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Dec 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 16, 2012 – Luke 2:8-15

The Third Advent Candle

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased”
Luke 2:13-14

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Psalm 103:19-20

But to which of the angel has [God] said,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I make Your enemies
A footstool for Your feet?”
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:13-15

INTRO: In the summer of 1998, the Real Irish Republican Party detonated a car bomb in a town in Northern Ireland that killed twenty-nine people and injured more than 200

It’s brutality stunned Ireland and Great Britain
• in response to loss of innocent lives, Bono, lead singer of U2, composed a haunting melody and penned the following lines:

(Peace On Earth)
Heaven on Earth, we need it now
I’m sick of all of this hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be peace on Earth
Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
To tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
Jesus sing a song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth
This peace on Earth

It feels like fate has played a cruel prank on us, that after Friday’s senseless tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, this third Sunday of Advent brings us to hope and the angel’s announcement of peace on earth

When we were kids, we asked Mom and Dad, “If there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, how come there’s no Children’s Day?” Dad smiled and said, “There is; it’s called Christmas”

– remembering that now brings a stab of grief
– it’s the eyes of children that light up most around the tree
• those twenty boys and girls between six and seven, those brave teachers and faculty–where were their angels?
– what a weight of sadness our hearts have to carry into Christmas this year

Once again we wonder, what kind of person could do this?

We want to hear news reporters tell us that shooter was insane
– we want psychologists to give an explanation for this type of craziness
• we want assurance this is an aberration and won’t happen again or happen here
– without that, we worry about a potential monster in our community
• the quiet, slightly odd loner, plotting some unthinkable carnage or else one day slipping over the edge into madness

For now, we lock doors and windows we used to leave open
-we more cautious of strangers or the youth who dresses weird

But imagine a society where the monster wasn’t hidden in the crowd
– Martha Stout in The Sociopath Next Door, reflects on the hell sociopaths create when they are in power
• she refers to the torture and genocide associated with names like Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein

Just such a person was the king of Judea when the angels sang, “Peace”
– Herod left a trail of blood in his wake — murdering religious leaders and potential (or merely suspected) political rivals
• Herod was responsible for the death of his wife, Mariamne and poisoned, drowned, and executed three of his sons
– infamous for his brutality, the Roman Emperor Augustus said of him, “Better to be Herod’s pig than his son”

Not long after Jesus was born, we’re told:

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under . . . (Mt. 2:16)

– religious tradition and art refer to this as “The Massacre of the Innocents”
• but there was no public outcry against that brutal act, no voice of protest
– the only voice was

Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more
(Mt. 2:18)

And this happened after the angels had appeared to the shepherds
– Christmas did not prevent even that atrocity, but was in fact responsible for it

Is there another aspect to these things we tend to overlook?

Why angels? Why did God break the rules and let them be seen? Why these transcendent messengers?

Perhaps because this is the nature of the human conflict
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of wickedness . . .” (Ep. 6:12)
– there are some actions and events that cannot be reduced to a psychological diagnosis
– Connecticut governor, Daniel Malloy said on Friday, “Evil visited this community today”
• not, “Paranoia has visited us” or “Psychosis has visited us,” but evil

We are usually quick to dismiss this kind of statement
– the devil didn’t make the shooter do this
• that explanation is as lame as saying it happened because we have taken out of our public schools
• God cannot be taken out of anything or any place

Scientists can tell us a lot about why things happen in universe
– the interplay of objects and impersonal forces
• there is nothing inherently moral about forces of nature
○ gravity is neither good nor evil
– trees and rocks are not evil — even if they’re used to do something evil, they are only instruments
• but a human is never an instrument
○ we can choose, we can say yes and not
○ the issues of good and evil do apply to our actions and we are morally responsible for them

Nevertheless, in some events we can discern the presence of something inhuman
– it’s when evil occurs out in the open that we take it more seriously
– if I fail to acknowledge evil, if I close my eyes to it, then I leave myself exposed
• the greatest danger is when my opponent is the “invisible man”
• the reason I don’t raise my hands in self-defense, is because I didn’t see him coming
○ for the same reason, I do not put up a fight, wear the helmet of salvation or carry the shield of faith
– and because I don’t struggle against spiritual forces, I’m defeated before I enter the ring

Culturally, Christmas is a brief detour into an imaginary world

When the bubble is broken by the darkest depth of reality, we’re forced into realizations we try not to believe:
• that we are not in control
• we are not safe, in spite of our precautions and emergency service
• there are not guarantees
– we realize those beliefs are as imaginary as Santa Claus and the North Pole

For some people, when those certainties go, everything goes
– they say, “I can no longer trust God”

But there are others who will say, “I can only trust God”
• not, trust him that nothing terrible will ever happen to me
• but should I suffer the worst of all tragedies, he will not desert me and my soul will not fall into the abyss

God watches and waits
– perhaps he is asking us,

“Are you going to stand there blaming Me? Or will you run into my arms for comfort? Will you try to pass through this on your own? Or will you let me walk you through it?”

CONC: When I try to put all of this together, this is what comes to

  1. In some ways, the world hasn’t changed in the last 2000 years
    – that is exactly why it still needs a Savior
    – exactly why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
    • these horrible things don’t happen where God’s will is done
  2. There is no time when Christmas is needed more than in tragedy
    – not the lights and ribbons and bells, but the nucleus around which these other things orbit
  3. When the world disintegrates into chaos, when the daily routine we take for granted is obliterated, when society and people stop making sense,
    – we return to the traditions, scriptures, and rituals that we have celebrated year after year
    • and in them, we find a stable place to plant our feet
    – only now we may see the traditions, scriptures, and rituals with new eyes, hear with new ears, and see a truth never seen before or experience a reality we desperately need
  4. We cannot separate Jesus birth from his death
    Helmut Thielicke was fond of saying that, Jesus’ crib and his cross were made of the same wood
    – the baby came to die, and in dying, to conquer death
  5. Finally, the angels’ song is an invitation
    – it’s up to us to decide if we will accept it

If we do, we will experience peace on earth
– a peace the world cannot give and that is independent of the world
– then we too become a small, radiant source of peace on earth

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