by Pastor Gavin
Scripture: Micah 4:1-5, Micah 5:2-5a
I'm going to begin this morning with words that are not my own. They belong to B. Francis Morlan and they are from an article written about the story behind "Silent Night"
The story has become yet another chapter in the book of Christmas legend.
The year was 1914 and soldiers on both sides of the battlefield somewhere in France were enduring a dark and frozen Christmas Eve night. World War I -- the Great War, as it was called -- eventually took the lives of more than 10 million people. But it is doubtless that the mostly-young men of that Christmas Eve were contemplating much more beyond their longings for home and warmth and family.
When soldiers on the German line placed candles on small Christmas trees and raised them above their trenches it touched the hearts of their enemies. These men -- thousands of them on both sides -- spontaneously began to sing the carols of Christmas.
What began in those moments became the legendary Christmas truce. Weapons were put down, men ventured from their fortifications and gathered in No Man's Land to make note of the season together. They exchanged small gifts after agreeing to a truce so that all could celebrate the season.
And so for a short period of time, no shots were fired. The following day, men who only hours before fought fiercely now stood side by side and buried their dead. Together, with heads uncovered, they held a service to memorialize their fallen comrades. Before departing for another frozen night in the trenches, a solitary voice began to sing Silent Night, in French. He was joined by another voice -- this one singing in German -- the words of a hymn known and beloved by all.
Together they contemplated 'heavenly peace'.
-From 'The True Story of Silent Night' by B. Francis Morlan
I. Micah and Peace
The book of Micah is an important book, for it prophesied the coming Savior who would bring about a world of peace. And yet, when we look at the world since Jesus came, I have a hard time seeing the peace that was prophesied. Nation rises up against nation and battle it out. Currently we are in another year of the great War on Terror. But even when nations are not attacking nations we see that our world does not have peace in it. For when we look around us on this day we see neighbors out to do each other in, we see broken families separated by hate and pain and loss we see everything around us but peace. Oh, donít get me wrong. Often at Christmastime we do our best to pretend that this is not the case.
Back, where I grew up, there are a lot of woods. And as I grew up a lot of the woods were cut down, clear-cut. Now let me tell you that the hills and mountains can be so majestic with the greenery up and down them, but then you will come to some bald section where all you see is stumps and fallen trees and it is simply ugly. When a part of the mountain is clear-cut it takes a beautiful thing and makes it horrible, at least to look at. But I remember driving to one of the clear-cut areas when I was in high school after a snowfall, I think it was with my parents. It was no longer ugly. It actually looked pretty. The white snow covered all the ugliness and smoothed it out so it wasnít jagged and all of a sudden something that had looked ugly to me now actually looked pretty good. That is usually how we define peace. We hide the anger and the warfare and put something over it so it doesnít show upÖ but the ugliness is still there and as soon as the snow melts it will be back. This is what possibly, probably, happened that Christmas night in 1914. War stopped one night in some battlefields so that people could think of peace and pretend it was there before they got back to war the next day. This kind of peace is good. It helps people to stop and take a break and see a glimpse of what it is that we have to look forward to. But it is no heavenly peace.
You see, Micah 4 isnít talking about a Christmas truce. What Micah 4 is talking about is a Christmas, the coming of a Savior, that will bring everlasting peace to all people and all places. What Micah is talking about is heavenly peace that is brought by the Prince of peace. What Micah is talking about has not come yet, though every now and then we catch a glimpse of it.
II. Jesus knew no peace
I began with a Christmas story that talked about the disconnect between what we celebrate at Christmas and what the world we live in is really like. As we looked at the soldiers who were to be fighting each other, they decided that, at least for one day, the hope of Christmas was greater than the reality they were living in. If you donít mind, Iíd like to tell another Christmas story now:
The king was worried. The people he ruled over were a pretty simple people, but they had deep-held beliefs, and they believed that a king would be coming who would free them from the rule of him and his people. This could not happen. The king even became more worried when a group of foreigners came and told them that the king had been born. What was this king to do. He turned to experts in the beliefs of the people he ruled over and had them tell him where this new king would come from. They scoured through their writings and prophecies and came across the scripture passage that we read this morning: ďAnd you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.Ē Bethlehem, a mere six miles away from his throne in Jerusalem. Of course, this king we were talking about was King Herod and the people he ruled over were the people of Israel and the new king he was worried about was the Messiah, Jesus. And so begins a life on the run for Mary and Joseph and their young child, Jesus; as they flee to Egypt and then move back to Nazareth.
This Christmas story comes from the gospel of Matthew and isnít quite as poetic or peaceful as the story we get in Luke where angels sing to shepherds about peace on earth. In Matthew we see that Jesus did not know peace himself at the time of his birth, but rather found himself fleeing with his parents to avoid being put to death by someone who was threatened by what it was that Jesus represented.
It is, perhaps, good and even a bit of a relief to know that the peace that Micah promised is not something we missed. It is not like Jesus brought about peace with his birth or with his life and since that time we somehow lost it or messed it up. No, the peace that Jesus is to bring has not come yet. The Prince of peace came to this world and the world didnít want him and his parents had to flee with him just to keep him alive.
And I think that perhaps true, heavenly peace often finds itself in this
situation. It finds itself having to flee because the world is just not
interested in peace. I also think that perhaps this is why so many of the good
Christmas songs are bittersweet. Think about it for a second. Yes, there are a
few good ones that are upbeat and fun, but the songs that really catch you at
Christmastime, both the hymns and the fun songs, often have an underlying sorrow
to them. Thereís Iíll be home for ChristmasÖ if only in my dreams. White
Christmas has the same melancholy flavor to it. And O Little Town of Bethlehem
and What Child is This are two good examples of the traditional carols that are
talking about something as joyous as the incarnation but do so in a sort-of sad
way. I think the reason for this is that Christmas truly is a bittersweet
holiday. It is a celebration of something amazing and wonderful and miraculous
that happened. But it is also an acknowledgement that we still have something to
look forward to.
As we have spent this Advent season looking at Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah, we realize that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies to completion during his life on this earthÖ there is something more coming, there is something to look forward to.
III. Advent People
I like to refer to us, to Christians, as Advent people. We are looking forward to something in our world, in our lives, that hasnít yet come. Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our faith: the birth of our God as a baby in a stable 2000 years ago. There truly is magic in the Christmas story and in the celebration of it. We catch a glimpse of the heavenly peace that Micah promises as well as the worship of the angels and, best of all, we get to see that God just refuses to do things in a way that would make sense to us. But Christmas isnít the celebration of the end of the story. Neither is Easter. Jesus, in his incarnation, in his life and teaching, in his death and resurrection, was just beginning his work in this world. We trust, we believe, that we have something great to look forward to. Jesus is going to bring true, heavenly peace to this world! Christ is going to bring an end to our pain and suffering! As Advent people we donít just spend this season looking back at what has happened, we donít just try to catch the traditions of our parents and grandparents and try to make this Christmas like the one that we remember from our childhood. No, as Advent people we look forward to what is ahead. We definitely remember and celebrate the past, but we look forward to what God has promised. We live with expectation, with excited anticipation, with bated breath because we know that the first act was great but the finale will be truly glorious.
The hope that we celebrate this advent season is that we will know peace. The peace will not be an earthly peace but a heavenly one. It wonít be a peace that hides our differences and pretends everything is fine even though it is not, it wonít be a peace that is forced on people against their will. It will be a true peace, it will be an end to warfare between nations and between people. This is worth celebrating. It is worth trusting. It is worth praying for. So let us join with those who have gone before us and call out for Jesus to come and bring his peace to this world. Amen.
Angel Song by Pastor Gavin
I wonder what the shepherds were doing or thinking on that nightÖ perhaps they were sleepingÖ perhaps one of them had had a really bad day. But the angels came and changed everything in just a moment. And their lives did change in a powerful way, even though they might not have realized it instantly.
Malankara World Christmas Supplement
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