Sermon: Christmas Day, 25 December 2015

 

St. Aidan’s West Epping, 25th December 2015

Rev. Paul Weaver

“THE BABY WHO BRINGS PEACE” (Christmas)

(Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-12, John 1:1-14)

“Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” That doesn’t sound like the way things are at Christmas 2015. There is war: Syria, much of the Middle East, Africa, and other places. We see the USA, almost a country at war with itself over politics, firearms, immigration, wealth and power. We see divisions in our own country, fear and rejection of refugees and migrants, suspicions linked to terrorism or religion.

And we could go on: there is oppression and fear in so many places. We hear of the threat of climate change, but it is so often denied by those who have most opportunity to address the issue, particularly those whose profits would be threatened if they took it seriously. We do not have a world at peace: much more it is a world at war.

Where then is the God of peace this Christmas time?

He is a baby in a manger. Like babies in so many parts of the world, he is born in difficult circumstances, his parents struggling to provide his needs. And before long he will become a refugee, as his parents flee with him to Egypt to escape the murderous plans of Herod: perhaps the Assad of his day, ready to destroy anyone who might be a threat to his hold on power.

Peace in the Bible is not just the absence of warfare. It is when relationships are good, when all is well. And let’s face it: that’s not the way things are today!

But how can God bring peace when he’s a baby lying in a manger? Or when he’s a travelling preacher, stirring up the establishment, and doing some interesting miracles from time to time? Or when he’s dying on a cross, condemned by the Roman and Jewish authorities?

Does this baby in the manger really have divine power, the power to bring about real peace? Our readings this morning don’t focus on the story of Christmas: they don’t mention the young couple and the baby and the struggle to find somewhere to stay. They don’t remind us of the shepherds and the angelic choir. They certainly don’t take us forward to the later arrival of the wise men with their valuable gifts.

No, today’s readings are much more concerned to make clear who this baby is. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that God has spoken in many different ways, particularly through the prophets. But now he has spoken uniquely through his Son, who actually shares his Father’s divine nature. Jesus shows us exactly what God is like.

Through him the world was created. Because of him the world continues to exist. Through him comes forgiveness of sins. In him God’s divine and eternal authority is to be found.

John’s Gospel also points to a God who speaks: he is a God who communicates with us whom he has created. Jesus is the Word of God, eternal, creative, life-giving, revealing God’s light and truth. Jesus makes clear to us what God the Father is like, full of grace and truth.

But John also points out the apparent tragedy of the story of Jesus. The world was made through him, and yet the world rejected him. The Jewish people for whom he came as Messiah – his own people – rejected him. But the tragedy was only partial. For there were those who did recognize who he was – who he is: the Son of God, the Word of God, the King of the nations, the Saviour of all. These people accepted him as he was. They received him as their king and Saviour. And in him they found new life, new hope, new purpose.

God speaks in many ways. He speaks through the wonder of creation, through the voice of conscience, through the wisdom of godly people, and through the message of the scriptures. But he doesn’t often speak with a megaphone. And so it is easy to miss his voice, if it suits us to do so.

And as Jesus came in simplicity and humility, it was easy for people to fail to recognize his unique authority. And therefore it was easy for people to reject or ignore his message. And so the peace that he gives has never had the impact on the world that it might have done.

Jesus didn’t force himself on people, any more than God forces himself on people. In the same way, God wants us to choose him: however, he doesn’t force us to choose him.

Peace is God’s gift for Christmas. First of all, there is peace with God: forgiveness – the assurance that God is for us not against us, that he is our friend not our enemy, that he truly loves us: the certainty that God does not hold our sins against us.

But peace goes on from there: for the God who loves us calls us to be people of peace. He calls us not only to love those who love us, but to love all people. We are to love our neighbour, knowing that our neighbour may be very different from us: our neighbour may come from another race, another tradition, another religion. It is not for me to speak for those who believe that Islam justifies violence, but I must say that there is nothing in the New Testament that could justify violence in the name of Jesus.

Yes, we may have obligations to our country and community in time of war, but war or violence is not the way of Jesus. And when Christians have used the name of Jesus to justify violence against supposed heretics or people of other faiths; when they have threatened with violence those who would not convert to Christianity; when they have attacked or intimidated people whose moral decisions seem contrary to their own convictions – such as gay people or women seeking abortions – they are denying the way of Christ, who actually got along remarkably well with those whose lives did not measure up to his standards.

Jesus’ way of getting people to change, or helping them to change, is by love not by threat, by peaceful ways not by violent ways. And he makes clear that judgement of evildoers is his business: God’s business, not our business. It is not for us who ourselves need God’s forgiveness to presume to judge others, let alone hand out God’s supposed sentence against them.

The Prince of Peace, born in those humble circumstances 2000 years ago, invites us to live in peace with God, as we trust and follow him. He calls us to live in peace with others, praying that they might learn to do so as well. And he encourages us to look forward to that day when God’s peace shall reign for eternity, when evil and hatred shall indeed be done away with, and God’s righteousness and love shall reign for ever.

But it all starts with that babe of Bethlehem, who calls us to trust and follow him. He offers us his love, his forgiveness, his peace; and he invites us not only to accept it in humble faith, but to live it out in our lives.

May the peace of the Christ-child be ours this Christmas and far beyond, and may that peace reach out to our families, our neighbours, our communities, and even our world. May the peace of God have sway in our lives. And may our prayers and our actions help us move towards that great day when God’s peace will indeed hold sway throughout the world. Amen.

Paul Weaver