Summary: A sermon looking on the "Shalom" God wants for his world.
I am not known as a great Christmas card writer. I usually write one per year, to my wife. I leave her to do the rest! Look at this one with “peace on earth” on the front. We think nothing of such declarations of peace today. But the declaration of saviour who would bring peace was nothing short of explosive. Not least of all to the poor shepherds. Can you imagine if you were a shepherd, it was dark, you are on a hillside and suddenly load of angels appear singing – loudly! No wonder they were scared.
But more than that the Gospel writers are determined that we the readers understand the significance of Jesus birth. This declaration struck right at the heart of the mighty Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus had turned Rome into the greatest empire of them all. He used the term “gospel/good news” to describe his rule. The message everyone heard when Jesus was born was “Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of land and sea, the benefactor and saviour of the whole world has brought you peace.” Can you see why what the Gospels was such dynamite? Augustus had achieved this Pax Romana by military might and the threat that anyone challenging this “peace” would be crucified. So this Caesar lifts his little finger and in a corner of his Empire a young couple embark on a long and dangerous journey to register in the husband’s ancestral home. Whilst there a child is born and on a hillside, outside Bethlehem, angels announce to shepherds that a saviour has been born, not Caesar the Lord, but Christ the Lord. They declare that God’s peace and favour is now with men. Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before that this one who had now been born would be called the “Prince of Peace”! The Prince of Peace had now arrived.
“PEACE ON EARTH”!
If God were to write a Christmas card to the world this is probably what it would have on the outside, since it is what the first Christmas message passed on by the angels. The word the angels would have used to those shepherds was the one Isaiah used, “SHALOM”. It is how a Jewish person would greet someone. We’d say “hello” – they say “shalom” the word that is nearest to it in English is peace, but that doesn’t do it, it is untranslatable. So on the inside of God’s card might elaborate on God’s Christmas wish with things like:
· Live Long and Prosper in the New Year. When we say, “We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year we are expressing something of God’s heart in declaring peace on earth. Jews still use “shalom” to greet one another. In the old version of Star Trek Mr.Spock from the planet Vulcan had a special greeting - LIVE LONG AND PROSPER. That is a bit like what “Shalom” means. It is what Christmas is about. Jesus was born to bring God’s peace, “shalom” to the world - he was saying live long and prosper.
· Deep sense of well-being. We talk about being a person being “at peace” (not just when they are dead!”) God’s goal is that all people will have a deep sense of well-being. That things would go really well and we have a great life.
· Inner peace – God wants us to know his peace in our hearts, freedom from fear, anxiety, and worry. A contest was held to determine who could represent peace through painting. Three finalists were determined and a crowd of art enthusiasts were used to declare the winner. The first painting was unveiled to reveal a portrait of a peace valley with a quiet sunset in the background. The second was unveiled to show a portrait of tranquil waters of seashore with the soft glow of a lighthouse. The final entry was unveiled; it portrayed a dark, threatening sky. Rain poured down upon a sharp cliff with one straggly old tree jutting from. However, from an elbow on the branch of that tree could be seen a mother bird sitting atop her nest, sheltering her baby birds from the storm. This was the winner because it captured the essence of peace.
· Harmonious relationships with God and others. God wants people reconciled to him and to one another. This is of course critical, because until we are reconciled to God how can we truly know his peace? How can we know peace with others?
All of these things are what is meant by “shalom”. They are what God wishes for the world today, in your life and mine. It’s all well and good to make wishes like this, fine sounding words as they are. How can they become a reality?