God to fill you with hope, peace, joy, and encouragement, so that you can glorify God in your life, and so they will glorify God for His mercy toward them.

Benediction

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

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