The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” We recognize these words as the angelic proclamation that first Christmas Eve. For those who’ve also been worshiping with us during the Advent season, we know that Isaiah prophesied that the coming Messiah would be known as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” There’s that word again: Peace. In fact, if you look throughout Scripture, “peace” comes up all the time, and the overwhelming majority of the time it is referring directly to Christ Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace. At His birth the angel host rejoices, singing of peace on earth. The very first Easter Sunday, Jesus appears to His apostles, who are cowering in fear behind locked doors, and His very first word to them is “peace.” He then shows them His crucifixion wounds, and then declares—again—“peace.”
Okay… so peace is clearly associated with Jesus. That’s kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it? In fact, we could go so far as to say that Jesus is peace in the flesh. He is the peace of God; the Prince of Peace; the peace that surpasses all human understanding. And yet… what are we to make of that angelic proclamation of peace on earth? How does the birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago equate to joy and peace for anyone today? Look around at the world you call home. If He is truly the Prince of Peace, and like Isaiah tells us, all the warfare and bloodshed and terror and tumult and fear and anxiety will come to an end because of this Prince of Peace coming to vanquish all these foes and reign and rule in peace for all eternity, well… what gives? There’s not a whole lot of peace to be found nowadays, is there?
What about you? We know the rest of the world doesn’t have peace. That’s plain to see. What about you? Do you have peace? Many of us will say we do, and yet the fruits we bear in our daily lives reveal the ugly truth that we really don’t have peace. We’re just as anxious and angry and upset and depressed and on-edge as everyone else. Sickness, fear of sickness, quarantines, lock-downs, the closing of businesses, mask-wearing, elections, riots, looting… this has all been part of our lives since Easter, and no one is at peace with any of this.
But maybe that’s where we’re missing the point. As children of God, we do have peace. Ask yourself: Why did Jesus come to earth to be born in a lowly manger in faraway Bethlehem? He came to live and die for our sins. That’s it! That’s the whole reason for the season. That right there IS your peace on earth. Look into that manger through your eyes of faith, if you can, and you will see a tiny little baby staring up at you. That is the peace of God in the flesh! That is the very same peace that the innumerable angelic host sang about that first Christmas Eve. That’s God’s plan of salvation for you!
And that’s just it. God’s unconditional gift and plan for your salvation doesn’t end with just a tiny little baby in a manger, does it? God’s love and peace in the flesh and lying in that manger has a very specific purpose and mission. God’s love and peace in the flesh necessarily moves from the nativity to Calvary. It’s so very strange to think about, and it can only be understood through faith, but God’s gift of peace ultimately looks like someone who has lost the war. God’s gift of love and peace looks, not like a victorious prince, but like a beaten and bloodied criminal hanging lifeless from a cursed cross. My friends: Our salvation begins at the manger, but this cross is where we are ultimately saved! “It is finished” were Jesus’ last words of victory, spoken from the throne that was His cross, not His first words spoken from the cradle. This cross of Jesus Christ IS the gift of God’s incomprehensible love for us! Because of this divine and perfect love we can have a peace that surpasses all human understanding.
My fellow beloved children of God: This is our celebration this evening! Regardless of whatever the world, the devil, and our fallen flesh may throw at us, we still have the peace of Christ Jesus; the complete forgiveness of all sin and the free gift of eternal salvation. None of our chaotic sinful realities change what God did for us and is still doing for us in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s what makes our celebration so different. We celebrate peace, not as an absence of all trial and tribulation, but in the midst of trial and tribulation, celebrating the fact that we belong to Christ and nothing can ever take that away from us.
In this way, through the lens of the cross, we can rightly recognize the true joy and peace of Christmas. The true joy and peace of Christmas has everything to do with God’s unconditional gift to us; the gift of Jesus—our Prince of Peace—as a full and complete sacrifice to a world that has nothing to offer in return; nothing but humble thanks and praise.
May this divine gift of God’s peace—peace on earth and in your midst; peace that is yours by virtue of your baptism into the Prince of Peace and His blood-bought victory over sin, death, and the devil—may this peace, which surpasses all human understanding, and which is God’s absolutely free and unmerited gift to you—no strings attached—may it guard and keep you not only tonight, but throughout the days, weeks, and months ahead and into life everlasting.
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