Sermons

Summary: Our times of terror are like those into which Jesus was born. Then and now we try to carve out peace with government, wealth, ingenuity. But Jesus is the source of peace because His life was given to service, His dependence on things was nil, and He ope

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And on earth, peace. What an ancient longing! What a long-standing frustration! On earth, peace.

I don’t know what language angels sing in, and I suppose the shepherds would have known only Aramaic, but we have grown accustomed to choirs singing the angelic words in Latin: “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra, pax.” In terra, pax. Terra. Earth. Sounds like the word we have been using since September 11: terror. In terra, pax. In terror, peace.

Is peace possible? Is it too much to ask for? Is it beyond all reasonable expectation that we on planet earth will somehow, some day, live in peace? That’s what the angels sang. That’s what the shepherds needed to hear. And we need to hear it too. In terra, pax. In terror, peace. Songs promise it; hearts crave it. True and deep and lasting peace.

In 1864 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a poem about peace. It expressed both his longing and the feelings of many Americans, weary with the long and bloody battles of the Civil War. Some of it is not printed in our hymnal. Longfellow wrote,

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

That’s the promise. But then Longfellow turned sorrowful, and wrote,

“And in despair I bowed my head;

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Hate? Mockery? What did he mean? You don’t find this in the hymnal, but Longfellow, thinking about the Civil War, about the causes for which it was being fought, and, no doubt, about his own son, who had been seriously wounded – Longfellow wrote:

“Then from each [loud] accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound the carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearthstones of a continent

And made forlorn the households born

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

In 2001, more awful than Longfellow could have known in 1864, the earthquake of conflict has rent hearthstones, torn homes, destroyed cities, and taken lives. Today, more anguishing than the poet could have seen nearly a century and a half ago, cannons and smart bombs, jet fuel and heat-seeking missiles make forlorn the landscapes of our lives. And we are left worrying and wondering, yet again, where is the peace that is promised? In terra, pax; in terror, peace. Can it be?

Think with me this morning about peace. Think with me about the foolish ways we try to carve out peace for ourselves. And that will set the stage for us to praise God for Jesus Christ, the authentic hope of genuine peace.

I

First, what have we done about peace? To what have we given ourselves in order to make peace happen? Do you know that there are some striking parallels between the world into which Jesus was born and our world? Are you aware that so much about His time is like our time?

a

First of all, it was a time when some trusted in government for everything. It was a time, much like ours, when some people, particularly those in positions of power, really thought Rome could do it all, and that if Rome didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be done! Just as in our own day, we have some folks who are quick to expect the President, the Congress, the Mayor, and the bureaucrats to do everything under the sun to protect us. In Jesus’ day there were people who thought that the Roman Empire would bring peace and stability. Rome had an extensive system of control; its military might was felt far from the capital city. Its governors were like CIA, watching every little twitch in the body politic. It even bought off local rulers like Herod to keep them loyal. It was a time when some trusted in government for everything.


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