“Christmas Gifts in Advent: The Gift of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
According to United Nations research, there are currently 31 notable armed conflicts around the world. Eight of them claim over 1,000 lives annually in places like Colombia, Afghanistan, Mexico, Somalia, and Sudan. Some of them have afflicted their regions since 1948, such as the conflict on the Korean peninsula where things have heated up again recently. Peace is elusive in our world today. One conflict is resolved. Another one breaks out elsewhere.
Isaiah the prophet, however, says that a day will come when “every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.” (Is. 9:5) All the armor and weaponry used in warfare will one day be rendered useless. All the bloody uniforms of soldiers will be put in the garbage heap to be burned. Worldwide, everlasting peace will finally come.
The peace of which Isaiah speaks, though, will not find its genesis in the United Nations. It will not come from the signing of peace treaties or armistice agreements. This peace will be brought about by a Child. Among the several titles Isaiah gives to this Child is “Prince of Peace.” And, as Isaiah says, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
Moreover, this peace from the Prince of Peace is more than peace between nations. It is peace between God and mankind. “Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang at his birth, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) In spite of mankind’s sin, God the Father was pleased to send his Son to be our Savior. The peace he came to bring is a gift purchased with the shed blood of the Prince of Peace at the cross. St. Paul writes in Colossians 1, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:19-20) And in Romans 5, he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1)
In the Bible, the word for peace in Hebrew is “Shalom.” In Greek, the word is “Eirene.” The Bible’s idea of peace isn’t only about the cessation of hostilities. It doesn’t only refer to friendly relationships between nations and individuals. It also refers to a sense of well-being. It encompasses both physical and spiritual safety. It’s a state of wholeness that God intends for his entire creation. All the brokenness in the world due to sin and its effects will be put back together again. Consider how Jesus spoke to the woman who anointed his feet at Simon the Pharisee’s house: “Your sins are forgiven,” he told her… “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” And similarly, how he spoke to the woman who was healed of a hemorrhage when she touched the edge of Christ’s cloak: “Daughter,” Jesus said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” The Prince of Peace came to bring both spiritual and physical healing.
The world has been celebrating Christmas for about a whole month now. But for us in the Church, tonight and for one more day, it’s still Advent. Advent reminds us of the “now and not yet” of the peace that Jesus brings. Jesus came into the world at Christmas to bring peace. He completed his mission of dying for the sins of the world and rising to life again to bring peace between God and mankind. He ascended into heaven and rules and reigns as our Prince of Peace. He comes to us now in Word and Sacrament, bringing peace when the forgiveness of sins is declared to us (John 14:27). But the world does “not yet” have the great, everlasting “shalom” promised in the Bible (John 16:33). There is still conflict between nations and between individuals. We still have hurts in our hearts because of the divisions that exist in our families and when friends desert us. Aches and pains remain with us. Our bodies are not entirely well. Death still lingers. The entire, complete, whole “shalom” that is promised will not be realized until Christ’s Second Advent.
In the meantime, there is certainly something about Christmas that offers a foretaste of that everlasting “shalom.” Even people who don’t know the whole story about Christmas still call it the “season of peace.” It inspires people to give more to charity. It moves people to acts of kindness and helpfulness.
John McCutcheon wrote a song about how Christmas inspired enemies in World War I to take a respite from their conflict, if only for an evening. The song is based on a true event that took place in France on Christmas Eve. It’s called “Christmas in the Trenches.” (lyrics posted at http://www.worldwar1.com/sfcitt.htm)
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I, "Now listen up, me boys!" each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
"He's singing bloody well, you know!" my partner says to me.
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was "Stille Nacht." "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
"There's someone coming toward us!" the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.
The message of Christmas gives you peace in your “trenches,” because the walls between you and God have been crumbled and are gone forevermore through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The peace of Christ is yours and no one can steal it away from you, no matter what weapons are pointed at you. But each of us has battles that may begin again soon after hearing the message. Nevertheless, you get to receive anew the gift of peace here in this place. You receive it when you hear the pastor pronounce to you, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” You receive it when you hear and believe the Good News of Jesus in the sermon, and the pastor concludes, “And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” After eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus which earned eternal peace for you, the pastor says, “Depart in peace.” You are sent from this place, having received the gift of peace in Christ, with the words, “The Lord bless you and keep you … and give you peace.” With the “shalom” and “eirene” of Christ ruling in our hearts, we can seek to break down the barriers that still exist between us and others (Eph. 2:16-14; Rom 14:17-19; 2 Cor. 13:11). And when we do, we begin to reflect the eternal peace that awaits us at the Second Advent of the Prince of Peace.