In case anyone has wondered, this was my sermon series this December. This was last night’s Christmas Eve message, hence shorter than the others. Odd, if I read it straight through, it is about 10 minutes, but I managed to go nearly double that when I preached. I was shooting for 15 went about 17. How does that happen?
If you are as old as I am, you will remember a song by Simon & Garfunkel from their 1966 album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.” It was a beautiful rendition of Silent Night with the evening news from August 3, 1966 played over it – clips about the Richard Speck murders, Martin Luther King’s civil rights works, former vice-president Nixon speaking about the Vietnam War, and the death of Lenny Bruce from a drug overdose. It juxtaposes the ideal of Christmas – peace on earth, goodwill to men – with the reality of the world we live in.
The Christmas story has all the elements of a great movie. It focuses on ordinary people who do extraordinary things. When God announces his work, he sends his angels to shepherds on a dark hillside who gathered around the manger to see the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Magi came from far away to give gifts and the evil elite tried to squash the joy by sending their armies, but God protected the family and they escaped to Egypt, where, I’m sure, they roasted chestnuts on an open fire while sitting around their decorated tree, enjoying eggnog, fudge, and fruitcake until the danger was past. Okay, maybe not.
Makes us wonder what happened to the promise of the angels on the hillside of Bethlehem, doesn’t it? They promised that the Messiah had been born and that there would be peace on earth among those that God favors. Peace on earth. Where did it go?
Can we admit that there has been precious little peace on earth since the day that promise was given and even less today? The life of that baby was hardly marked by peace. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, coming to his own people and rejected by them. Though he lived a perfect life he was arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified by the religious leaders of the day. Within 75 years, Israel itself had been destroyed, the Temple leveled, and the people scattered into the four corners of the world to be hounded and harassed for 2000 years. There have been few biblical prophecies as verifiably true as Jesus’ prediction of “wars and rumors of wars.” I have been going to Senegal for nearly 4 years and I always felt safe. Then, a year ago, things changed. A small war reignited in the villages I serve – murders and acts of terror disrupted that peaceful place. Watching the evening news can anger you, terrify you, and stress you out.
Where is the Silent Night? Where is Peace on Earth? What happened to the promise of the angels? And that is not the only promise in the Bible about peace.
Promise of Peace
Let us quickly peruse some of the other gems of Scripture on the topic. The angels are not the only ones who made promises about peace in the Bible.
You will keep the mind that is dependent on you
in perfect peace,
for it is trusting in you. Isaiah 26:3
God promises peace to anyone who trusts in him, whose mind is focused and dependent on him. Not only does he promise peace, but a perfect peace. How many of you would say that you walk through this world in “perfect peace?”
Jesus claims, in John 14:27, that he has given you a gift. How apropos on Christmas Eve!
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.
What a gift that is. He has given us the gift of peace and when we receive that gift, we can walk through this troubled world without being fearful about anything. He doubles down on that in John 16:33.
I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.
We should not be surprised by living in a world of suffering, stress, hardship, or opposition – that is how it is. Jesus told us that if the world hated him, it would hate us when we lived for him and served him. But we should experience a peace from Jesus that would enable us to live in confidence, without worry and fear, no matter what comes in this world.
Paul encapsulated this in Philippians 4:6-7.
Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
By taking our prayers to Christ, with thanksgiving, we are to be able to live lives of perfect peace, without worry or anxiety. The peace of God which is beyond human understanding will guard our hearts and minds through the work of Christ Jesus in us.
That is the word of God, the promise of Christ. I have one question for you today, then, perhaps a follow-up. Is the peace of Christ a constant reality in your life? Are you living out daily the peace that the angels promised, that Isaiah spoke of as “perfect peace,” that Paul said would be beyond human understanding, that Jesus promised you as a gift from him?
If not, what happened to the gift of Christmas? What happened to perfect peace? Where is the peace and goodwill that we are supposed to know? Did the promise of Christmas fail, or did we, perhaps, fail to grasp the truth in some way?
Prince of Peace
The key is found in two words of Isaiah 9:6, the last of the four names of the Messiah given in that verse.
For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The Messiah is our Prince of Peace. Peace is a word for which there is no simple equivalent in the English language. It means much more than the absence of conflict, the end to war. It means wholeness, completeness, harmony, and fulfillment – a sense of well-being. There is peace when things are as they should be, when relationships are unbroken and when the blessing of God is unhindered. In Scripture, peace comes as a gift of God, a fruit of the Spirit. When we are at peace with God we will be at peace within ourselves and we can begin to be at peace with one another. When we are estranged and separated from God our spirits will be stressed and anxious and it will result in broken relationships. Peace with God produces peace within that provides peace all around.
The Baby we celebrate at Christmas is our Prince of Peace. The word we translate prince has a wide variety of meanings, but at its core means a ruler, one who is in charge. Here is the basic premise of the kingdom of God. Where Jesus rules, there is peace. One day, Jesus will rule the world in truth and grace and there will be true peace on earth and goodwill to men. The full promise of Christmas will be fulfilled. When the words of the Hallelujah chorus come true and “he shall reign” as “King of kings and Lord of lords” “forever and ever” then pain and sorrow will give way to hope, love and joy.
Today, our world stands in rebellion against the Creator and has rejected the Baby who was born at Christmas, who lived a perfect life, died on the Cross for our sins and rose again as Lord of all. Of course, where people reject the Prince there can be no peace. If you reject the Prince there is no peace with God which leads to turmoil of the soul and conflict on the earth. But you can still be a man or woman of peace today.
Submit yourself fully to Jesus as your Prince of Peace. All of the Bible’s promises of peace begin when you acknowledge the Prince as your king. Will you submit to Jesus fully as the Lord of your life? Will you yield yourself to him? When Jesus is Lord of your life, he brings peace within. When you are at peace with God, he can begin to work on the stresses, the fears, the failures, the heartaches, the sins, the pockets of fleshly rebellion, the insecurities, and all those deeps things in your heart that steal your peace. When you are at peace inside, you can be at peace with the world – with the events of the world and the people of the world.
The promise of Christmas never failed. The Baby of Christmas is coming again to rule the world with truth and grace and fulfill every promise he ever made, bringing perfect peace to the entire world. But you can know that peace is your mind is stayed on him. You can have a peace that passes understanding today if the Prince of Peace is Lord of your life.
Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift you could receive today? The gift of perfect peace?