Thursday, December 24, 2015

Finding Peace

Luke 2 8-12
 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a]the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

One of my favorite Christmas songs that I hear on in the stores this time of year is the duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It was recorded in 1977 for Bing Crosby’s Christmas special. On it Bing sings The Little Drummer Boy while the other Bowie sings the question:

Peace on Earth, Can it be? 

That song and the question of peace resonated in my heart through my high school and college years. I still turn that song up and sing along when I’m driving in the car at Christmas time.

Peace on Earth, can it be? We are gathered here tonight to affirm that the answer is yes. Peace can be. We are here to affirm the hope that we can live in peace through Jesus Christ.

Peace isn’t just the absence of conflict but the presence of something deeper and richer. The Jews use the word Shalom—a word that captures the many different aspects of peace. If you look up Shalom on Wikipedia you see it means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. Peace isn’t the absence of war, it is the pervasive well-being of all people.

Shalom describes a community that is filled with love and respect for God and for each other. Shalom describes a group where nobody is living in poverty or fear. Shalom describes a community that cares. Shalom describes what God was giving us in the gift of Jesus over 2000 years ago. It’s a big, full word that is rich with meaning. It’s also the way the people of Israel answer their phones. Ring, ring, ring. Shalom!?

The say it with an uplift at the end. As if it’s both a invitation and a hope.

When we read the Bible story of Jesus’ birth, we can begin to see the stirrings of Shalom or true peace. The angels appear to Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and call out to them, Do not be afraid.

The angels are telling us something very important. They are telling us that the peace of God can drive out fear. The prophets of old told Israel, Do not be afraid. The angels tell Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds: Do not be afraid. Jesus tells the people he ministers to, do not be afraid.

The words Do Not Be Afraid show up in the beginning of the Bible in Genesis and are repeated all the way to the end of the Bible in Revelation. They show up over and over again because it’s in our nature to live in fear. We fear for our lives, our health, our children, our safety, our finances. The list goes on and on.

Yet God shows up into the chaos of our fear and says, Do not be afraid.

We don’t hear those words too much in our world outside of the church. In fact, we hear the opposite. And I’ll tell you why. Fear sells. Peace doesn’t. Fear and conflict get our adrenaline pumping and motivate to do something—tune in to TV or radio—and the ads, click and comment online, or play a game to decompress. Can you imagine a news or talk show full of peace and harmony? Or an Xbox or Playstation game about peacemaking?

The world is constantly telling us to be afraid—of what people think of our appearance, of our neighbors here and abroad, of our economy, and it’s capitalizing on our fear. 

Trust me, there are media executives, game developers and politicians depositing your fear into their bank account.

But here in Christ’s church, we preach a different message. We hold with God’s prophets and angels who say “Do not be afraid,” even if it seems naïve and simple. We hold out the hope that through the gift of Christ we can find peace, not fear.

And so the message for you this evening is an eternal one. The one made flesh in the incarnation of Jesus:

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to stand up for what you believe. Do not be afraid to work for God’s peace. Do not be afraid to follow the example of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, in caring for the poor, forgiving the sinners and loving the outcasts.

Do not be afraid: God has promised to never leave you or forsake you. In sickness and in health, in failure and success, I hope that you find peace knowing God is with you.

Do not be afraid: God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. I hope you find peace in knowing that death does not get to have the final word in your life, God does.

Do not be afraid: The God of the universe promises to make all things new. The world is and always has been filled with conflict, but a vulnerable baby came to change all that. God trusted us—humanity—to love and nurture that baby. There is conflict in the world, but I hope you find peace by trusting that there is also great love growing in the world.

Do not be afraid: There is nothing you can do that will separate you from the love of Christ. Your past is past. I hope you find peace knowing that God is calling you into a new future, one where love triumphs over evil.

“Do not be afraid, the Bible says, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord… He is called Emmanuel God with us. That vulnerable little baby is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…

Thanks be to God.

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