Summary: Proclaiming the message of Peace on Earth and goodwill to all mankind - the true meaning of the message.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to all mankind.”

Glory to God indeed, as this Christmas Eve we gather, in preparation, we wait in anticipation; we wait eagerly wondering what tomorrow morning will bring to us, our families and our friends. We have become a little too self centred over the years as we forget the season is for all of mankind instead we have concentrated on us and our nearest and dearest.

It’s a lovely cry, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill to all mankind,” but it’s not one that we share with all of mankind, perhaps because we don’t understand it.

Peace on earth – has it ever been peaceful here? Will there ever be a time when peace will reign over this beautiful planet? Our world has seen its fair share of wars, and our servicemen and women are away from home in some distant land, I many cases they are unwelcome guests, and for some they are nothing more than invaders imposing their will.

Famine and poverty strike at the very heart of some of our developing nations, we will help them just as many Scots are doing with the Malawi appeal and we revel in the prospect of ‘peace on earth and goodwill’ this evening and for the duration of the period but thereafter it will be business as usual!

‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind,’ but our goodwill will only stretch as far as the season lasts, as is so often the case, and it will be business as usual after our festivities are over with.

For many of us this evening and on Christmas Day, we will share our joy with our families, enjoying a venerable feast and indulging in a couple of drinks or more. Ours will be a season of plenty, a time when we will tune into the television or spend valuable time with our family. We will forget the true meaning of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind – because we have become wrapped up in our own little world, sharing that with those we love most. This Christmas day will be business as usual and the business will be nothing more than overeating, drinking and if we’re lucky playing some party games.

That’s the trouble with Christmas, its longed for, it’s anticipated and prepared for but it’s over with all too quickly and soon everything returns to normality and the sentiments of the season are packed away for another year, along with the tinsel, trees and decorations.

We will return to business as usual, finding something to complain about, finding some reason to grumble and the peace and goodwill heralded by the angels is furthest from our minds, their proclamation being nothing more than a decoration from the Gospel only to be displayed at Christmas time.

The best example of the short lived sentiments of the season is viewed in the history of World War I. When on Christmas day, the British and German soldiers would sing Christmas carols and then one brave soldier would cross over ‘no man’s land’ and exchange seasonal greetings with the enemy. Soon they would all share their rations, show photographs of their families, play football and then return to their trenches and the temporary armistice would be over with.

There isn’t much that can be said that will make a real difference; even the Lord’s birth hasn’t really made a difference. In many ways you can sit in church everyday of your life and not be a Christian anymore than you would not be a car if you sat in a garage all day.

As we celebrate his birth, his arrival as God in human form – we too are reminded of his period of peace on earth and the goodwill that he received but it too was all too short.

He came as infant, born in a manger because there was no room in the Inn – thankfully the innkeeper’s goodwill extended to Joseph and Mary allowed him to have a warm, dry place to begin his life. As his years progressed his baptism marked the beginning of his ministry and for three short years he thrived until the goodwill ran out and peace for him was withdrawn, instead he will be hung on a cross, in the hope that it brings us peace.

Perhaps this Christmastime you could reflect on the events of the world in the last year, the personal triumphs and tragedies you have experienced and when you begin to open your presents and share in the festive meal – perhaps, just perhaps you will pause a moment or two and think of the real message that Christ’s birth heralds.

That the Immanuel, as flesh incarnate came to earth, born in the most humble dwellings, born to unmarried parents, refugees from their own country surrounded by ox and ass, shepherds and wise men – his birth announced by an angel who lead the earliest of followers to the manger is truly the greatest gift that God has given all mankind. A gift that each and everyone of you here and throughout the world can receive if only you stretch out your arms, wide open like an infant yourself waiting to be lifted. Perhaps then, allowing this most holy of nights to stir in your heart something deep and wonderful, perhaps then the message proclaimed will really be delivered at last, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.”

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