December 22, 2019

The Peace of Christ

Passage: Luke 2:8-14

Good morning! I just want to say that it’s great to have the kids with us in the service. Usually, during the sermon, the kids are downstairs, where they are being taught the Word of God in their own way. But this morning, they have the privilege of hearing the Word of God preached with the rest of the church.

So, children, we are glad that you are here with us. And parents, we are glad that your kids are here with us. Don’t worry, if your kids act up, because they are going to do what kids are going to do, and that’s alright.

I just want to put in a plug for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service which is on Tuesday at 7:00, here at the church. If you’re around, because I know that some of you are away, bring your family and your friends. It’s going to be a great evening of singing and reading Scripture and watching some short videos that tell the Christmas story from the perspective of the characters who were there. But I just encourage you to come out and reflect on the coming of Jesus into the world.

This is really what Advent is all about. Kids, if you don’t know what Advent is, it’s simply the time of year when we celebrate the first coming of Jesus as a baby and when we anticipate that this same Jesus will come again as King.

Now, maybe you didn’t realize that the baby in the manger would eventually grow up to be our Saviour. If you went and saw the Northern Lights Spiritus Singers, last weekend, they played this funny video by the Skit Guys, during the program, where this one guy is helping this other guy to make the connection between baby Jesus and cross Jesus, and how both of these are the same Person.

And this is essentially what we’re doing in Advent. We are making the connection between the Jesus who came and lived the perfect life and died the death we deserved to die and who is currently seated at the right hand of God the Father and the Jesus who is coming again to fully and finally restore all things.

As Linus would say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” But what we quickly realize, in the busyness and the commercialization of Christmas, is that this becomes very difficult to remember.

And that doesn’t mean that we need to get rid of the traditions and the lights and the gifts and the trees, in order to have a Christ-exalting Christmas. But what it means is that we simply need to be daily reoriented to what is truly important. In the midst of the fun and the excitement, which is a good thing, we need to be daily reminded of the importance of Jesus coming into the world.

But today is actually the last Sunday of Advent. And what that means is that Christmas is right around the corner. In a few days, trips will be made, food and drink will be consumed, gifts will be opened, and songs will be sung.

But in a few days, it will all be over. All of the preparations we have made. All of the scheduling we have done. All of the food we have prepared. All of the gifts we have intentionally purchased and wrapped. All of it will be over for another year, and things will go back to the way they were before.

And I don’t say all of that to get us depressed before the action even starts. I hope you enjoy this week and that you’re not dwelling on the fact that it’s going to end soon. But what we can be reminded of, when all is said and done, is that we are closer than we have ever been to the return of Christ.

You maybe have never thought about the return of Christ in those kinds of terms before, but it’s true, we are closer today than we have ever been to the return of Christ. And in a world that is so anxious and so on edge, how important is it to know that Jesus is coming soon?

All you need to do is turn on the news to discover that things don’t seem very peaceful in the world. There’s violence, there’s war, there’s protests, there’s natural disasters, there’s deaths. I turned on the news one morning this week, and I saw that a 14-month-old had been abducted. All of over the world, there are things happening that aren’t very peaceful.

But you also don’t need to look very far to see that there are people dealing with anxiety, there are people dealing with a health issue, there are people who are financially strapped, there are people dealing with stressful family dynamics, even here in the church.

We can identify with the words of the Christmas carol, I heard the Bells on Christmas Day, when the hymnwriter writes, “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’”

Peace is something that everyone says they want, but it’s one of the most elusive realities to experience. And as we come to Christmas Day, which can be very chaotic for many people, we need to turn our attention to what the Word of God has to say about peace, specifically, the peace of Christ. So, if you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to Luke 2.

We will be reading a portion of the Christmas story. At this point, Joseph and Mary have gone to Bethlehem for the census. And while they were there, God appointed that Mary would give birth to a son, and they would call Him, Jesus.

And we’re just going to pick it up, in Luke 2, beginning in verse 8: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

After Jesus is born, God commands the angels to take this good news of great joy, this euangelion, this gospel to the shepherds. Now, the shepherds tend to get a bad rap. They are often portrayed as being dirty and smelly, since they were around sheep all the time, and that they are lazy, since all they did was sit around and keep watch over their flocks. But I rather like the shepherds.

Every Winter, the church that I grew up in would have a Live Nativity, which was just outside the church, in case you were wondering. They would set up the stable and the inn, and they would bring in sheep and a donkey and horses to act as camels. Every year, we would put on this production.

And guess who was a shepherd, every single year? No one wanted to be one of the shepherds. They either wanted to be Joseph or Mary or one of the wise men or one of the angels. You know, one of the more glamourous roles. No one wanted to be a shepherd. And I don’t really know why. I mean, we were the only ones who had a firepit. No one else had a firepit when it was -30 degrees.

But I’ll tell you, after a few years of being a shepherd in this Live Nativity. I had my part down. An angel would come to us, and there would be a bright light, and we were supposed to cower, and then after a song was played, we would go to the stable to see the baby Jesus. Year after year, I nailed my part.

But everyone else seemed to have a lower view of the shepherds in the Christmas story. They weren’t as glamourous as some of the other characters.

And the shepherds do seem out of place. They were certainly on a lower rung on the socio-economic ladder. They weren’t as important as royalty or as the Pharisees, so if we’re talking about who should be the first to know that Jesus was born that night in Bethlehem, the shepherds wouldn’t be high on our list.

But what we read in our text is that they were in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks, and they might have been smelly and dirty, but they’re doing their job. And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appears to them, and the glory of God fills the skies. We’re talking daylight in the middle of the night. And it says that the shepherds were filled with great fear.

And that’s an important phrase, because they aren’t necessarily afraid that this bright light has come out of nowhere, although it would certainly cause them to become disoriented and to wonder what was happening. But what the shepherds are afraid of most is the fact that they are being confronted with the glory of God.

Now, in Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah tells of this vision that he had, where he is in the presence of God, and the first words out of his mouth are, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In other words, the prophet understands that because God is so holy and so glorious and he himself is so sinful and so corrupt, he could die. Sin cannot be in the presence of a holy God. And so, he says, “Woe is me! I have seen God and I don’t deserve to live.”

In Exodus 33, Moses asks to see the glory of God, and God’s response to Moses is that Moses can only see His back, and that’s it. Moses can only see the trail of God’s glory. He can’t see God’s face, because man can’t see God and live.

So, the shepherds have reason to fear. We don’t necessarily know anything about their conduct or their speech, but that doesn’t matter, you could be the most upright person in Bethlehem, if you are confronted with the glory of God, your response will rightly be one of fear.

And so, when the shepherds are confronted with the glory of the Lord, it’s like in Isaiah 6, they’re thinking that they’re dead men. They are not worthy to be in the presence of the glory of God, and so, they are rightly “filled with great fear.” But what does the angel say to them? “Fear not.”

They are afraid, because they have seen the glory of the Lord and they recognize that they are unworthy to be in the presence of such glory and that they are deserving of being wiped off the face of the earth. And the angel says to them, “Fear not.” Why? “For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

The shepherds don’t need to be afraid, because the message of the angels isn’t bad news, it’s not a message of instant death, which is what they deserve, but rather, it’s a message of good news of great joy.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

You see, up until this point, there had been no message from God to His people for 400 years. There had been no prophet. There had been no writing on the wall. There had been nothing from God for 400 years. Until now.

The prophet Isaiah had prophesied 700 years before Jesus, in Isaiah 9, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

And so, the people had been waiting for this Prince of Peace. During the 400 years of silence from God, they were holding on to the hope that their Saviour would come. And in the middle of anxiety and fear and uncertainty about the future, God sends the Prince of Peace into their midst. And Jesus would provide peace for them in a way they weren’t expecting: peace between them and God.

The Bible is clear that, from birth, we live in rebellion against our Creator God. Romans 3:10-11 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” This is every one of us.

Any goodness we even try to muster up is a kind of false goodness. It doesn’t even come close to the goodness God requires. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and as such, we face the wages of sin, which Romans 6:23 says, is “death.”

Now, on a basic level, that means physical death. But on top of that, we have all died, spiritually, where the relationship we once had with our Creator has died, because of sin.

And what Jesus does is He makes peace where the wages of sin was death. And that’s why the rest of Romans 6:23 says that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is truly good news of great joy for all people.

Missionary Don Richardson who served for many years among the primitive tribes in Papua New Guinea wrote a book entitled “The Peace Child.” He tells the story of two tribes in Papua New Guinea who maintained a blood feud between themselves for several generations. Each generation fought and nursed their wounds only to fight again, killing and maiming more and more people.

After years of struggle the two tribes realized that they must stop fighting or nothing would be left of their peoples. But what could they do to end years of warring between the two tribes? Don Richardson goes on to tell that the chiefs of the two tribes came together and brought with them a child they called “the Peace Child” This child was the son of one of the opposing chiefs which was adopted into the family of the opposing chief. As long as that child lived the two chiefs promised to cease their fighting so that all could live.

And this is the perfect illustration for the gospel. Though we are deserving of death, God sent His Son into the world. And Jesus, the Prince of Peace, would become the Peace Child, who would die for us, in our place, so that we could be at peace with God.

It’s why the angels start praising God, in the presence of the shepherds, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The angels are marvelling at this good news of great joy that peace with God has come for all people. It’s not just a message for the spiritually elite; it’s a message for everyone. All of us need to hear this message and respond to the grace and mercy of God by confessing Jesus as Lord and repenting of our sins.

It’s the only way that we will truly experience peace in this life. We will not know peace, unless we know Jesus as Lord. We can try to get rid of the wars and the conflicts and all of these other things that don’t bring us peace, but we will still struggle with finding peace in our lives, because what we need is Jesus.

During World War I, fighting on the Western Front between the Germans and the Allies was very fierce. Hope for a quick war was gone. Both armies knew they would be bitter enemies for years.

A system of trenches separated the two sides, with the area in between regarded as “No Man’s Land.” But on Christmas Eve, an unofficial truce began. German soldiers began singing, “Silent Night,” in German, and men on the other side of the great divide joined along in English. Soldiers who hours before had been attempting to kill one another were now singing together about the wonder of Christ’s birth.

As the night and the singing continued, the soldiers emerged out of their trenches to join one another in “No Man’s Land,” where they exchanged gifts, shared in burial services, and played soccer together. An estimated 100,000 soldiers along the Western Front laid down their weapons all that night and the next day.

In subsequent years their commanders would demand that they continue fighting on Christmas Day, but in this one sacred interlude in 1914, a reminder of the incarnation caused a cease-fire. Even if for a brief moment, there was peace on earth and good will toward men.

True peace isn’t defined as the absence of war or conflict; true peace is defined as being in right relationship with God. This was what the Jews around the time of the birth of Jesus were longing for.

They were longing for the Messiah to come and bring upon the earth, what Isaiah described as, true, shalom peace, in Isaiah 11:6-9: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

We are still waiting for when Jesus will return to bring about this true peace, but by the grace of God, we have been given a taste of this peace, when Christ came to bring us peace with God. Through Christ, we are able to experience now, what this total peace will be like then. It’s how armies and tribes at war with one another are able to be at peace with each other, even if just for a moment.

It’s how Paul is able to write from prison, in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

It’s how we are able to sing the next verse in the song, I heard the bells on Christmas Day, which says, “Then rang the bells more loud and deep. God is not dead, nor does he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”

It’s how we are able to make it through the chaos of Christmas and the chaos of this world. Because Jesus has made peace with God, possible, through His cross, and because Jesus is the King who is coming again to lay claim on all that He has purchased.

I want to close by reading Colossians 3:15, which says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” And I want us to treat this verse like a prayer.

If you are not a follower of Jesus, my prayer for you is that you will experience the peace of Christ. It’s what your heart has been longing for, and what you have tried to fill with all these temporary things, but which can only be filled by putting your faith in Jesus. I encourage you to do that today.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” That’s my prayer for the kids in this room, that the peace of Christ would rule in their hearts, that there would never be a time in their lives would they did not know God, that they would surrender their lives to Christ at young age and continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” That’s my prayer for each one of us, because when the peace of Christ rules in your heart, it means that you are not ruling in your heart. And that’s good, because you and I make terrible gods. We can’t save ourselves, let alone anyone else, so what this does is it frees us up to rest in the grace and sufficiency of God.

We are completely incapable of experiencing true peace, apart from Christ. And so, my prayer is that the peace of Christ would reign in our hearts, that we would come down off the throne of our lives, and that Christ would take up residence in us, so that we can have that peace with God that we so desperately need.

If the peace of Christ is ruling in our hearts, we can be reminded that, when we encounter difficult situations or anxiety or fear, God has given us peace with Himself, and that despite all of our failings, He was pleased to do so.

May we be a people who are characterized by peace, not the kind of peace the world gives, but the peace of Christ. Let’s pray…

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