You Wanna Peace of Me!?
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 18 December 2016
You Wanna Peace of Me!?
Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Romans 1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-25
Less than 7 days until Christmas! There is quite a difference between an adult making that exclamation and a child making that exclamation. While the child’s voice likely evokes excitement and cheerfulness, depending on their behavior for the year, the adult’s voice has the propensity to evoke anxiety and panic. We have this countdown ornament on our tree and right above it is a choir of children that sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” when you press a button. So, at least once a day one of the girls will check the countdown, announce what it says, then press the button, and walk joyfully away to the carolers singing. If the camera panned to Alicia or I in the kitchen we would be blowing into paper bags and patting each other on the back.
We are not prepared! There are cookies to be made, presents to be wrapped, shopping still to be completed, and boxes packed for shipping. Speaking of the post office, well, it is safe to say we may be sending out New Year’s cards or Valentine’s depending on things go! Every year we say we are going to be better prepared and stay in front of things, but every year it seems we are behind at this point in the game. Christmas can be a stressful time, because it is tough trying to do everything you want to do to celebrate it. But, we are told by our preachers not to be stressed! We are told to rejoice and to feel great peace.
There are two listed definitions for peace in the dictionary. The first is “the freedom from disturbance; quiet; tranquility”. The second is, “cessation of war and violence”.
Complicated lives and busy schedules, especially those associated with the holidays, distract us from achieving peace in the first sense, and if we turn on the news, we can see that war wages on and people are not altogether treating others as they would like to be treated. But we are told that Christmas is a time of peace and of goodwill to men.
Where do we find it? Where do we see it? Well, it begins with the manger.
Peace in War
Our Bible study has discussed it, and because of that I was going to try and go someplace different for this sermon. But it is much too important to let alone and not bring up to all of us here today. There is a very famous story of one particular Christmas during World War I. It happened in Belgium in the year 1914. As the war waged on, the Christmas holiday came and found the opposing armies in trenches on either side of a field of battle. The British troops heard a faint noise coming from the other side that sounded something like singing. They silenced themselves and listened closely to what they were hearing. It was the tune of “Silent Night” that wrung out in the darkness. The British troops joined in the singing and soon the cold night air was filled with the sounds of gentle worship. The rest of the story went something like this…
For a moment in time peace wrung out in war. Despite commands and missions, faith brought enemies together. Peace could be found in the power of the manger.
Mary and Joseph
Today we heard the story of Jesus’ birth as told from the book of Matthew. Interestingly, Matthew focuses on the viewpoint of Joseph. It should not be surprising, however, that this is the case. For despite Mary’s role and importance as being chosen by God to bear the Messiah, it was still a patriarchal society, and the male relationship was of the most importance. Afterall, it was Joseph who carried the Davidic lineage, not Mary’s side of the family.
Joseph knows nothing of Mary’s selection by God and is eagerly awaiting her return from Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home so they can begin their life as husband and wife. To his surprise she returns and is with child. Joseph is a devout Jew and is bound by the laws of his people. If someone would like, turn to Leviticus 20:10 and read the law aloud found there:
“If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with a neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be executed.”
Engagement would have met the same law. Thus, Joseph in order to save his own reputation has the right to bring charges against Mary. He has the right for her to be executed for her unfaithfulness. Yet, even before he understands who the child is that she is carrying he acts in a way that will spare her life. To call off the engagement and to forget the whole incident ever occurred. It is after this act of righteousness from Joseph that Gabriel appears to him in a dream and reveals the child’s identity and corroborates Mary’s honesty. Joseph, reacts immediately by marrying Mary and, along with Jewish custom, when he names the boy Jesus, he takes him to be his own. That is certainly a shout out to adoptive parents everywhere!
The choice that Joseph made the obedience to God that Mary showed the love for eachother and for the child they brought into the world to save all of us from sin, it was done for the glory of peace and anointed in the grace of God.
The life that Mary and Joseph were signing up for was difficult on many levels. First and foremost, they were raising the incarnate God on earth. I am sure He was a good kid, but I am sure there had to be some parenting pressure there. Next, everywhere they went I am sure they were met with sideways glances and outright fingerpointing. They were not invited to parties and were not welcome in homes. Most Christian homes this time of year display Mary and Joseph prominently for all to see, but then, they were outcasts. Separated by the law they followed and the King they cared for.
There is something notable in these stories we have heard today. There is a common thread. For with regards to war, it was the remembrance of a child who came into the world and brought peace that warmed the hearts of enemies. With regards to Mary and Joseph, it was the expectation of that same child who gave them the strength, courage, and righteousness to choose peace for themselves. In both stories the world around was unforgiving and relentless in its pursuit to wear down love, joy, and hope. But, it was the peace of the manger that brought it all together.
The type of peace we are talking about. It wasn’t present until Jesus was laid upon the hay and serenaded by angels and attended to by Shepherds. You see, peace was lost when we first sinned. Peace was lost when we first chose ourselves over God. Over time, the separation from God resulted in a loss of peace in our lives. For peace could only be found in the unity with God. Jesus brought peace back into the world, because He opened our hearts back up to God through the glory of redeeming Grace. Joseph and Mary, even the soldiers, could easily choose peace for they knew God.
Where and How
It is easy to let the world dictate your time and your priorities. It is also easy to get carried away with those things that seem important, but are actually distractions. Individually, we can certainly feel the pressures and the demands of the world and collectively, well, the news reveals what we see there. Wars continue to be waged, people continue to starve, poverty rears its ugly head at every corner, and power seems to be the driving force for human desire.
Peace reigns though. Peace reigns because despite all of what I have just said, we have something in our hearts, our minds, and our souls more important and bigger than all of that. We have the ability to choose peace in God. We have the ability to take each day as a new day with the mantra, “My peace comes from the Lord!” By doing so, we choose Christ over all of the distractions and we let peace prevail in our lives and we show peace to those we meet. It took courage for the soldier to first stand and extend a hand to shake in peace! It took courage for Mary and Joseph to respond to God knowing that peace would abound in the world through their actions! Peace is not something we can give. It has been given to us. We can choose it every day and we can demonstrate it in our lives by allowing the power of Christ to radiate through us. To know God through the baby in the manger is to see peace. To accept that child into your heart and choose Him everyday is to be at peace.