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Light or Secret? December 25, 2013

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John 1:1-18

Christmas Day

December 25, 2013

Focus: God gives life to His children.

Function: That the hearers celebrate the true light of the world.

Structure: Bible Study.

Light or Secret?

First and foremost, Merry Christmas!  One of things many people love about Christmastime is all the lights.  Homes are decked out in Christmas lights of all colors, trees are covered in lights.  Some homes flash, others play music.  It’s a wonderful way to set the mood for Christmas.  There are many who will drive around town just to go light seeing.  If that’s you, you’ve probably creeped me out by driving slow past our house in town to see our neighbor’s light display.  They put a lot of work into it!

And if all that isn’t enough, the glory of God’s creation adds to it.  On a sunny day, the light reflecting off the snow is overpowering.  And the beauty of “sun dogs” is quite a sight.  I had never seen it until I moved here.

Our text today is a familiar text, the beginning of the gospel of John.  But maybe it’s text that’s made you scratch your head a few times.  What’s John gettin’ at, why doesn’t he just tell us about Jesus’ birth like Matthew and Luke?  Where’s Joseph and Mary, where are the angels?  Why John, what are you up to?

Without a doubt, John’s opening introduces several key themes that will fill his book, including light.  But, to fully appreciate John’s opening to his gospel, we need to look at his context.  I’m not sure we can fully grasp everything John is saying without knowing about one of the challenges to the early church.

The church in John’s day, the church in the late first century and even into the second, was plagued by the heresy of Gnosticism.  It was especially dangerous, because at this time, God’s church was still in its youth.

Gnosticism’s teaching was this.  There’s only one true existence, the spiritual world, complete with a number of different gods.  One day, one of these gods made a mistake, and the result was a lesser god, who was cast off into the physical world.

The physical world, to them, is nothing.  It’s non-existant, it’s all in your mind.  You and I don’t really exist.  This lesser god, along with his evil minions, then created us, a bunch of people inhabiting the physical world.  Mistakenly, some of us have a spark of light within us.  If we can somehow discover that light, we’ll be freed from this prison and escape to the real world, the spiritual world.  That’s their idea of salvation.

Life is all about obtaining the secret knowledge; it’s the key or the password to unlock that spark of light.  And Jesus, this is where He comes in, Jesus came to give us that secret knowledge so we could be set free.

A group of so-called Christian Gnostics emerged.  They taught that Adam and Eve didn’t really sin by eating the fruit in the garden.  Instead, they were rebelling against this evil god that made them.  They were trying to discover the light and be saved.  The flood of Noah’s day was the minions’ attempt to suppress us.  And daily life is just a distraction from the light.

I hope you can see some of the flaws of Gnosticism.  I hope you realize just how dangerous it was to the church.  So dangerous, in fact, that some of their ideas still dominate in the church today.  If you don’t believe me, when you die and go to heaven, what’s it going to look like?  How many Christians see a dying loved one and say it’s a good thing?  How many of us can’t wait to shed this imperfect body and be spirits?  The physical body is evil, and the spirit is good.  That’s a foundational principle of Gnosticism.  It’s not Christian.  Not in the slightest.

With these teachings in mind, let’s turn back to John’s gospel, to his opening paragraphs.  Turn your worship folder with me and look back at our gospel reading on page 4.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John begins with this well-known phrase in the church.  God our Father is no evil lesser god.  Jesus, the Son, is no demi-god.  The holy Trinity, the Three-in-One, has and always will be.  They were created by no one.

  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Jesus Christ, true Son of God, true God and true man, was there in Genesis chapter 1.  Jesus has been there since the beginning.  And not only that, Jesus was involved in the act of creation.  Our Lord and Savior helped make us.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have life.  God breathed life into Adam.  He is the giver, the source of all good and all life.  The Bible does set up this difference between light and dark.  It’s a metaphor, it’s a play on words to help us understand.  In a dark room, when you light a candle, the light it gives illuminates the room.  You can see again.  We understand how that works.

The Bible doesn’t hesitate to call Jesus the light, because He takes a world that is lost, a world of sin and hate, and brings us back to God.  He helps point the way.  More than that, He leads the way.  Have you ever been in the darkness so long that when you finally see the light again, it’s overwhelming?  You can’t see it’s so bright.  You’re dazed and confused by it.  Think about walking out of a movie theater, or someone turning on the lights while you’re sleeping.  The darkness doesn’t understand the light.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

 

God’s Word is full of prophets, full of men who call us to repentance.  Like our parents before us, and their parents before them, we sin and we go astray.  We are given the gift of life and instead we choose to live it our own way.  We reject God and do what we want to do, we engulf ourselves in the pleasures of the sinful flesh.

John was one of these prophets, a man calling us back to repentance.  We know from other gospels that John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Lord.  He was sent ahead of Jesus to level hills and valleys, to make straight paths.  In other words, he was sent to open our hearts, our minds, and our ears, so that when Jesus came, we’d be willing to listen.  The light, the true light of Jesus Christ, allows us to see in the darkness.  In the midst of a world filled with sin and darkness, Jesus’ light calls us to repentance, forgives us, and leads us to new life.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.

Just as the darkness doesn’t understand the light, sinners don’t understand perfection.  We couldn’t see Jesus by ourselves.  We couldn’t return to God by ourselves.  He came, and we rejected Him.  He came, and we killed Him.

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

We understand birth.  Adults know it well.  Children still learn about it at school.  Some even still have to watch that awful video that traumatizes them for life.  But this is different.  This birth is different.  This isn’t the normal means of human birth.  This is new life.  This is the birth that happens at the font.  This is the birth that happens when water meets the Word upon our forehead.  This is the birth that happens when the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts, creates faith in us.  This is the birth that makes us children of God.

We call it baptism, a washing of water and the Word.  In our baptisms, Jesus has given us the right to be called children of God.  As His children, we are loved.  Our sins are forgiven, our debts washed away.  As His children, we are saved, body and soul.  Whether we face death or not, we will live with God, body and soul, in His kingdom forever.

This Christmastime, I want you to know what John is talking about.  I want you to know that death is not a good thing.  Life is; resurrection is.  And in Jesus Christ, those gifts are yours.

I want you to know that the physical world isn’t evil.  Satan is, sure, but the world isn’t.   When God created, He looked at all He had made and said, “Behold, it is very good.”  Our body and soul are together, not separate.  And though death may split us for a moment, body and soul will be reunited in the resurrection.

I want you to know that God is not evil and that Christ was not created.  He is the source of everything, the source of all good and all life.  Nothing has been created except through Him.

I want you to know that there is no little spark in you.  Born into sin, we are nothing more than sinners.  There’s no chance, no hope for us on our own.  But in God, everything changes.  In Jesus Christ, we have the right to become children of God.  And in the waters of holy baptism, God does just that, He makes us family.

This Christmastime, I want you to know that the babe born in Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ, is your Savior, your Lord, and your King.  By His life, He fulfilled all the laws and the prophesies of old.  By His death, He took away our sins, forgave us, and restored our relationship with God our Father, opening the door for us to become children of God.  And by His resurrection, He conquered death, the devil, and sin once and for all.  The darkness no longer has any power over us.  The physical isn’t evil.  Our bodies and our souls have been restored.  And as God raised Jesus from the dead, so too will He raise us from the dead on the last day.

This Christmastime, I want you to know that the babe born in Bethlehem came to save you.  Not with secret knowledge, but with His holy, precious blood.  You are saved.  You are redeemed.  You are family.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  So whenever you see light, whether it’s the light from the sun, the decorations on your home or Christmas tree, or the light from a light bulb on your ceiling, think to Jesus.  Remember your Savior.  And remember the words of John: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”  That light is Christ, the babe in Bethlehem, the reason for the season of Christmas.  Brothers and sisters, Merry Christmas!

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God Keeps His Promises December 24, 2013

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Luke 2:8-14

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2013

 

Focus: God keeps His promises.

Function: That the hearers trust in God’s promise of everlasting life.

Structure: Story/reflection.

 

God Keeps His Promises

 

A few years ago, author Max Lucado shared a touching story with his readers:

 

In 1989, an 8.2 earthquake almost flattened Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. Surprisingly, such tragedies often bring out the best in people. Let me show you the loving heart of a father. 

In the midst of chaos and destruction, he rushed to his son’s school. But instead of a school, he found a shapeless heap of rubble. Imagine what went through his mind. In the case of this father, the sight of rubble and ruin made him spring into action. He ran to the back corner of the building where his son’s class used to be and began to dig. Why? What real hope did he have? What were the chances that his son could have survived such destruction? All he knew was that he had made a promise to always be there for his boy. It was this promise that animated his hands and motivated his heart. 

As he began to dig, well-meaning parents tried to pull him out of the rubble saying: “It’s too late!” “They’re dead!” “You can’t help!” “Go home!” “There’s nothing you can do!” Then the fire chief tried to pull him off the rubble by saying, “Fires and explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. Go home!” Finally, the police came and said, “It’s over. You’re endangering others. Go home. We’ll handle it!” 

But this father continued to dig for eight … 12 … 24 … 36 hours. Then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. Immediately, he screamed, “ARMAND!” Back came the words, “Dad!? I told them! I told the other kids that if you were still alive, you’d save me! You promised me, you’d always be here for me! You did it, Dad!” 

The earthquake actually leveled 70% of the buildings in Armenia and killed over 50,000 people.  Another 15,000 were saved from the wreckage and the rubble.  The story of Armand and his father is an inspiring one filled with emotion.  That little boy’s trust in his father gave him the strength to survive for 38 hours, despite being buried alive.  But more than that, that little boy’s trust in his father’s promise gave hope to his classmates.  One father’s promise saved lives.

As a new father, that story strikes me.  I hope and pray that I am such a man of my word, that my children can trust me.  That no matter what the situation may be, my kids will always be able to look up to me and know that my words are true.

That said, I know I’m a sinner.  I know I’m not perfect and that I fall short.  I know that I’ve broken promises to myself and those around me.  There are times when I’m not even sure I can trust myself.

If you’re honest with yourself, you can probably resonate with that.  Even if your memory isn’t the sharpest, you can probably recall a time when you said you’d do something, and you didn’t follow through.  From something as trivial as emptying the dishwasher to the much more serious idea of being faithful in your relationships, sin corrupts our ability to keep our word.  We fall short.

But much like Armand’s father, we also have a Father who made us a promise.  God made us a promise.  In fact, you could make a good-sized list of promises God made in the Bible.  One important one He made some 4000 years ago:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV)

 

This side of heaven, we may never know exactly why God chose Abram, Abraham.  But He did.  He decided to choose Abraham and his descendants to be His holy people.  And He was true to His word.  Fast-forward 700 years, to the Exodus account, when God brings His holy people out of Egypt.  The nation of Israel, God’s people, Abraham’s descendants, numbered 600,000 men, not counting women and children.  A rough estimate would put that around 2 million people.  God keeps His promises.

A few hundred years later, God makes a promise to Israel’s new king, David:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be ruler over My people Israel.  And I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth…

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:8-10, 12-13)

 

God keeps His promises.  The direct answer to King David is that his son Solomon would be king and build God’s temple.  All of that happens.  But that last piece, about establishing the throne of his kingdom forever, that’s a little more complicated.

The promises God makes, like that promise to David, point to a King who would come, who would rescue His people and restore to them the glory of God.  These promises, like the promise of the Armenian father, created hope among the Israelites.  Prophet after prophet arose and spoke more of these promises on God’s behalf.  We learn from Micah that this King would be born in Bethlehem.  We learn from Jeremiah that He would bring about a new covenant for God’s people.

In our sermon series, Child of Promise, we spent the month of Advent, of waiting for this coming King, examining some of the prophet Isaiah’s words about these promises.  We see another in our Old Testament reading today: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”

Talk about an earth-shattering promise.  Not only is Isaiah saying that a virgin is going to give birth, but he’s also promising that God is going to dwell among us.  That’s Immanuel, God with us.  That’s what the name means.  This virgin’s son is going to be God Himself.

God keeps His promises.  We see all of these things and more fulfilled in our Christmas gospel.  The virgin Mary gives birth to a Son, a baby boy named Jesus.  He’s born in Bethlehem, the city of David, just as Micah said, and just as the angels announced to the shepherds in the field that night.

Now add to that list, God had made promises to Mary and those shepherds.  God had made a promise to an old man named Simeon, that he would see the Son of God before he died.  God keeps His promises.

It didn’t take long for the people to recognize that this babe in Bethlehem, this little boy named Jesus, was someone special.  Many quickly connected Him to the prophecies and promises of God spoken by the prophets.  Many made the very same connections that we’re making tonight.

Here is our King.  Here is our Immanuel.  Here is our Messiah, the Christ, the One would deliver us, the One who would restore Israel.  This little child’s kingdom will never end.  The Magi, or wise men, knew it, and they journeyed hundreds of miles to see this king.  The King of the Jews at the time, King Herod, scoffed at the prophecy, but yet was so afraid of it, that he killed any little boy that could be found in Bethlehem.

God keeps His promises.  And there’s one more promise that cannot go without mention.  Jesus tells us in John’s gospel:  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40 ESV)

Talk about a promise that gives hope!  Stuck in the rubble heap that is our own sinful living, unable to be trusted, unable to keep our own promises, God keeps His promise to us.  He sends us a Savior.  That Messiah that people waited for for thousands of years, He came.  He came to rescue us, to deliver us from our own pile of rubble.

God keeps His promises.  Not one of them, not one, has ever failed.  If God says He’s going to do something, He does it.  That’s why we have hope, because we know without a doubt that we can trust His promises.  We know, without a doubt, that we can trust in His promise of salvation.

As you gather with your loved ones, your family and your friends, rejoice together in the glory of God’s promises, all of which point to our Savior.  Give thanks to our God for keeping His promises and sending His Son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and King.  Trust and hope in that final promise of everlasting life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Because God always keeps His promises.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Child of Promise: Salvation December 22, 2013

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Isaiah 12:1-6

4th Sunday in Advent

December 22, 2013

Paraphrased from an Advent sermon series: Child of Promise, by Dr. David Peter and CLK

Focus: God saved us through His Son Yeshua.

Function: That the hearers admit their need for a Savior.

Structure: .

Child of Promise: Salvation

One of the biggest challenges new pastors face is learning everyone’s name.  After all, there were a lot of you and only one of me on my ordination day.  Many of you I know quite well, but there’s still work to be done.  There’re certainly others who are better at memorizing names than me.  Napoleon knew thousands of his soldiers by name.  James Farley claimed he knew 50,000 people on a first name basis.  And Charles Eliot, president of Harvard for forty years, earned a reputation for his ability to know all of his students by name year in and year out.

Names are really important to us because they carry with them our identity.  Our names are us.  That’s probably why we don’t like it when people mess up our names, it’s like they’re messing up who we are.  Names are part of our being and we treasure them.  Your name is even written in the book of life.

William Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet, asks a very significant question.  “What’s in a name?”  We still ask that question in a way, because names mean something, they carry meanings.  My name, Steve, is Greek for “crown.”  John means “the Lord is gracious.”  Adam means “man,” or “ground.”  Katherine means “pure.”  Amelia means “to strive or excel.”  Both Theodore and Dorothy mean “gift of God.”  But names aren’t always good either.  If you’re unfortunate enough to be named Ichabod, your name means “the glory is gone.”  Or even Mary, which means “bitter.”  But the point is, your name has a meaning, whether you know it or not.

During our Advent series, we’ve been looking at different names that the prophet Isaiah gave to the Promised One, the Messiah.  He used names that gave us insight into some of the characteristics of the coming King.  Immanuel means “God with us,” and it reminds us that God dwells among us.  Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, announces a ruler who will bring peace between God and men.  Nezer, the Branch, refers to reign of God, His kingdom which has no end.  All of these names point us to a promise.

Even the prophet Isaiah’s name has meaning.  In Hebrew, it translates to “Yahweh is salvation.”  That’s an appropriate name for our prophet, because that’s exactly the message he announced.  His primary mission was to announce God’s salvation to His people.  He pointed to a Promised One, a coming King who would bring salvation.  And that’s why Isaiah gives this Promised One, the coming Messiah, another name: Yeshua.  As a noun, it means “salvation.”  As a verb, it means “He will save.”

In our Old Testament reading this morning, Isaiah 12, the prophet starts by saying: “You will say in that day.”  He’s referring back to chapter 11, when he announced the Messiah would come.  So our text is a prophecy of the Messiah.  “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Yahweh, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.’”  Isaiah prophesied of a day when we would thank the Lord for saving us from His wrath and comforting us instead.  He’s predicting a day when God would save us.

But save us from what?  When we try to share our faith with the people we care about, they often stop us.  “I’m really not interested in what you’re saying.  You talk about a Savior, but I don’t see anything that I need to be saved from!  Things are going great for me; I’m having the time of my life!  I’m doing just fine the way things are thank you.  Don’t bother me anymore with talk of a Savior that I don’t need.”

That’s the typical attitude of people today.  They believe that they’ve gotten themselves where they are without anyone’s help.  They’re independent and self-sufficient.  The last thing they think they need is a Savior.  But Isaiah tells us the opposite.  Whether we know it or not, we all need a Savior.  We all need a Messiah to save us from God’s wrath against sin.

Our text makes no buts about it.  God is angry with our sin.  But that’s one of the biggest reasons people don’t think they need a Savior.  They have no clue what sin is.  One possible meaning for sin is to “miss the mark.”  But what mark is being missed?  The Bible answers that question, too.  It’s the holiness of God, His perfect righteousness.  We all miss that mark.  We all sin by failing to achieve God’s perfect standard of holiness.  Anything less than perfect, you’re disqualified from fellowship with the holy God of Israel.  Anything less than perfect and you face His wrath and judgment.  Isaiah declares: “Everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly.  For all this [God’s] anger has not turned away; His hand is stretched out still.”

But even when we failed to recognize our need for a Savior, God didn’t.  He promised us salvation from sin through His Word and His prophets:

You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Yahweh, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord Yahweh is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.

The Hebrew word for salvation is Yeshua.  It’s the same as the name Yeshua.  In English today, we get a couple of different names from that.  Joshua and Jesus.  Yeshua is the Hebrew, Jesus is the English.  Either way, the meaning is the same, “He will save.”  The Lord will save.  Jesus is the fulfillment of saying that God would become our salvation!

The name of the child born in Bethlehem was given for a reason.  His adoptive father Joseph was instructed by an angel to name Him Jesus.  The angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: “Joseph, son David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21).

The Promised One was given the name Yeshua, Jesus, for a reason, because He would save His people from their sins.  The name means “salvation” because that’s what the Messiah came to bring us.

In the text Isaiah says: “Behold, God is my salvation (yeshua)…He has become my salvation (yeshua).”  In Jesus, God has become our salvation!  Jesus, both God and man in one person, saved us from our sins.

Jesus was true God to perfectly fulfill the law, to meet God’s standard of holiness.  Any ordinary human would be disqualified at birth because of original sin inherited from his parents.  C.S. Lewis wisely noted in his book Mere Christianity that “the same badness which makes us need [salvation], makes us unable to do it.”  God had to do it Himself.  Jesus Christ, true God, came into the world and lived the perfect, holy life that we are supposed to live.  His obedience met God’s perfect standard of holiness.

God also became a man to save us.  In order to take away the penalty for our sins, our missing the mark, our Savior had to be both “very God of very God” and “very man of very man.”  As a human, He took on the law of God that had been given to men and broken by men.  Jesus, our Savior, became a man to substitute Himself for men.  The punishment we deserved for our sin, fell on Jesus’ shoulders.  God’s anger and wrath on Jesus.  As Isaiah foretold: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”

So I ask you: do you need a Savior?  You may feel like your life is moving along just fine.  You may think you’re doing just dandy on your own.  Do you really need a crutch, a Savior?  A day will come when you’ll find yourself before the judgment throne of God.  His Holiness will not grade on a curve.  He won’t compare you to others.  He’ll judge you by His perfect standard of holiness.  You can either stand there naked before Him in your sinfulness, or you can stand before Him clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.  Because you do have a Savior.  His name is Yeshua.  His name is Jesus.  He’s the One who was born to save His people from their sins.

Child of Promise: Prince of Peace December 8, 2013

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Isaiah 9:2-7

Second Sunday in Advent

December 8, 2013

 

Paraphrased from an Advent sermon series: Child of Promise, by Dr. David Peter and CLK

 

Child of Promise: Prince of Peace

 

            Every year, countless beauty pageant contestants, state or national, echo the same refrain.  What is the one thing you wish for?  “World Peace.”  Peace is a fabulous concept, and one that we’re fascinated by the world over.  Just outside the United Nations building in New York City, there’s a large bronze statue of a man beating a sword into a plowshare.  He’s turning a weapon of destruction into a tool for growth and life.  The statue is emblazoned with the words “We shall beat our swords into plowshares.”  It’s a goal of the UN to bring about every Miss Americas’ dream of world peace.

            But what often goes unsaid about this statue is that it’s a Biblical illustration.  The prophet Isaiah foretells of a day of peace among all nations, when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  That’s a wonderful image of peace.

            But the peace Isaiah is talking about goes so much deeper than that.  It’s not simply a time with no war, where nations are at rest.  The peace of God is truly as Paul tells us, a “peace which passes all understanding.”  The peace of God, the same peace prophesied by Isaiah, comes to us through the Messiah, a Messiah that Isaiah saw coming over 600 years before it happened:

            For To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His  shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.

 

            The arrival of the Promised Prince of Peace was not like fire from heaven or a wall of chariots storming Rome.  Instead, the Messiah came as a newborn baby, just as the prophet said.  He would be born a child.  He would be born a Son.  But this Child is not just any Son, He’s the very Son of God.  All authority in the heavens and on earth is His.  He is the King of all creation.  His names are glorious: Wonderful Counselor, a King of wisdom; Mighty God, a divine and all powerful King; Everlasting Father, an eternal King.  This King, this Messiah, is no ordinary man!  He is God incarnate, He is God dwelling among us. 

But the reason this Messiah comes waits for the last name: He is Sar Shalom.  He is the Prince of Peace.  He has come to bring shalom, God’s peace into the world.  He has come to bring peace into a once peaceful creation, one that is now filled with violence and chaos.  And Isaiah tells us that His peace will increase without end.

When the Prince of Peace came, born of the virgin in Bethlehem, Yahweh’s angel army rejoiced and said: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”  God came and dwelled among us.  In doing so, He gives us His peace.  From God, for us.  That’s what the angels had to say.  God’s peace is a peace between God and His creation.

This is good news.  This is good news because we are a creation disrupted by violence and chaos.   We are, by nature, enemies of God.  Isaiah talks about this: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”  To a holy God, sin is chasm.  As sinful creatures, we are separated from God.  And if He executed justice, being just, He would have no choice but to condemn us.

That’s the good news of Sar Shalom, of our Prince of Peace.  By coming and dwelling among us, our King took God’s justice, His wrath, upon Himself.  By His death on the cross, He’s experienced God’s wrath against sin.  Isaiah saw it all coming: “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  His punishment brings us peace.  We are at peace with God once again.  The Apostle Paul saw this clearly:

Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Since therefore we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.  – Romans 5:1, 9-10, ESV.

 

This is the ultimate peace which Christ, the Prince of Peace brings to us.  He brings us peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins.  Sar Shalom, our Prince of Peace, brings us to everlasting life.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding does not limit itself.  As peace rains from down on us from God, it splatters.  It gets all over the place.  God’s peace helps us have peace with one another.  Unfortunately, as we continue to wrestle with our sin, we often struggle to live at peace with one another.

A common joke illustrates this pretty well.  A woman is stuck between two men on a passenger train.  One man is complaining that he’s going to die of heat stroke if they don’t open the window.  The other is complaining that if the window doesn’t stay shut, he’ll die of pneumonia.  The fight got so heated the conductor himself was called in to settle the dispute.  After his failed efforts, the woman stuck in the middle offered a solution.  “First we’ll open the window.  That will kill the first man.  Then we’ll close it again, and that’ll polish off the other one.  Then we’ll all have peace!”

That kind of peace is what we’re most familiar with.  It’s the worldly peace, the kind men and women fight and die for.  But it really isn’t peace.  It’s like the bumper sticker that says: “I have no problem loving the world; but it’s that worthless fellow next door who’s the problem.”  We all have those “problem” people in our lives.  Maybe it’s someone in your family, or your boss or a coworker.  Maybe it’s a classmate or a former friend.  We all know someone that’s difficult to love, difficult to be at peace with.

But Paul writes in Ephesians 2: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”  The fall of the Berlin Wall has nothing on Christ, the King who destroyed the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, brothers and sisters, workers and bosses. Even that worthless problem person, we can love them and be at peace with them because of the merciful love that God has showered upon us.

In World War 1, the bloodbath between the Germans and British was one of the most tragic in human history.  But in the midst of it all, on Christmas Eve 1914, things were a little different.  As the soldiers were lying in their trenches and fox holes all along the Western Front, suddenly the German forces broke out into song.  The British looked across No-Man’s Land in surprise as the Germans joined together in harmony, singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.”  As they began to realize what was going on, the British joined in one after another, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” A former officer, Gerald Shepherd, reported the scene:

The British sentries…saw what appeared to be small lights, raised on poles or bayonets, waved above the German trenches, and although these lanterns clearly illuminated the German troops, the British held their fire.  Even more startlingly, British officers saw through binoculars that some enemy troops were holding Christmas trees over their heads with lighted candles in their branches!  Then occurred one of the most unusual incidents in military history.  One by one, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and ventured into no man’s land – too many of them to prevent their superior officers from objecting.  They traded chocolates and pictures of families.  They played a flare-lit game of soccer.  An Englishman brought out an accordion, a German a violin.  (“The Night the War Came to a Halt,” by Catherin Foster, The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 24, 1986, http://www.csmonitor.com/1986/1224/rtrench.html)

 

For one night, the bitter enemies sang Christmas carols and celebrated the birth of their Prince of Peace.  For one night, swords became plowshares.  This Advent season, may the Prince of Peace continue to pour out His peace upon our violent and chaotic world.  May our Sar Shalom bring that peace to you and your families, that you may know the peace and forgiveness that have reconciled you with our Father.  And I pray that you may also share God’s peace with everyone you meet, that the Prince of Peace, our King’s peace, will continue to increase without end.