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Dec 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Peace 12/24/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Barbara Dahl

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Col 1:19-20).  I am very thankful that my sin is no longer a barrier preventing relationship with God, that I am reconciled with God and I have his peace in my life.  Probably like most Christians, that personal peace is what comes to mind most often when we talk about God’s peace. But that’s not what I am wanting to talk about.

This Advent, like previous years, we have received cards and greetings that include the message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”  It’s a beautiful scene from the Christmas story – the nighttime sky over the fields outside Bethlehem with the shepherds and a host of angles singing praises to God. I believe that, one day, when Jesus returns there will truly be peace on earth. Yet when I look around at our world now, I see war, violence, so much anger and hatred, prejudice, broken families, broken lives, a broken world. To be sure there are voices for peace and reconciliation, but the voices of conflict and division speak much louder.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young German pastor and theologian during the 1930s-40s.  He spoke out early and publicly against Hitler.  For his part in the resistance he was arrested, imprisoned and executed in 1945.  In 1934, he gave a sermon at an ecumenical conference in Denmark.  In it he said “Peace on earth is not a problem but a commandment given at Christ’s coming.”  I first read that sentence last fall and it gave me pause.  The idea that we are commanded to be agents of peace, like we’re commanded to love one another, and that it would require something of me is a thought has stayed with me. I realized I viewed God’s peace as a force that exists on its own and to share it with others, I just need to passively get out the way and let it flow to whoever it in its path.  (I no longer think of peace that way. )

Bonhoeffer gave his sermon to church leaders, advocating for a strong stance for peace in response to what was occurring in Germany.   My sphere of influence is obviously much, much smaller – my family, friends, acquaintances. I have been considering what it would look like, as an individual, to obey a commandment of peace – everyday – when we all seem to be getting along fine, not just when discord or conflict exist.  Relationships run into problems typically as a result of small fissures over time, a person feels judged, not heard, not valued. And so, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my words, actions and attitudes – do they speak love and grace or are they conveying (even unintentionally) judgment, resentment, impatience.  When I confront someone with an issue, what are my motives – do I want peace or am I looking to feel the satisfaction of putting someone in their place? In this polarized climate, when discussing issues with someone who does not share my views, are we looking for better understanding, perspective or just venting, encouraging each other to become more intractable in our positions with the result of making it easier to write off those who don’t share our views.   

There is no playbook for how to pursue peace.  Paul in Romans 12 says, “As much as possible, be at peace with all men.”  I love that he said “As much as possible” because I am flawed and I’ll never be a perfect agent of peace.  More importantly, as much as possible because sometimes the reasons for a relationship fracturing mean reconciliation will be a tough road or maybe that its not wise to seek reconciliation. Like loving others, walking the path of peace can be hard and it requires prayer for wisdom and guidance.  Also intertwined in peace is love and hope; hope that reconciliation is always possible and joy, sharing in the joy or good pleasure God has with reconciliation.

This Advent season has been different for me.  As I’ve read Peace on Earth in a Christmas card, I’ve heard it as a personal message – to continue to allow God to transform me to someone less self-serving and someone whose will is more aligned with God’s will and purposes.  And a message to consciously, intentionally and humbly walk the path of peace.

Almighty God,  Heavenly Father,

Please pour out your peace into our hurting and broken world.  We remember those who are suffering from the result of war or violence. We pray for their healing and comfort and ask that you be their safe refuge.  Bless those individuals and organizations working to provide aid, comfort and healing to those impacted by violence. May their efforts bear much fruit, provide them with strength and encouragement in their work. We pray for our leaders, inside of government and out.  Grant them wisdom and inspire them to work towards peace. For each of us, let your love guide our words and actions so that we also are agents of your peace and reconciliation. 

Let your kingdom of peace reign on earth as it does in heaven. 
In the name of Jesus, our lord and savior and our Prince of Peace.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased”
Luke (2:8-) 14

Intro: Even in infancy, people discerned that Jesus was extraordinary

Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was led by God’s Spirit into temple
– there he encountered Mary and Joseph and their baby
• taking Jesus into his arms, he prophesied over him
– then the elderly widow, Anna–who was herself a prophet,
• she also encountered the holy family in the temple
And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of [Jesus] to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel (Lk. 2:38)
– both of these people were keen on God’s will,
• and looking for God’s revelation
• so there’s no surprise they would discern God’s timing; they were primed for this moment
– but the shepherds–were they righteous? were they devout? were they even religious?
• yet it was to them the angels came
◦ they were first to receive the news
• the shepherds were chosen and given this privilege
◦ that’s my first impression–God blessed these nobodies with a heavenly revelation
◦ in my meditation on this passage earlier this month, I noted:
My med: “We can sit in silent prayer waiting for the slightest movement of God, hoping to catch a glimmer of light or discern the sound of a gentle whisper, yet never enjoy the certainty of a divine visitation. Our hunger for God, our devotion to prayer, our desperate seeking for a vision will not make it happen. God chooses when, where, and to whom.
But we are given revelations in which God does present himself to us. What he told to the shepherds, they told to others, and they told others, and eventually it was told to us. If God continues to speak to me through the Scriptures, that is where I will draw close to him and listen. He does visit us in his word.”

My thoughts this morning, aren’t about the shepherds

I won’t ignore them, because they illustrate an important feature of the Christmas story
– note where this chapter begins – with the emperor
• Caesar Augustus issued a decree and all the world jumped
• the center of world power was far from Bethlehem
◦ but this small village could not escape its political force
– the shepherds were at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of wealth, status, and power
• they were among the poorest and least important members of society
• remember that!
◦ they had no vote, no rights, and no influence
◦ but God recruited them for his public relations team

The angels’ message of “peace on earth” is often mocked

2,000 years later, humankind has advanced in so many ways!
– in knowledge, food supply, health care, technology, and innumerable luxuries
• but we have hardly made any progress toward peace
• we wonder how that can be in societies so advanced,
◦ the Scriptures have something to say about that
What causes war and combat among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (Jas. 4:1-2)
– James tells us that our warfare is first of all personal and internal
• millions of desperate people, driven by starvation and disease
◦ and billions more driven by envy and greed
• it shouldn’t surprise us that big, powerful nations
◦ invade and exploit the resources of smaller, weaker nations
◦ it’s what happens on the playground every day

To make sense of “peace on earth,” we must listen carefully

First, the angels are not making a promise
– they’re not saying Jesus is going to bring world peace
• their announcement is more like a doxology or benediction
◦ Greek word for “glory” is doxa – doxologies usually contain this word and are praise to God
(there are several doxologies in the New Testament
◦ a benediction is the pronouncement of a blessing
• so “peace on earth” is not a promise, but a possibility

Secondly, the possibility is selective and conditional
– it is possible that the second stanza of their praise should be translated
peace among those of good will
Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the driving force of all human behavior was what he termed,
“the will to power”
• now that is a recipe for war
• there can be another driving force for human behavior:
◦ “the will to good”
◦ it is the will to good that qualifies those on earth who receive and promote peace

When Jesus sent out teams of disciples, one of his instructions was,
Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace be to this house!” And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you (Lk. 10:5-6)
– “son of” is a Hebrew idiom that means having the character of
• it is like DNA or a family resemblance
– this is the condition for receiving peace, it being a person devoted to peace and good will

I think it makes sense, that:

If someone is not a good person, he or she should not be at peace
– the person who hates others, intentionally hurts others, who ridicules, insults, and blasts others,
• ought to be troubled about their behavior
“the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace” says my God, “for the wicked” (Isa. 57:20-21)
– peace is a gift – and it is also a responsibility
Strive for peace with everyone (Heb. 12:14)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Ro. 12:18)
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding (Ro. 14:19)

It seems obvious now that “peace on earth” begins in our hearts

If we can’t find peace, we can’t make peace!!!
– we need to bring our restless souls to God – you know these verses already:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:6-7)
• Paul told the Colossians,
let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body (Col. 3:15)
• this, then, is the challenge – to let the peace of Jesus rule in our hearts!
◦ in life’s complex structure, nothing comes easy
– can we find authentic peace?
• I can do things to ease my conscience, but that’s not the peace of Christ
• I can do things that gives me temporary relief;
◦ for instance, diversions like entertainment, exercise, food–but that is not the peace of Christ
• I can do things to make me feel better about myself
◦ there are lots of ways to soothe myself (“thumb-sucking” behavior)
◦ but not the same as being at peace with God, within ourselves, with others, and with the world
Peace I leave with you; Jesus told his disciples, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27-28)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33)

I’ll share with you what works for me

When I settle into prayer – or when I sense that I’m uptight
– if I take a slow, deep breath and say to myself “here” (as I inhale) and “now” (as I exhale),
• and focus my awareness on the experience of being in this moment
◦ immediately I sense God’s Spirit around me, calm down, and I’m at peace
• after his resurrection, the first words Jesus spoke to disciples were, Peace be with you (Jn. 20:19, 21, 26)
◦ peace is not the absence of problems, it’s the presence of Jesus
– when Jesus exhaled his breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,”
• do you think maybe the disciples inhaled his Spirit? (Jn. 20:22)

Conclusion: Psalm 34 tells us to seek peace and pursue it (v. 12)

So, tonight–if that is your tradition–or tomorrow look under the Christmas tree for this gift
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts

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