God With Us Brings Peace

// December 23rd, 2018 // Sermons

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Advent 2018 Sermon Series

No doubt you have heard this story before…  You can listen online or download it and listen later…God With Us Brings Peace– as a matter of fact, I think I have shared it with you…

It was a crisp, clear morning 104 years ago – when the power of the Christmas Carol, Silent Night, became a powerful emblem of peace. It was on Christmas Eve of 1914, when fighting on the battlefields of World War I stopped – and a lone soldier’s exquisite voice made history that rang around the world.

“It was impromptu, no one planned it,” Stanley Weintraub, the author of – Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce.

He wrote, “It has to begin with something, and it did begin with elements of shared culture.  If it hadn’t been for shared culture, certainly there would have been no Christmas truce.”

Weintraub said it started with a German officer, Walter Kirchhoff, who was a tenor with the Berlin Opera.  During a break in the continuous firing of rifles and artillery, “He stepped forward and sang Silent Night in German, and then in English.”  On that clear, cold night of Christmas Eve, his voice easily carried over to the other side of the battle.

“The shooting had stopped and in that silence he sang and the British knew the song and sang back.”

As the story continues, gradually the troops crawled forward into No Man’s Land, as the song immediately had a deep impact on many of the soldiers.  They stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with the soldiers that had been their enemies, moments earlier.

Several soldiers wrote home the day after, to tell their families what had happened – “You wouldn’t believe what happened on Christmas Eve.  It was like waking up during a dream.”

Weintraub wrote, “They recognized that on both ends of the rifle, they were the same.”  In the hundred plus years since that night, the event is seen as a kind of miracle, a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives.

A little history to that event – Pope Benedict XV, who took office that September, had originally called for a Christmas truce, an idea that was officially rejected.  Yet it seems the sheer misery of daily life in the cold, wet, dull trenches was enough to motivate troops to initiate the truce on their own.  The historical record claims that about 100,000 people participated in this legendary truce.

The morning after, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English.  Allied soldiers cautiously came out of their trenches, to greet the Germans.  Some of the Germans held up signs reading “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

As the story goes, the Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land.”

Images of Christmas and war don’t easily fit together in our minds.  The cold cruelty of war seems about as far as one can get from the warmth of the Christmas season.  The pain and suffering of battle contradict the joy and celebration of the birth of Baby Jesus.

As far as we know, the Christmas Truce has never been repeated.  But on that special day, enemies placed their shared human-ness in front of the task before them, and both sides experienced the peace of Christmas in a truly powerful way.

In a similar way, when Jesus was born, God’s peace impacted the world.  And, like in 1914, this peace can still fill us and rule within us even when we are surrounded by death and evil.  God’s presence and peace can pierce the darkest surroundings and circumstances.

Christmas is typically, and rightfully, thought of as a season of joy, but it can be a painful season for many people.  What battles are you facing this Christmas?  What pain is relentlessly causing you to hunker down in the trenches of life?  What darkness are you coming up against in the middle of all the lights, candles and decorations this Christmas?

May we find that, even in those darkest places, we can lean into the God who is with us and find peace.  Today as we continue our Advent journey toward Christmas, we are focusing on and celebrating peace, the peace that has been brought into our word by Immanuel, God with Us.

Over the past three weeks, we have been celebrating Advent – the season of preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s first coming, while at the same time looking forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people – we call it His 2nd Coming.  Each week, we have been focusing on a different attribute of God represented in the coming of Jesus:  hope, love, joy, and peace.  Because Jesus is Immanuel, “God with Us,” He entered our world and fills us with these traits, as well.

We will look at people who were part of that original Christmas story and see how Jesus brought peace – also to us!  First, He…

  1. Restored Peace for the Shepherds

The shepherds are typically presented as outcasts—a dirty, unruly group that was at the bottom of society.  Some scholars believe shepherds, at one point, held a high position in Israel’s history.  Jews who knew their heritage would have known that many of the patriarchs were shepherds:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and even King David — of whom Jesus was a direct descendant.

It was a menial vocation that involved hard labor in the elements and physical work with the animals…stinky animals.  Have you ever smelled a wet sheep?  I think it would be safe to say that most parents would not have considering shepherding as the ideal occupation for their boys.

At the other end of the spectrum in Israel were the religious leaders of the day.  They were smug in their moral goodness and high positions of power; they made sure everyone else knew their place…the Pharisees and Sadducees were at the top and everyone else was below in descending order.

So in this hierarchy, shepherds weren’t exactly accustomed to being contacted by angelic beings.  Nobody would have expected the shepherds to receive a message from God through celestial representatives.  That was another reason for the shepherds being surprised when the whole dark night began to glow with the brilliant light of an angel of the Lord.

In Luke 2:8-9, he described the scene like this:  “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

And then, as if a vision of an angel wasn’t enough, the angel spoke to the shepherds!  V. 10-11 – “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”

But wait…that wasn’t it for their excitement – then, more angels join in:  “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13–14).

The words they spoke to the shepherds were harder to believe than the messengers themselves.  The angels proclaimed – to the shepherds, of all people – peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.

Imagine the confusion and doubts that were probably going through the shepherds’ minds?  I wonder if they thought the angels had made a mistake.  The angel GPS had failed and they ended up in the wrong place and gave their message anyways! 

But, as they reasoned it out, they would have concluded that angels don’t make mistakes, “So, that means the message is for us.  God’s favor is on us. And His peace is with us.

Have you ever wondered what the sheep were doing this whole time?  I know sheep are not the smartest of animals, but they would surely have noticed the bright light and the angel voices.  It seems realistic that the woolies would have been ruffled, and peace would not have been their first response!

The Bible doesn’t tell us this kind of detail.  But, we know that this wasn’t something the shepherds would have been expecting…this kind of things doesn’t happen to them.  Supernatural encounters with God’s messengers and promises of blessing and favor don’t usually come to shepherds.  This kind of things was reserved for the super-spiritual religious leaders of the day.

But like much of Jesus’s coming, this announcement didn’t fit the mold of expectations.  Somewhat ironic, but the religious elite are conspicuously absent from the birth announcement.  Those considered by society to be the “most holy” weren’t given a place in the stable to kneel on holy ground and witness the arrival of the Messiah.

The announcement to the shepherds that God had come to be with us in the birth of the Messiah, reminds us today, that God’s favor is not based on human standards.  His favor is on all those who humbly acknowledge their brokenness and accept the gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace that Jesus brings.  The angels appeared to shepherds; the shepherds received the announcement of the good news; they, in turn, became the message bearers of peace.

Throughout His teaching, Jesus used shepherds as an example of good things, not bad.  Jesus even went so far as to call Himself the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for His sheep.  The comforting knowledge that all is well and as it should be, brings peace of mind and heart.

Jesus’s arrival for the shepherds marked the starting place of peace to all those on whom His favor rests—to all those with whom He is present…which includes us, today.

The God of peace is truly with us!  Peace is not based on class or position or occupation but on His purpose and design to bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Glory to God in the highest! The Prince of Peace has come.  Secondly, He brought…

  1. The Peace of Wholeness

When God gave the Law to Moses and set up the roles and duties of the priests to guide the spiritual life of the Jews, He gave them the ultimate blessing to speak to the people – it’s one of the Benedictions that I use:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26).

The Hebrew word used in that blessing and throughout the OT is shalom – that word conveys rich, powerful meaning.  It is so much more than just the absence of fighting – shalom reflects safety, completeness, and wholeness.

That is the kind of peace that came to this world through God with Us.  Jesus is the Prince of Shalom foretold by the prophet Isaiah:  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6–7).

The Jews of Jesus’s day wanted a Messiah to establish political justice against their oppressors.  After all, it was not their choice to live under the iron rule of the Roman Empire.  They were a conquered people, at the mercy of a powerful military empire.  But the Jews also understood and longed for shalom.  The idea of shalom was foundational to their culture and spiritual life.

For this reason, this completeness and wholeness with God is what Jesus brought into and left in our world.  It is the peace that calms our souls deeply.  It is the calm acceptance that “it is well with my soul” no matter what swirls and storms around me.  This is the peace we celebrate today.

And when Jesus comes back for us, He will heal all that’s been broken and restore God’s complete kingdom of shalom.  Yes, there will be the absence of war and hatred, but even that type of peace will be an extension of the wholeness that He will establish.  Thirdly…

  1. Peace Is a Person

Near the end of Jesus’s life, in John 14:27, we read of what Jesus said to His disciples – this was shortly before He was arrested and crucified: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus knew His followers were about to experience a crushing blow.  But He had a gift for them that was different from anything in our world — His peace is not given as the world gives.  It is not a gift that can be taken away nor is it something we can create on our own.  It is not the absence of pain, hurt, noise, violence, or uncertainty.  Peace is a person – Peace is Jesus with us as the Prince of Peace.

His assurance to the disciples was that even in what would appear to be the most hopeless of situations, He would be with them!  His peace is His presence with us no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

In Eph. 2:14 Paul wrote, “For He himself is our peace.”  As we experience God’s presence, the peace Jesus produces in us becomes part of our whole being.  Nothing can take it away from us as long as we live in Christ Jesus.

Paul continues, “[He}…who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:14–16).

God with Us brings peace between us and God and also among people because we are all drawn together and unified in God through Jesus. This is true shalom—wholeness, safety, and all people restored as one.

Jesus’s peace is not simply that we agree to disagree; it is that in Him we are made one.  In wholeness we are reconciled to God and to others in Christ Jesus.  And, #4…

  1. Peace Transforms Us/Calms Our Storms

How peaceful is your Christmas season?  If we’re honest, we might choose words like busy and hectic to describe our lives at this time of year.  Maybe an overloaded schedule is your normal that robs you of peace.  Or maybe it’s relational conflict, pressure at work, an illness.  For many of us, peace seems so distant.  A good idea; a nice thought for a different day.  Something we long for…if only we could feel the peace of God with Us!

If that’s you today, let me encourage you that Jesus shows up when the storms of life threaten our peace, hope and joy.  He is there with us when love seems absent and the path ahead is not clear.  I mean, even the disciples, who lived with Jesus every day, had a hard time grasping this.

Do you remember when the disciples were in the boat on the Sea of Galilee?  It must have been quite a storm to make the disciples so afraid.  After all, many of them were fishermen, and this was their regular place to fish.  Yet as their boat took on water, they were terrified.  As the waves rose and the wind howled, Jesus slept through it all.  Finally, the disciples shook Him awake, shouting, “Don’t You care what happens to us?”

Mark 4:37-39 reads like this:  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

With just a command for peace from Jesus, the storm calmed and the sea became tranquil.  The disciples were in awe!  Those guys were not different from us.

When things aren’t looking good for us, we’re quick to cry out, “God, don’t You care?”  We think He’s not paying attention or doesn’t realize how serious our situation is.

But in reality, God is there!  He is God with Us – always present…and He knows everything that is going on.  He sees beyond the waves and winds of our circumstances.  The power of His peace isn’t diminished by our storms.  Notice the 2 pictures…I prefer the 2nd one.

When we turn to Him, give our worries/cares/requests to Him in prayer, He can fill our hearts with calm and courage, helping us to focus on His faithfulness.  God with Us will never leave us.  He will never fail.  It is this presence of peace that we celebrate on our journey toward Christmas.  How can we practice this?

When we come to God through prayer, He changes us inside.  HIs peace is able to bring a transformation in our spirits.  No matter what we are anxious or worried about, we can bring our needs and requests to God.

In Phil. 4:6-7, Paul wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As we talk to God and give Him thanks, His peace grows within us and guards our emotions.  This is a miraculous peace – it transcends all understanding.  I hear people say, “I felt a peace that I couldn’t explain!”

It’s not a natural peace in the midst of our struggles.  It is the work of God!  His Son/our Savior is our Prince of Peace, the giver of shalom, the giver of His Spirit of peace.

When we come close to Him—when we go to worship Him like the shepherds did—we connect with Him, and He transforms us.  No matter how bad the storm gets around and within us, He can calm it.  And He can carry us through it.

Let me encourage you to look for Him, even when the winds blow and the storms mount up.  You may find Him as a babe lying in a manger or a carpenter’s son asleep in the boat.  It may even seem at times, as it did to the disciples, that He doesn’t even care.

But, always remember that Jesus comes in power as the Prince of Peace…He is always with us, He is restoring us to God through wholeness and comfort.  May He be your peace this week, guarding your soul with peace, filling your spirit with the wholeness of shalom, and ruling as the Prince of Peace in your heart.

Let’s pray…

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