New Beginning: Peace (Part 5)
Tonight, we all have made it into this church.
We have all come from different places.
Some live within walking distance of here. Most drove. Some may have even traveled from far away to be home for the holidays.
But we’re here, all of us, for the same reason, when you really think about it.
See, you had a choice. You didn’t have to come. But even if it was reluctantly, you still came here, and for what?
“What,” as Jesus tells us in Matthew, “did you come to see?”
Do you know?
For now, let’s let go of the easy answers, the low-hanging fruit…
It’s not because your mom dragged you here; it’s not out of obligation to the church; and it’s not because this wonderful building holds such a warm memories and traditions for you.
That’s a part of it, but that’s not really it.
It’s because — if we’re really being honest with ourselves — we came seeking something.
Something greater than ourselves.
Something we hope will complete us.
Something that maybe we can’t hold in our hands, but we sure want to hold in our hearts.
And you know what I’m talking about:
We come seeking Peace. We come seeking Peace.
“No, pastor. That’s not me. You got it ALL wrong… My family drags me here every Christmas Eve, and I do it for them.”
“No, I love God and I come to hear the story being retold. I love that Old Story. I love the tradition.”
Well, either way, I’d argue that you still came seeking peace, with a lowercase P.
But that’s not the main reason. We come for Peace with a capital P.
We come for the promise of Peace that only God can give.
We want it so badly. And I know, some of us haven’t experienced that kind of Peace.
Or maybe we did, but maybe we haven’t in a long, long time.
Tonight, we hope to catch a glimpse of that Peace, to feel that Peace once again, on this most Holy of nights.
The Peace we knew as a child, when the world seemed full of love and promise.
The Peace we had as young adults, when relationships were new, and it seemed like our whole lives and the whole world was in front of us and all for us.
The Peace we knew when we gave ourselves to Christ, but then, as life happened, we somehow lost that feeling.
We’ve seen so much. We've felt so much. We carry the scars of a life without such Peace.
But maybe we won’t readily admit that, or maybe we aren’t even cognizant of it. Maybe we’re afraid to admit it, because it seems so impossible.
Yet it’s true. We still came for here Peace.
Jesus’s birth, again?
We all know the story: Jesus was born in a lowly manger in Bethlehem to bring us Peace.
Many of us have grown up with this story being told on nights just like tonight.
Count them back. Can you remember your first time hearing the story of Jesus’s birth?
Who told you?
Maybe you were a shepherd in the church play?
Did your mom or dad or a grandparent read it to you?
Or was it in Sunday school?
And think of all the times you sat in a pew just like one of these — I don’t know, maybe some of you are still sitting in that same pew — and you heard the story of the birth of Jesus.
Who sat beside you? Who was preaching? Who read the Gospel that night?
It’s almost as if that story had always been there; as if it was planted in your heart before you were even born…
And who is sitting beside you tonight?
You know the story; did you bring someone with you so that they could hear the story? Your children, maybe?
Or maybe so your parents or grandparents or friends could hear it once again?
Doesn’t really matter their age, does it? You want them to hear that story.
Generation after generation, we come here to this very place — a candle-lit church on Christmas Eve, all decorated for the season.
All around the world, the very same thing is happening tonight. This exact same story is being once again told to millions and millions of people.
We call those people the Church. The body of Christ.
And tonight, when we break bread together, we again become one with each other and with Christ.
All for the exact same reason you are here for, you have been here for, and you will be back for, God willing — to experience the gift of this True Peace!
2000 years ago
On a night that could have been just like this one, only almost 2000 years ago in a cave in Bethlehem, God set into motion a change so significant, it in itself would change the course of the world and all life as we know it, forever.
And so we retell this story to remind us that to bring Peace, great change must first happen.
Often, that change is hard. It’s abrupt. It’s unexpected. It’s revolutionary. Sometimes it’s painful. And it doesn’t look like anything we would dream of.
For it’s not the story of a baby born to earthly royalty.
It’s not a promise of the kind of power and authority that humans know.
There would be no first-rate education and mentoring of this child as he walks to ascend his birth-given throne.
There would be no mass love and adoration.
Instead, as we just read in the Gospel of Luke tonight:
There would be a child born to a lowly peasant girl and a carpenter who knows this wasn’t his child.
The palace is an animal stable and the baby’s bed, a feeding troth.
The power and authority that this child would have would come through heaven, not earth.
His education would come on his knees in prayer, and through his great love for all His people.
The very people who would abandon him and send him to his death on the cross.
This is 180-degrees, upside-down, counter-cultural change.
A God in motion
And for that change to occur, there must be great motion.
That change was set into motion on the day God created this world.
Why? Because Jesus — Jesus who would be the catalyst of change — already was there.
The Gospel of John tells us In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The Word is Jesus. Jesus is the Word. That’s what that means.
God set into motion this plan to bring us salvation — to bring us Peace — before we were even created.
God gave all of us — you and me — a promise and a plan for Peace.
Tonight we can once again know Peace as we remember the birth of Christ — the gift given for our Peace.
We often think of Peace as stillness and silence, and in so doing, Peace becomes passive for us.
But Peace is anything but passive, as we learn through God and Jesus.
Peace is always in motion.
God is always on the move.
So many people tell me that God just doesn’t move in their lives anymore. They all want to see God.
Listen: God moved — and is still moving — heaven and earth for you.
We just don’t notice it.
See, we’re always on the move, always so distracted. And we want things when we want them — which is is now!
But this isn't how God calls us into motion.
We have to first be still so that we can see God in motion.
God makes his presence known to us by his motion.
Just look at the motion that God set into play in our Gospel reading in just 20 verses!
Forget about creating Heaven and Earth, bringing his people out of Egypt to Israel, creating a bloodline through David that would survive generations so that Jesus would be born through it to fulfill the prophecies, and lead his people back to Israel after multiple invasions and exiles…
That was all in the Old Testament.
Here, in Luke, we see the motion that changed the world.
The prophet John the Baptist, who would clear the way for Jesus, had to be miraculously born to parents believed too old to conceive. There is something supernatural happening between heaven and earth. God is on the move!
Before Jesus is born, he is on the move… Caesar Augustus’s decree that all people return to the place of their births to be counted for a census shows us that this human ruler believes he has domain over the world; but who is it that is called to become witness to the birth of Jesus? Shepherds. God is on the move!
These shepherds were visited by an angel from Heaven who tells them “I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people…” (Luke 2.10). And they set off to visit the baby Jesus — not the kings of the world! God is on the move!
Of course, Mary and Joseph are uprooted from Nazareth — Mary is eight months pregnant — to travel to Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? Because God tells the Prophet Micah 700 years prior to Christ’s birth these words: “And you, Bethlehem …, you being least among the thousands of Judah, out of you He shall come forth to Me, that is to become Ruler in Israel.” (Mic. 5.2) God was already on the move!
And so before Jesus was even born — while he was still in his mother’s womb — he was on the move. Jesus was born homeless. And he remained homeless through his entire life. Why? Because his home was not here on earth. God was already on the move to bring his son — and us — home.
Wisemen had to come great distances, we’re told, to see the newborn king. God is on the move.
Jesus’s entire ministry was on the move. And just imagine how difficult that movement was as our Savior knows the road that he travels to Jerusalem is the same road to his execution. His eye on the cross every step of the way. But trusting that God is on the move.
And if you think about it, even as barbaric as this Roman design of hanging a body from a cross to die upon is, the norm was not having the death-sentenced person carry his cross up the hill to Gethsemane. No, he was paraded down the busy, more populated streets — a much longer route than anyone would have normally had to drag a cross.
Always in motion, always moving...
Why all the distance?
Why all this distance?
Surely God could have made it easier. Easier on Mary and Joseph, easier on Jesus throughout his life, his ministry and his final walk to his death.
Why such great distances and hardships?
Because through it all, God shows us the enormous contrast of this motion.
We said earlier, great change takes great motion.
No change takes place when there’s no contrast, no juxtaposition, no notice.
We have to see the great change to be able to experience it.
We need to be still to see God moving.
Because God will then remind us — just like he is tonight — of the great distance between him and us and — most importantly — what it took to bridge that enormous gap.
How does he bridge that enormous chasm that was created by our sin, our very turning away from God in the first place?
God tells us that his love is so great for us, that he just wants to be with his children — every single one of us — so badly that he would leave his throne in heaven, become human flesh in the form of a baby in the worst conditions possible and most inhospitable place on earth, just to be able to hold you in his arms once again.
Just to be able to hold you in his arm as a mother or a father holds their newborn baby in their arms.
See, he literally moved heaven and earth just for you.
For you, and you, and you, and you. And all of us.
And then to take his baby, and hand it over to the world as a sacrifice to atone for that great chasm.
So that on the other side of of Christmas, from the day Jesus was born to his death, that same loving motion included the amazing distance that had to be covered for our sins to be covered by his blood.
We cannot bring peace without motion.
We cannot move without love.
Tonight, as we sit here shoulder to shoulder from the whatever distance we traveled, we listen for the hushed cries of an infant child calling in the night.
A child who would bring Peace into a world.
Those cries from that baby would grow louder than any noise this world would ever hear.
Listen. Can you hear him?
Because all around the world on this very night, we are being called to by Jesus Christ.
They are the calls from beneath and among the rubble in Aleppo, where families have been torn apart.
They come from the plains of North Dakota, where water protectors remain camped for fear their health and livelihood will be stripped from them -- even on this, the most sacred of nights.
His cries come from Ethiopia, where more than 40 percent of the people there are starving to death at this very moment.
The calls come from within the prison walls, from the bars and taverns where the weary drown their sorrows.
They come from the nursing homes, the lonely apartments and the hospitals, where there is no one to reach out to.
The orphanages, the institutions, and the homes of the abused and vulnerable.
Can you hear him calling to you?
Like us, they just want Peace.
Hear the Good News. Hear the Good News: Emmanuel.
God with us.
God makes his presence known to us by his revelation — by revealing His Son to us!
Tonight, Emmanuel — God with Us — is your gift.
Tonight, Emmanuel — God with Us — is your Peace.
When Jesus was born into the world, he put into motion God’s great love to be reunited with us.
Jesus is the Way because he is the bridge, the road, the path that connects us to God’s great love.
When you open that gift, you become part of that motion.
Through that motion, you begin to feel that peace.
And it’s because of God’s motion, that you, too, will bring God’s peace.
Listen: “What you do for the least of these you do for me,” Matt. 25.40.
We just went through a whole list of the least of these. All those who suffer tonight.
Jesus is calling to you to be in motion.
God is calling to you to be Peace.
Everything that God has done from the beginning of creation brings us to this very place tonight.
To remember the Light that was brought in to the world to bring us peace, and to go out and become that light — that City on a Hill — to bring God’s peace to the world.
Because we have received the gift of Christ, we carry within us the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus was the gift of Peace for us, so, too, do we become the gift of Peace for others — here and all around the world.
Whenever we fall to our knees in prayer.
Whenever we gather in places like this to worship.
Whenever we reach out our hands to those who need.
And whenever hands are reaching out to us.
We understand that God is in motion in us.
We all have arrived here from somewhere else tonight.
And maybe it seems as if we came for 100 different reasons.
But the truth is, you heard the story of a gift you have all been given.
It’s a reminder that while the gift might have come 2000 years ago, that unlike the gifts that may be under your tree, this one is always brand-new each and every day of your life.
It’s yours for the opening.
And even if you choose to open it today, then put it aside for days, months, years, it will be there again for you to open again.
Distractions move us far from that gift.
We cannot hear the baby calling to us in the night.
We refuse it sometimes.
Yet there it is. Still. Unconditionally yours. For the same love it had been given. Just for you. No matter who you are or where you’ve been been.
It’s still there for you.
God wants to put his love for you in motion.
How do we experience true peace? Through this gift.
And when we accept this gift, this peace, we will again hear the calls of the baby so far away.
Except they do not hang heavy anymore, because we understand them to be not pain, but promise, hope and peace.
We no longer see a poor homeless child born out of wedlock and lying in a animal pen;
We see a messiah, a savior — a great hope and promise.
We see the Prince of Peace.
We understand a God in motion.
Emmanuel. God with us.
For us. And for all the world.
On this holy night, yes, and always.