Isaiah 60:1-6, Luke 2:8-14
December 10, 2017
This is a wonderful time of year. It is also an ironic time of the year. Because one of the themes of Christmas – as well as one of the themes of our advent wreath – is “Peace.” It’s the message the Christmas angels sang to the shepherds. It’s part of the decorations of this season. Like the word “Joy” it is sometimes seen standing alone, as a decoration all by itself. “Peace.”
Yet the irony is that this peace – “Peace on Earth” – the peace that Christmas promises, is often the most elusive at this time of year. Either that, or it’s more apparent this time of year that we don’t have that peace in our lives. In a season that promises peace, we feel our lack of peace more deeply.
As I’ve said before, Charles Schultz really captured this for us in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” (First shown in the year? 1965!) It was in that opening scene, when Charlie Brown is leaning on that wall with Linus. And he says, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
Do you remember what Linus said? “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Brown-iest.”
Do you remember that? Well, I think Charles Schultz was asking us to consider that maybe Charlie Brown is not the only one who’s “Charlie Brown” in that way. What do you think? Any Charlie Browns out there? (You don’t have to raise your hands!)
The problem is – the irony is – that there are many people who do experience depression at this time of year. There are many who end up in hospitals at this time of year. And sadly, there are those who take their own lives at this time of year.
Now, the other part of this picture (If you’re not too depressed already!) is that, far too often, we’ve witnessed tragic events at this time of year. Five years ago we were all shocked by the senseless shootings in the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut. And we could all name other incidents. And I have to admit to a certain sense of fear and foreboding at this time of year, the worry that something else could happen. That fear fights against the peace I seek at Christmas time.
It’s all part of this time of year. And I’ve been thinking that maybe that’s not so far from the whole meaning of the Christmas event. It was a difficult world into which God stepped two thousand years ago. There were people in those days living under oppression. There were tragic events in those days. Although we don’t often like to read that part of the story, we get a sense of that in Matthew’s Gospel, where he tells us how Herod took brutal measures to make sure this “newborn king” wouldn’t threaten his power!
All of that is part of this picture. All of that is why the first Advent was such a powerful story! Because it was to that world, and to ours, that God has promised “Peace on Earth.” And it does sometimes seem elusive, doesn’t it? But no, I don’t want this sermon to be a “downer.” In fact, what I have come to believe more and more about Christmas is the amazing nature of God’s peace. It is peace no matter what the circumstances!
The problem is, that for much of history – even the history of God’s people – people have wanted peace only on their own terms. They want to set up their world so that it promotes peace. And though that often fails, still they don’t want to think about peace on God’s terms. And as a result, as John says about Jesus “the Word,” that “He came to his own people, and his own people received him not.” There’s a lot of the down side of this holiday in that statement. Like the people of ole, people in our world also look for peace in all the wrong places, or they look for it only on their own terms. And they don’t find it.
But! – and here’s the good news – “To those who did receive him… he gave power! He gave power to become children of God!” That’s the power of this time of year! Yes, this is a wonderful season! There is beauty all around us. The sights, the sounds, the smells, all mean so much to us! And it’s great! I love every bit of it! (Except for nutcrackers! Those things creep me out!) Nevertheless, this is a beautiful and wonderful time of the year. The problem is that for too many hurting people in a hurting world, that’s all they’re being given – beauty and wonder. And that doesn’t help!
But think about it. God didn’t make the world a better place and then send Jesus into it. He didn’t take away the pain before he came. He came here in the midst of it all! And he gave us the power to be his children! And he gave us peace on his terms!
And so if you’re hurting, if you’re struggling this Advent season, and I’m sure there are those of us who are, know that God comes to us in the midst of our pain and anguish, and in the midst of that he gives us peace! And it’s peace on his terms. It is, as Paul told the Philippians, peace that “passes all human understanding” – or “control,” I might add! He knew that peace, because he knew what Jesus himself said in the Upper Room. There, in his own time of greatest trial, he said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you with, my peace I give unto you, peace not as the world gives! Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Those words ring true even after all these years. And then, at the end of that time together with them, his last words were, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But be of good cheer! For I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
This is a wonderful time of the year. And the wonder continues. And the wonder is that no matter what we are going through, God gives us the power to be his children. And he gives us his peace, if we are willing to set our own terms aside, and receive it.
Eternal God, we thank you for coming to live among us. We pray this Advent season that you would give us a better understanding of, and a deeper sense of, your peace. Help us, no matter what the circumstances of our lives, to look to you. Help us to know the true joy of this season, and the true joy of your kingdom. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.