Sermon for Christmas Eve, Year B
Based on Isa. 9:5, 6 & Lk. 2:14
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"God's Gift of Peace"
Peace… In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word for peace is shalom. In the Greek New Testament, the word for peace is eirene. Our passages from Isaiah and Luke's Gospel both promise God's people the gift of peace.
Isaiah, speaking of the ideal Messiah-King, presents the picture of a time when all war clothing shall be burned in a fire. But for Isaiah and the ancient Israelites, peace involved far more than just the absence of war. Isaiah goes on to tell us that the Messiah-King shall be given, as one of his titles, the Prince of Peace. This title describes what he does ~ namely, brings peace.
Then Isaiah says that under the Messiah-King's rule, "there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore." In this promise, Isaiah sees the Messiah-King ushering in a lasting, eternal peace, which also involves security, justice and righteousness.
Elsewhere, in the book of Isaiah, the peace is an all-encompassing one ~ it reaches out to all the nations of the earth, and creates perfect harmony and unity among all the different orders of creation. The aggressive, fighting instinct shall be removed from every living thing ~ there shall be no such thing as an enemy.
In Luke's story of Christ's birth, the angels, God's messengers, affirm the wonderful news of God's gift of peace by saying: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among those whom he favors!"
What is this peace, this shalom, this eirene, which our passages from Isaiah and Luke proclaim? I don't know if you've noticed, but peace is indeed a very important, integral part of the Christmas message. You may also have noticed that in our regular service of Holy Communion, we pray for peace in the kyrie, for God's peace and for world peace. We also greet each other with a handshake of peace before the offering, as a visible sign of reconciliation between each other and between God and us. We pastors speak the blessing of peace after the sermon as a visible sign of inner peace, which strengthens faith by hearing God's Word. Then, at the end of our service, the words: "Go in peace, serve the Lord" are spoken to remind us that God's peace is connected with our ability to serve God out in the world, by putting our Christian faith into practice.
For the ancient Israelites, peace, shalom, was synonymous with freedom and salvation. It was an all-inclusive word meaning, among other things: wholeness, completeness, health, well-being, good government, right relationships of justice and love, trust in God's covenant promises, harmony and unity in all creation, material and spiritual prosperity, it is a gift from God and therefore endless, eternal.
In the New Testament, peace, eirene also refers to many of the Hebrew Bible meanings. However, it also makes special reference to the concept of reconciliation. Christ's peace is life-giving in the sense that through his life, death and resurrection, he has brought God's peace to all humankind. He has removed the dividing wall of hostility caused by sin, which separated us from God.
He has also reconciled all peoples ~ Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female. Moreover, by giving us God's peace, Christ also gives us the freedom and responsibility to continue his work of reconciliation. In response to the peace we receive, we are given Christ's ongoing ministry of reconciliation.
As Francis Gay has observed: "Broken bones can knit together in such a way that they are stronger than they were before being fractured."
"Even our human relations can be broken by quarreling. Or even when friendships are not broken we often have the feeling that they are spoiled by disagreements and will never be the same again, but broken or tarnished friendships can be mended and often become stronger as a result."
"It begins with someone have the courage and compassion to say, "I'm sorry, please forgive me."
In the New Testament, we are exhorted, encouraged and instructed as a Christian community to live in peace with each other and to strive for peace with all people ~ Christian and non-Christian.
It is interesting, as Francis Gay points out, that: "mistletoe has long been regarded as the plant of peace. Traditionally, if enemies met under a tree on which mistletoe was growing they were expected to make up their quarrel there and then."
"During the Middle Ages, there was a custom in England's York Minster church of laying a branch of mistletoe on the high altar and leaving it there for the Twelve Days of Christmas. While it remained, a universal peace and pardon was proclaimed at the city gates."
Christmas time is one of peace and reconciliation for us Christians. A wise man once said: "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." May each of us learn to live our lives as peacemakers and peacekeepers. If there are any animosities; if there are grudges held against each other; if there are any unresolved conflicts; if there are any who choose to criticize rather than encourage ~ in the name of the Messiah-King, the Prince of Peace, I exhort, encourage and instruct you to be reconciled with each other. Live in peace with each other, forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you.
This Christmas, may each one of you be blessed with the peace and good will which comes from Christ, the Prince of Peace. As servants of our Prince of Peace, may we share this peace with everyone throughout our very troubled, broken world.
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