Mercury-Register December 4, 2013 Sermon

Published in Oroville Mercury-Register on December 4, 2013

“The Peace of Christmas”

One of the most heartwarming aspects of the Christmas season is its encouraging promise of peace. Peace is a recurring theme in the Christmas story. In the Old Testament, Isaiah spoke of one who would be called the Prince of Peace. Luke recorded the words of the angel – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” And one of our favorite Christmas carols picks up the theme as well – “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Just because the Christmas carol says so doesn’t mean that all was quiet and calm that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph were not at home, uprooted by an imperial census. They had walked four to five days to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The baby was born in a borrowed place. World events swirled around them – the people of Israel restlessly looking for a deliverer; King Herod anxious to hold onto power and murdering anyone who might be a threat; angels appearing to frightened shepherds; and mysterious Wise Men bringing gifts to a new-born King. Christmas may have felt less like a calm serenity and more like a raging storm.

Christmas can be like that for us too. All is calm, all is bright – but it’s only the eye of the storm. Events swirl around us. A friend struggles with illness, a relative has died. We get a little time off from work, but it doubles up on us when we get back. The joy of giving Christmas presents is tied in with economic indicators and consumer confidence. The Christmas card in the mail proclaims – “Peace on Earth!” But we’re not really at peace. In fact we are still at war in places like Afghanistan.

The message of Christmas is good news. And the peace it proclaims is more real than even terrorists’ bombs. What we may ponder in silence with Mary is the amazing truth that in the birth at Bethlehem, God has come to us. This is what is so breathtaking about Christmas – that God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, stoops down to embrace our human life in the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. The wonder of Christmas is that God comes to us not in power and glory, but in the humble simplicity of a baby; that God meets us not at the point of our greatest strength, but in our deepest need.

On Christmas Eve 1914, the armies of Germany and the allied forces were facing each other in trenches across Europe. Five months earlier the soldiers of both sides had been promised a quick victory and that they would be home by Christmas. Just before midnight a British officer spotted glimmering lights popping up from the German lines. Through binoculars he saw the glow of candles affixed to the tips of bayonets. And then came the sweet melody of a German tenor piercing the dark silence with a familiar melody – “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” – “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

The carol melted the hearts of the lonesome soldiers that Christmas Eve. Soon the solo voice was joined by others on both sides up and down the Western Front, singing – “holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”
Other carols were sung and then soldiers from both sides left their weapons behind and met in the middle, exchanging gifts of food and sharing stories of home. A soccer game was even played in the middle of No Man’s Land. The event came to be known as the Christmas Truce of 1914.

The Bible calls this a peace that passes understanding because it is not a peace isolated from conflict and pain, but rather a peace that comes to us right in the middle of it all. Christmas will come and go this year but we don’t have to leave the peace of Christmas behind. The gift of God does not need to be boxed up with the lights and ornaments. It shouldn’t be left at the curb with a dried out Christmas tree. Welcome the peace of Christ to stay with you. When we open up our hearts to God, he promises that he will come in, and into our hearts and lives he will bring the love and peace of his glorious presence.

Rev. Dr. Stan Henderson is the Pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Oroville • 534-0354 •

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