Summary: We might read a Christmas card that says "Peace on Earth" and not think anything of it. But the hope of God's peace is revolutionary.
In years past at Christmas time you would see the phrase, “Peace on Earth,” quite a bit. It might be on a banner in a store window or on Christmas cards or decorations in someone’s front yard. We did get one Christmas card with the phrase, but not as many as in years past. As the years go by we are seeing more and more Santa and Rudolph and Frosty and less and less about peace on earth. But it was one of the proclamations of the angels when they announced Jesus’ birth, and something we still need very badly.
We just had the horrible terrorist strike in Mumbai, India.
There is ongoing civil war in the Eastern Congo.
The former Soviet Republic of Georgia invaded Ossetia not too long ago, only to see Russia barge in and push them right out again.
Iraq is slowly improving, but much of the improvement has come at the price ethnic cleansing, of one ethnic group pushing everyone else out of their neighborhoods.
In Afghanistan the government is controlling less and less of their own countryside.
Zimbabwe is an ongoing disaster. Inflation has so under minded the value of their money that one US dollar will now buy 200 million Zimbabwean dollars. We worry about our retirement accounts today after they have gone down maybe 35%. Imagine dividing your retirement account by 200 million.
And one police sergeant reported that a whole month’s salary had so little value that he couldn’t afford to buy even a quart of cooking oil.
And on top of that a cholera epidemic has already killed over a thousand people.
Do we still need “Peace on Earth?” If we could choose between actually meeting Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, or actually seeing the entire world at peace, we would all choose peace on earth.
If we could trade all the presents under our Christmas trees for peace on earth, we would take it in a second.
So, I want us to think together about “Peace on Earth” for just a few minutes.
Peace can have different meanings to different people. For a harried mother who has now had the kids home all day and housebound for several days of Christmas vacation while trying to finish all the shopping, decorating and cooking, “peace” might mean locking the bathroom door and just soaking in a hot tub for an hour. There peace means no more hassles. All interruptions of my tranquility are locked out.
We have some of that kind of peace tonight. The doors and windows are closed tightly to keep the cold wind out. We are surrounding ourselves with beautiful music and decorations to make things just as comfortable here as possible. The lights are dimmed. We want this service to be as peaceful and pleasant as possible.
Some of our traditional Christmas carols focus on this kind of peace, getting rid of anything unpleasant, as they go on and on about how still and peaceful Bethlehem was when Jesus was born. Think about that. If they were under Roman military occupation, and if the town was so swamped with people who had to come to be counted in a census that Mary had to put her newborn down in a feeding trough, I’ll bet it wasn’t peaceful at all. And really, I don’t think that is at all the kind of peace that the angels sang about was the purpose of the birth of Jesus. This wasn’t an event for running away from disturbing things. When Jesus was born, God was confronting the disturbing things of this world so that he could change them, not run away from them. (repeat)
So, when the angels talked about peace, what did they have in mind? Almost certainly they addressed the shepherds that night in the Aramaic language, which was very close to Hebrew. The word they would have used for peace was one you’ve probably heard before, “Shalom.” And shalom doesn’t have anything to do with running away from anything that disturbs you. Shalom refers to building wholeness in life, proper relationships, getting things straightened out to where they ought to be.
One of the real privileges of being a pastor is that you get to go through crises and major transitions with many families. Years ago I got a phone call one evening that Al and Evelyn Ames’s barn was on fire. Al and Evelyn were in their 80s, mostly retired as their son had taken over the farm. But that farm was their life. Old Al had built that barn with his father many years ago. His ancestor had been the first pioneer farmer to break sod and no one had ever worked that land except for Ames family members and those who worked for them.