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Brings Us Peace

God with Us  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:13
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Images of Christmas and war don’t easily fit together in our minds. The cold cruelty of war seems about as far as one can get from the warm generosity of the holiday season. The pain and suffering of battle contradict the joy and celebration of Christmas. But for those who fought in World War I, Christmas arrived right in the midst of an intense global battle. Life in the trenches was brutal and gruesome. New technologies such as tanks and mustard gas had advanced military capabilities to kill even more efficiently and painfully.
But against this backdrop, individuals chose peace. Early in the war, during December 1914, many German and British soldiers took peace into their own hands. On Christmas Eve, they sang and played carols to each other across the destroyed no-man’s-land, finding that they knew the same songs even if the lyrics were in different languages. And early on Christmas Day, German soldiers walked across the scarred landscape, unarmed and shouting “Merry Christmas” to their enemies. Allied soldiers, a little distrustful at first, crawled out of their trenches and joined them, shaking hands, exchanging gifts of cigarettes and plum pudding, and they sang Christmas carols together. History.com says there was even a documented game of soccer during this unofficial cease-fire.
The Christmas Truce was never repeated. Unfortunately, the officers made sure of it by threatening punishments. But on that special day, enemies placed their shared humanity before their grievances and experienced the Christmas spirit of peace in a truly powerful way.
Wow, can you imagine? That must have been quite a sight to see those enemy soldiers sharing Christmas peace.
In a similar way, God’s peace can fill us and rule within us even when we are surrounded by death and evil. God’s presence and peace can pierce even dark and painful surroundings and circumstances, including any war or any emotional valley we find ourselves in.
Christmas is typically, and rightfully, thought of as a season of joy, but it can be a painful season for many people. Maybe you’re one of them. What battles do you face today? What pain is relentlessly bombarding you as you hunker down in the trenches of life? What darkness haunts you even under the twinkling lights, candles, and decorations?
We may not be able to end the personal, emotional, cultural, or physical wars we are fighting this holiday season, but even in those darkest places, we can lean into the God who is with us. Today as we continue our Advent journey toward Christmas, we are focusing on and celebrating peace, the peace that has been brought into our word by Immanuel, God with Us. My hope is that today each of us will experience the comfort of Christ’s peace deep within our souls.

The Shepherds: Peace Restored

The shepherds in the Christmas story often get a bad rap. They are presented as outcasts—a dirty, unruly group that was at the bottom rung of society. And while they definitely held a lower place in society, not all scholars believe they were so unrespectable. In fact, shepherds had at one point held a very high position in Israel’s history. Faithful Jews would have known the stories of the patriarchs of their faith who were shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and even King David—of whom Jesus was a direct descendant.
But whether or not shepherds of Jesus’s day were a totally motley crew, the profession had undeniably fallen in esteem since the days of the patriarchs. They were definitely considered a lower social class. They held a menial vocation that involved hard labor in the elements and physical work with the animals. Stinky animals. It’s safe to say a shepherd wasn’t what most mamas dreamed their boys would grow up to be. They were a pretty lowly bunch.
At the other end of the spectrum in Israel were the religious leaders of the day. Smug in their moral goodness and high positions of power, they made sure everyone else knew their place in the caste system—Pharisees and Sadducees and the like at the top; everyone else below in descending order. They kept themselves lifted up by putting everyone else down. They believed they were the ones with a direct line to God and His purpose for everyone else’s lives.
So in this hierarchy, shepherds weren’t exactly accustomed to being contacted by angelic beings. They didn’t expect direct messages from God through angels from on high. Imagine their surprise on that star-filled night on the outskirts of Bethlehem when the brightest star in the sky dimmed, and then the whole dark expanse began to glow with the brilliant light of an angel of the Lord.
Luke described the scene like this: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:8–9)
What was going on here? And then, as if a vision of an angel wasn’t enough, the glowing guy spoke—to the shepherds! “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10–12).
Unbelievable! But wait . . . there’s more. Literally, more. As in, more angels: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13–14).
The words were almost more unbelievable than the messengers themselves. The angels were making a proclamation of peace to those on whom God’s favor rests. And they were making it to shepherds?
Can you imagine the confusion and doubts that were probably going through the shepherds’ heads? This wasn’t supposed to happen to shepherds. Supernatural encounters with God’s messengers and promises of blessing and favor didn’t come to shepherds. Those were reserved for the super-spiritual religious leaders of the day.
Jesus’s arrival for the shepherds marked the starting place of peace to all those on whom His favor rests—to all those with whom He is present, which includes us. The God of peace is truly with us. Peace is not based on class or position or occupation but on His purpose and design to bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Glory to God in the highest! The Prince of Peace has come. On this final Sunday in Advent, let’s explore together what that means and looks like throughout history and in our own lives today.

The Peace of Wholeness

Way back in history as recorded in the Old Testament, when God gave the Law to Moses and set up the roles and duties of the priests to guide the spiritual life of the ancient Jews, He gave them the ultimate blessing to speak to the people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26). The Hebrew word used in that blessing and throughout the Old Testament is shalom, and it conveys rich, powerful meaning. So much more than just the absence of fighting, shalom reflects safety, completeness, and wholeness.
This is the type of peace brought by God with Us. Jesus is the Prince of Shalom foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6–7).
This completeness and wholeness with God is what Jesus brought into and left in our world. It is the peace that calms our souls deeply. It is the calm acceptance that “it is well with my soul” no matter what swirls and storms around me. This is the peace we celebrate today. And when Jesus returns one day, He will heal all that’s been broken and restore God’s complete kingdom of shalom. Yes, there will be the absence of war and hatred, but even that type of peace will be an extension of the wholeness that He will establish.

Peace Is a Person

Near the end of Jesus’s life, He spoke these words to His disciples shortly before He was arrested and crucified: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Jesus knew His followers were about to experience a crushing blow. But He had a gift for them that was different from anything in our world—His peace is not given as the world gives. It is not a gift that can be taken away nor is it something we can create on our own. It is not the absence of pain, hurt, noise, violence, or uncertainty. Peace is a person. Peace is Jesus with us as the Prince of Peace. And His assurance to the disciples was that even in what would appear to be the most hopeless of situations, He would be with them. His peace is His presence with us no matter the circumstances.
“For he himself is our peace,” Paul told us in Ephesians 2:14. As we experience God’s presence, we become interwoven in and inseparable from the peace that He is and that He gives to us.
God with Us brings peace between us and God, but He also brings peace among people because we are all drawn together and unified in God through Jesus.

Peace Transforms Us and Calms Our Storms

How peaceful is your Christmas season? If we’re honest, we might choose words like busy, hectic, and frantic to describe our lives this time of year—or maybe all year round. Maybe it’s an overloaded schedule that robs you of peace. Or maybe it’s something more: relational conflict, pressure at work, a lost job, an illness. You name it. For many of us, peace sounds like a long way away. A good idea. A nice thought for the holidays. Something we long for. If only we could feel the peace of God with Us!
If this is where you find yourself today, let me encourage you that Jesus shows up when the storms of life threaten our peace and hope and joy.
Do you remember the story of the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee? It must have been one bad storm on the water that day to make the disciples so afraid. After all, many of them were fishermen, and this was their regular sea. Yet as their boat took on water, they were terrified. As the waves rose and the wind howled, Jesus slept through it all. Finally, the disciples shook Him awake, shouting, “Don’t You care what happens to us?”
With just a command for peace from Jesus, the storm calmed and the sea turned tranquil. The disciples were in awe, for very good reason.
Those disciples sure sound like us, don’t they? When things aren’t looking good for us, we’re often quick to cry out, “God, don’t You care?” We think He’s not paying attention or doesn’t realize the magnitude of our situation, and we add to the spiral of our own storm.
But in reality, God is there. He is God with Us, always present, and He knows all that swirls around and within us. He sees beyond the waves and winds of our circumstances. The power of His peace isn’t diminished by our storms. We can allow it to fill our hearts with calm and courage as we turn to Him, giving our requests to Him in prayer and focusing on His faithfulness. God with Us will never leave us. He will never fail. It is this presence of peace that we celebrate on our journey toward Christmas. And it is this presence of peace that we can access and practice.
How?
When we come to God through prayer, He changes us inside. God’s peace is able to bring a powerful transformation in our spirits. No matter what we are anxious or worried about, we can bring our needs and requests to God. Paul described the process like this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
As we talk to Him and give Him thanks, God’s peace swells within us and guards our emotions. This is a miraculous peace, one that transcends all understanding. It doesn’t make sense given the worry and fear we are facing. It wouldn’t naturally exist in the midst of our struggles. But this is God we are dealing with! This is our Prince of Peace, the giver of shalom, the giver of His Spirit of peace. When we come close to Him—when we go to worship Him like those shepherds did—we connect with Him, and He transforms us and our outlook. No matter how bad the storm swirling around and within us, He can calm it. And He can carry us through it.
Let me encourage you to look for Jesus, even when the winds blow and the storms swirl. You may find Him as a babe lying in a manger or a carpenter’s son asleep in the boat. It may even initially seem to you, as it did to the disciples, that He does not care. But in the midst of whatever life holds this week, remember that Jesus comes in power as the Prince of Peace, always with us, restoring us to God through wholeness and comfort. May He be your peace this week, guarding your soul with peace, filling your spirit with the wholeness of shalom, and ruling as the Prince of Peace in your heart.
Benediction
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” —2 Thessalonians 3:16
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