Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Peace in Christ Jesus

Every year just after Thanksgiving, my wife and daughter begin to ask questions in order to find out exactly what I want for Christmas. They start out with some coy questioning and, as we approach Christmas Eve, the questioning gets more direct. My answer to both is always the same, “All I want for Christmas is ‘peace on earth and goodwill to men.’”

When you think about my answer, you may say that I am just being funny or even crazy. Think about it. If we all worked towards peace and goodwill to all, our world would be wonderful. As I watch the news or read a newspaper, I see the same things every year. I see Black Friday fights and, in some cases, those events turn tragic. No matter which television network I watch or next page in the newspaper I read, I just see the horror of life. You can choose to only focus on those moments of unrest or you can look a little harder and you will see stories of encouragement, love and peace. 

There will always be, according to Jesus, wars and rumors of wars. There will always be strife and stress in each of our lives. The question I have for you is simple, “What do you want for Christmas and everyday of your life?” Many, after thinking about it, would answer the same way I do, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men.”

We all want to live in and enjoy peace with not only each other but also with God. When an angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds in the fields watching over and feeding their sheep, he, in Luke 2, said, “10 Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

After that announcement to the shepherds, a host of angels suddenly appeared and began to say, “14 Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.

If you look very closely at what the angels said, you will notice something very interesting. The verse states, “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” True peace is not something that man is capable of creating for himself. It is a gift from God. We, as humans, cannot create an everlasting peace.

In 1914 during World War I, there was a Christmas truce that was honored by both the English and German forces. The men were huddled in their trenches in the cold and trying to stay warm. I am sure many thought about past Christmases and how merry and bright they were. There was always enough food and warmth for all. There were roaring fires in the fireplaces and tables burgeoning with the bounty of the land. To those men, a long way from home, those memories of Christmases past seemed so far, far in the past. But, an amazing thing happened. The British soldiers could hear a faint sound that grew louder and louder. It was the German soldiers singing a familiar Christmas carol, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”. Within minutes, the British soldiers began to echo with words back in English, “Silent Night, Holy Night”. Yes, they joined the Germans, their enemy, in singing a beloved carol. 

Then, the unthinkable happened. A German soldier crawled out of his trench and he began to bravely walk into “No Man’s Land”, the area between the two lines of soldiers. That one soldier took a big chance. Anyone crossing “No Man’s Land” would surely come under fire and be killed. However, the British soldiers did not fire. As the German soldier quietly walked towards the British line, a British soldier got out of his trench and began to walk towards the German soldier. 

Instead of fighting, they shook hands and wished each other a “Merry Christmas”. When the others saw this, soldiers from both sides, one by one, got out of their trenches. The commanding officers from both sides were incensed. This was against all rules of engagement. In fact, it was fraternizing with the enemy, a punishable offense. The officers were powerless to stop them. In time, even the officers left their posts and joined the groups that were forming.

Both sides shared what food they had and showed pictures of their families. Some even began to play soccer and enjoyed the time they had together. Many began to realize that the “other man across “No Man’s Land” was just another man with a family and a strong desire to go home. This peace lasted through Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day. 

As Christmas Day came to an end, they all went back to their trenches. A lone British officer stood up on the edge of a trench and fired his pistol into the air. The truce was over. That wonderful, yet fragile, peace was over.

The peace of this sinful world is indeed very fragile and often ends as abruptly as it started. It was lamented that the ending of the Christmas Truce of 1914 was the day that civilized man died. By 1916, there were no more truces like the one experienced in 1914. Men did not learn to “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”. Nations continued to lift up sword against other nations.

However, as Christians, we have received a very special gift from God. It is His peace. Paul, in Philippians 4, writes, “7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” It is His peace that lives within us when we allow Jesus to live in us.

The world that we live in does not understand or know of this peace. Like the Christmas Truce of 1914, It only understands a man-made peace that ends as abruptly as it starts. God’s peace is everlasting and it is perfect in all respects. In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.

The peace that God gave and continues to give to us through His son, Christ Jesus, allows us to live without fear, uncertainty and doubt. We do not need to worry about the things of this world. Later in John, Jesus, in John 16, tells his disciples that they will no longer see him. The hour has come when he must leave them. Jesus tells them, “33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Notice what Jesus tells them about God’s peace. It is not only perfect and exceeds understanding but it is also peace that will help them get through the trials and sorrows of this world. This peace helps all those who have accepted Christ Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord to overcome the world and enjoy a peace that can only come from the Father.

Once we have this peace firmly implanted in our hearts, we seek peace and give it freely to others. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5, “9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” As God’s children, it is our responsibility to work for peace. We must show the world that peace that can only come from God. If we do not, the world will never understand that perfect “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

For those who do not know the Father, the peace that they understand is man-made and is as fragile as a porcelain figurine. As Christians, we know a different peace. It is a peace that overcomes fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is everlasting and is bound by the words of Jesus as provided by God. It is peace that leaves those who walk in darkness shaking their heads in disbelief.

As you go through the rest of this Advent week, I urge you to show the world that peace that God has given you through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His one and only son, Christ Jesus. Let the world know that the peace that it knows only leads back to destruction and death. The peace that God provides is eternal and perfect and will allow them to overcome fear, uncertainty and doubt so that they, too, can stand firm in His grace.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.

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