Today we come to the end of the angel’s message given to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. All month we have been looking at how this message holds for us the purpose of Christmas and why God sent Jesus into this world. The first week we heard that Christmas needs to be a time for reflection and I hope that you have been able to go through this season awake, alert and aware of God’s presence with us. The second week we heard that this is a time for celebration because the angels said their message was good news and great joy. That good news is that God loves us and that God is always with us. Last week we heard that Christmas should be a time for salvation because the child born was the one who saves us from our sin. Today we come to the last purpose of Christmas and it’s something the world has never known and yet every heart and soul longs for. Let’s look at Luke 2:13-14. 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, good will toward men and women.
Peace on earth. Jesus didn’t just come to bring salvation and reconcile us to God, he came to reconcile and restore our relationships with one another, but our world has never known this kind of peace. There has never been a time when the world hasn’t experienced some kind of armed conflict between nations or people. According to some estimates, there are over 60 countries and close to 500 militia or separatists groups at war today. We might only hear about a few of these conflicts like in Syria and Afghanistan, but across the world – people are at war. Today when I woke up and turned on the news the first story was about Americans killed due to the fighting in South Sudan. There is no peace on earth.
But we don’t have to look around the globe to see that this is true; we see conflict taking place right here. We may not be fighting a military war in our nation, but we are fighting political and economic battles everywhere we turn and the divide between us is growing. Politics has become so divisive that we can’t talk to each other anymore. Whether it is economic or social issues, just this week we have seen people go at each other and the cynical nature of our culture actually encourages us to not only disagree with people but to put to demonize them instead of listening to them. So there is no peace in our nation or our community or neighborhood and the sad truth is that there is also not much peace in our homes.
With so many families and marriages struggling to stay together we know that conflict in our homes is strong and while we are good at lashing out at those we love and getting defensive with one another, we aren’t as good at offering grace and asking for forgiveness which helps us find peace. What we need to remember is that our fighting at home will spread to where we work, where we worship and where we shop and play which means that everywhere we go we will feel tension, conflict and discord.
If one of the purposes of Jesus coming into our world was to bring peace on earth, to reconcile us with one another in ways that are significant and lasting, then why has the world not experienced it in the last 2000 years? If the birth of Jesus is supposed to bring peace to our relationships with spouses, children, parents, coworkers, friends and neighbors, then why are we not experiencing it? The answer may not be as complicated as we think – look at James 4:1-2.
So conflict comes because we want something and don’t get it and what we want is our own way. War starts because I don’t get my way and I am not about to let you get your way and neither one of us is going to budge so we fight. We fight at home, at work, at school, at church, in the community and everywhere we go. There is no peace on earth because we are still living selfish, self-centered lives and don’t want to give up control. There is no peace on earth because sin is still in control – we are still in control.
Last week we saw that sin is living our lives with ourselves in the center (the word SIN shows us this) and this way of life not only destroys our relationship with God but it destroys our relationships with everyone else. Jesus came to save us from this way of life by forgiving us and it is this salvation that heals our relationship with God, but that is just the beginning. Salvation is where we start, but it can’t be where we stop. If we just experience peace with God but don’t allow God’s peace to flow through us into our relationships with others, then we will not experience true reconciliation and there will be no peace on earth.
So the first step to peace on earth is making peace with God. In fact, let me say this clearly – there will be no peace on earth without first making peace with God. Peace with God is where all other peace comes from and this peace comes to us from Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:19 - In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sin against us. In other words, through Jesus, God not only forgives us but makes peace with us and draws us close to him. This is what happened on the night Jesus was born.
Let’s go back to the story of Jesus birth in Luke 2. The message that the angels gave that night was to a group of shepherds. Now shepherds were not highly regarded. Because we often see the Shepherds of Bethlehem through the faces of children dressed up in bathrooms with towels on their heads, we forget that they were actually pretty shady men who couldn’t be trusted. Shepherds were not able to testify in a court of law because no one thought that they were capable of telling the truth. Not only that, because of their job they were considered ritually unclean, which meant they were not able to worship or take part in the life of the church. They were outcasts. They were not close to God in any way, shape or form, and yet on the night Jesus was born God drew them in. God made peace with them which tells us that God wants to make peace with all of us.
Jesus came into this world to draw us close and as we read through the gospels, we see that the entire life of Jesus was a testimony to this work. Jesus drew children closer to God. He drew women closer to God. Jesus reached out to prostitutes and tax collectors and told them they were loved and accepted by God. Jesus came to bring peace with God to all people and he came to restore us into a relationship with God and draw us close to him no matter who we are. So peace with God is possible when we ask Jesus to come to us and forgive us but this just the first step towards peace on earth.
The second step is to experience the ongoing peace of God and this comes when we are willing to surrender ourselves and submit our hearts and lives to God daily. Look again at James 4:1-2. The conflict in our lives and world comes from our own selfish desire and those desires come because we don’t ask God or turn to God the way we should. James answer to this problem is found in 4:7a – Submit yourselves, therefore to God. The peace of God flows into our lives when we are willing to fully surrender ourselves to God each and every day. It’s not a once and done decision, it is a daily – moment by moment – decision to trust God and rely upon His power and spirit to bring direction and strength to our lives. It’s only when we surrender to God daily that the peace of God is able to not just flow into us but through us.
A great illustration of how this works comes from Paul who talks about the fruit of God’s spirit. In Galatians 5 Paul says that fruit of God’s spirit is love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Now fruit grows on a branch because the branch has stayed connected to the vine. A branch doesn’t really do anything to produce fruit – it just has to stay connected to the vine and allow the fruit to develop. The same is true with us. The peace of God grows in us as we stay connected to the vine – which is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and I will abide in you. So the more we trust God and love him, the more God’s peace is able to flow in us and then through us. So for there to be peace on earth we not only need to accept the salvation Jesus offers so we are at peace WITH God, we need to stay connected to Jesus every day so that the peace OF God is able to flow through us. But it doesn’t stop there.
For there to be peace on earth we also have to intentionally work for God’s peace here and now. Do you know what the shepherds did after they found Jesus and experienced for themselves peace? They went out and shared this good news with others. They allowed God’s peace to enter into the world by telling people all they had seen and experienced. So we need to work for peace in our world. We need to be peacemakers or as it says in 2 Corinthians 5 we need to be ambassadors of Christ who have been given the message and the ministry of reconciliation.
We need to start working for peace right where we are. We need to work on our own personal relationship with God and make sure we are always at peace with God by staying connected to God through prayer, worship and the reading and reflection of God’s word and then from here we can work out into our most personal relationships. This would be our relationships our spouses, children, parents and siblings. We need to work for peace in our homes and among our families which means asking for forgiveness when it is needed and extending grace and mercy to others before they ask. Working for peace with those we love means taking the time to listen to one another and serve one another sacrificially and tenderly even when no one has asked for it
From our homes we need to turn and look at our relationships with friends and coworkers. Are there ways we can work for peace and seek reconciliation among those we live and work with? It might mean putting aside our agenda, wants and needs so we can focus on the needs of others. It might mean reaching out to those who are hurting and offering comfort and strength. Sometimes reconciliation and peace is simply saying, look – I’m here for you and I want you to know that.
If we can’t restore relationships with those we love and care about the most then I’m not sure we will find much success in building peace with those we disagree and struggle with – but we need to try. One simple way to reconcile relationships with people we are at odds with is to serve them regardless of what they have said or done. There was a man in a previous church I served who didn’t like me very much. In fact, he told me I was doing the work of the devil. Now this man wasn’t in good health and was not able to get to church so Jack, a leader of the church, took communion to his home on a regular basis. One month Jack asked if I would come along when he went to serve communion and I said of course. Needless to say… it started off a little awkward, but I prayed with this man and for him and we shared communion together and I can honestly say that what we experienced in that moment was peace on earth – or at least peace at his kitchen table. When we are willing to set aside what might be good for us and reach out to others in love and grace – we are peacemakers in our world and I believe that this kind of peace spreads.
As we work for peace in our homes, churches and communities and people experience it – they then take God’s peace to their homes, work and neighborhoods and extend it to others and then… who knows? Maybe there can be peace on earth. What I do know is that it has to start somewhere – so why not with us. When the angels said that God’s peace had to come to earth it was not a general announcement for all the people to hear, it was a message given to a single group of shepherds, who then shared it with the people of Bethlehem, who then shared it with their family and friends who in time shared it with others. So God’s plan isn’t to bring peace on earth in one large decree from on high but from the hearts and lives of people who are at peace with Him and daily experience and share this peace with others.
So this is a time of reconciliation. The purpose of Christmas is to bring peace. Where do you need God’s peace today? Maybe you need to find peace with God and ask Jesus to be your savior and draw you close. Maybe you need to experience the peace of God and surrender your heart fully to him. Maybe you need to offer peace to others and become a peacemaker in your marriage or with your kids. Maybe you need to work for reconciliation at your job or in the community. Wherever we are today – the angels remind us that the purpose of Christmas is peace. Peace in our hearts, peace in our relationships and yes, peace on earth. It is possible.
The Purpose of Christmas ~ A Time for Reconciliation
For there to be Peace on Earth we must experience
Peace with God
Peace of God
Peace with others
1. Make peace with God by asking God to forgive your sins. While this was our focus last week, asking God for forgiveness should be an ongoing prayer of our hearts.
We are reconciled to God through Christ. (2 Cor. 5:18)
2. Experience the peace of God by staying connected to God through worship, prayer and the reading of God’s word. Consider being part of a Sunday School class, Bible study or small group in the new year. Jesus said, “if you remain in me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit” (and one of the fruits of God’s spirit is peace). (John 15:5)
3. Work at establishing peace with others. With whom do you need to reconcile? What broken relationship needs God’s peace? Who needs your forgiveness and who do you need to ask to forgive you? Make plans to seek this kind of peace by Christmas!
4. How can you become a peacemaker in your family? At work? In your school or your children’s school? How can we work for peace in our community, nation and world? Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)