12/28/2020 10:02:50 AM
Christmas is the Gift of Peace
Pastor Joel Leyrer - Christmas Day - Friday, December 25, 2020
Dear Friends in newborn King, Christ, the Lord: In a book of personal memories collected from those who served in World War II, a soldier from Massachusetts wrote about his first Christmas away from home. He doesn’t say how old he was, but we could guess he was probably 19 or 20.
He had seen months of front-line combat as an army infantryman and was dug into a field anticipating more. On Christmas day of 1944, he left his foxhole and headed for his post in a small French town they had recently liberated from Nazi occupation. It was a snowy morning with lead gray skies, and he buttoned the top flap of his overcoat to keep the snow from blowing down his neck.
As he trudged alone through the desolate village he was struck with its lifelessness and his own personal loneliness. There were no footprints in the snow. The drifts that piled against the doors of the houses he passed seemed to seal them in. He was beginning to feel sorry for himself. Spending Christmas in a town that could more accurately be described as a deserted pile of bomb rubble was not his idea of a “happy holiday.”
But then something caught his eye. Through a frosted window in a house he saw a light. Then, as he got closer, he saw a fully decorated Christmas tree. Around it were two women and three little children. One of the women noticed him and motioned for him to come in.
When he got inside, they offered him a hot drink and some cookies. He gladly accepted. Then they told him how thankful they were to God for what the American army had done for them and their town. In a corner of the small house were some bushels of fruit and nuts contributed by every member of that seemingly lifeless village. The ladies wanted him and the other soldiers to have a basket on that Christmas morning.
Within a matter of minutes his mood, his outlook on life, and his spirit had been transformed.
Although it was written many years later, the soldier closes his story by saying that this December 25 was the most gratifying Christmas Day of his life.
Why? Because in the midst of pain and suffering and deprivation and loneliness of war he found something that transcends it all. He found peace that day. And that is what we find today, because that is what Christmas is all about.
CHRISTMAS IS THE GIFT OF PEACE
The soldier’s story really serves as a metaphor for a higher lesson and a higher peace.
Consider this striking similarity. After his transforming visit to the village, the soldier went back to his foxhole. The town had not miraculously been restored. The weather had not changed. The war had not ended. Yet something had changed. What that soldier found was not peace from trouble, but peace in the midst of trouble.
And that is what we find and celebrate on this day.
On this day roughly 2000 years ago Jesus Christ was born. Most of us know the story so well that the wonderment of it all sometimes gets lost in its familiarity. He was born in a stable. A carpenter served as midwife. Animals were the closest things to birthing attendants. And a sky full of angels announced the blessed event.
Nothing like it had ever happened before, and nothing like it has ever happened since. Every birth of a child has an effect on somebody, but this birth had an effect on everybody.
Yet, in one sense the world was not changed at all.
His birth did not usher in an age of utopia or nirvana. Nor did it bring an end to war and strife and unhappiness and cruelty. In fact his birth would soon provide the man named King Herod with a reason to carry out an act that to this day is considered at the top of anyone’s list in terms of wickedness and unvarnished evil – the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem.
No, the difficulties and the tragedies of life on planet to earth continued on after that holy night. And they continue on in our world as well. The international health crisis we’re currently contending with and which, for some of us, is altering our Christmas plans, is just the latest example. In that sense, the world has not changed.
But in another sense – in a far more profound and personal sense – with the birth of Christ everything changed. Jesus did not come to bring us peace from all earthly trouble and strife. He did not intend to. Rather, he came to bring us a higher and purer peace: spiritual peace.
In other words, not peace from trouble; but peace in the midst of trouble. The kind of peace the Apostle Paul later would describe as something that simply transcends all understanding. The kind of inner joy and contentment that led an aged believer named Simeon to say, as he held the baby Jesus in his hands, that he could now “depart in peace.” The peace Isaiah describes as a river that flows wide and deep within us.
It’s the peace the angels proclaimed loud and long in the words we heard just moments ago…“Peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
In that ultimate and most important sense, he is indeed the Prince of Peace. Now within every heart that knows him as their Lord resides the special peace of knowing where we are going eternally, and how we’re going to get there. It is that kind of peace we find wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger today.
In a word, it is the peace of reconciliation; the soul-satisfying peace of knowing our sins are forgiven and we are no longer estranged from God.
In one of his short stories, Ernest Hemingway writes about a Spanish father and his teenage son. The relationship became strained and eventually broke. When the rebellious son – who bore the common Spanish name “Paco” – ran away from home, his father began a long and tiring search to find him. As a last resort the exhausted father placed an ad in a Madrid newspaper, hoping his son would see the ad and respond to it. It read:
Dear Paco: Please meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven.
As Hemingway tells the story, the next day at noon, in front of the newspaper office, there were 800 Pacos, all seeking forgiveness from their fathers.
Each of us is a Paco. We know this, because we know ourselves. With our sin we have broken the relationship with our Heavenly Father. We have failed to do what God asks of us. By our own rebellious acts we have put distance between God and ourselves.
But like the father in that story, God came after us. But he didn’t put an ad in some cosmic newspaper. He put his Son in a stable. And in Jesus Christ God says to us: All is forgiven. Love, Father.
Actually, today is just the beginning. Baby Jesus meek and mild did not stay little, but grew up to be a man. Not an ordinary man, but the God-man. A man who did for us what we could not do for ourselves – and that is fulfill the requirement God has placed on us as his creatures. The requirement of a perfect obedience to his will and commands.
For every single second of every single day of for thirty-three years Jesus met every expectation of righteousness on our behalf. And then he offered himself as our sacrifice, taking upon himself the punishment our disobedience deserves. It is just as Isaiah tells us in chapter 53, “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” His resurrection three days later signified that the plan of redemption set into motion on this day was successfully completed.
First the cradle. Then the cross. So we could wear a crown for all eternity. That’s the peace we carry within our hearts every day.
And that’s the Christmas peace that permeates our lives. It’s the peace of knowing we are loved and valued and being taken care of. Because, how can we not draw the conclusion that if God has stooped to become one of us to meet our greatest need, the forgiveness of sins, he will most certainly meet every other need as well?
It’s a peace which is not dependent on our earthly, temporal, fleeting circumstances. Earthly difficulties and disappointments and reversals of fortune may very well come. Let them. They are part of life on this side of heaven. But the peace within our hearts that was ushered in on this day in time and this day in history trumps them all.
Around this time of year we often hear that Christmas is a time for giving. And it is. But for Christians it is more. Today, more than at any other time of the year, is a time for receiving. And what we receive today is the all-encompassing gift of peace.
So, Christians rejoice. “For unto us is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, Christ the Lord.” Amen.