25 December 2013

Homily for Christmas Midnight - "Peace on Earth?"

"Peace on Earth?"
Text: Luke 2:1-20 

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 pleased!” 

Of course, the angel had just announced the Good News of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. Of course, the angelic host joined to sing God’s praises on the holiest of nights. Of course, the birth of the Christ Child is like no other birth. We come tonight to celebrate, but not just a birth, not just a mom, a dad, and a baby. We come to celebrate this particular, unique, historical, world-changing birth. We come to celebrate a Baby who is like no other baby. After all, we come to celebrate God coming in human flesh. And He comes to bring peace on earth.

Peace on earth? How can that be? Terrorists and military campaigns abound! Ongoing tensions in the Middle East. Civil war in Syria. Worries over nuclear weapons in Iran. Peace on earth? Really?

Even if we’re not talking military war, we also realize that we fight on ongoing culture war. For decades psychologists and education “specialists” have been touting the inherent goodness of people. But when parents and teachers take the back seat, the hands-off approach, our children grow up turning to drugs, sex outside of marriage, self-serving violence, and so on. For over a century we’ve been telling our children and convincing ourselves that human beings come from apes. Is it any wonder that people of all ages act like animals, rooting around for their own survival and growling at anyone or anything that gets in their way? That’s not peace!

And in our families, moms and dads may be earning a decent living and advancing their careers, but the home has become a battlefield of its own. Parents stand for one thing. Children and teenagers stand for another thing. Husbands want their “freedoms,” and wives strive for their “rights.” And each side launches sortees of “You just don’t understand me.” That’s not peace!

How will we have peace on earth? How will we have security? Will government actions and laws give us our desired peace? Some think so, but even then it’s questionable. And should we, as one media person recently hinted, really think of any political leader as “Messiah”? Remember what Psalm 146 says: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”

There’s the enemy! Why don’t we have peace on earth? Our very hearts and minds are looking for peace in all the wrong places. Our real problem is not the shaky stock market or the crumbling culture or the international insecurities. Our real problem is the chaos and insecurity in the human heart. Our chaotic lives, our embattled families, and our war-torn world are but the symptoms. The real war zone is in the heart—the heart that fights with God in every possible way. St. Augustine said it well in his Confessions (1.1). He addressed God and said: “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

Tonight we celebrate the birth of the Baby who is the very peace of God wrapped up in human flesh and blood. He entered a world just as frenzied and chaotic and war-torn as ours. The prosperous economy of the Roman Empire went hand in glove with the iron fist of its military conquests. And terrorists? They were around in Jesus’ day too. Radical extremists of Jesus’ day tried to undermine Rome’s rule with their own attacks. This is the world into which Jesus comes. This is the world into which He brings God’s peace, God’s goodwill toward men. Who would have thought that peace on earth would come from a little Baby? And not just any baby—after all, babies are born every day.

Who would have thought that peace on earth would come from such humble, even despised conditions--from a poor, homeless family? But as the angel told the poor, humble shepherds, he also tells you: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Yes, dear friends, that good word is for you. In the midst of your fears and anxieties, in the face of our war-torn world and your embattled lives, you have a Savior. You have God’s only-begotten Peacemaker. He came for you. He still comes for you.

So, if Jesus comes to bring peace on earth, then why don’t we see it? Why do conflicts still rage between nations and between family members? Now it’s good to remember that Jesus did not come to bring “world peace.” “World peace” is merely ceasing hostilities between nations. No, Jesus came to bring a different peace. Jesus came to bring peace on earth. What’s the difference? Jesus came to bring peace between God and human beings. Jesus came to bring peace to the war-torn heart, peace to the relationship between you and your Creator, Savior God.

 The heavenly angelic soldiers sang of peace on earth at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life. (Proof, by the way, that tough, strong guys can and do sing!) But it would be a band of earthly pilgrims who would sing of peace at the end of Jesus’ earthly life. And these earthly pilgrims give us a good glimpse into heavenly reality. Here’s what they sang: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk. 19:38).

Heavenly soldiers sing of peace on earth. Earthly pilgrims sing of peace in heaven. The Babe born in Bethlehem brings peace between heaven and earth, peace between God and sinners. “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’” (LSB 380:1) The Baby who is God coming down to man is also the Savior who is lifted up on the cross. This newborn Infant grows to lead a perfect life only to sacrifice Himself in death for you. And in His life, death, and resurrection, you have peace with God…peace on earth!

Dear friends in Christ, this is the best, most precious Christmas gift you can receive: Peace between you and God. And you get to have it and enjoy it right here on earth. St. Augustine also talked about how God Himself is our gift. He said: “In Your gift we find our rest. There are You our joy. Our rest is our peace” (Confessions, 13, 9). The war between you and God is over. In Christ Jesus, the “peace treaty” is signed in His blood and stays in effect forever.

Now, no matter what happens in our crazy, chaotic, strife-filled world, you are at peace with God right here on earth. What can war do to you? You have God’s peace because of Jesus. What can terrorist attacks do to you? You have God’s good will in the Babe of Bethlehem. Even if our earthly life is in constant uproar, our life with God is secure and soothing.

So, when you have your doubts, and when your troubled hearts seem to get the upper hand, here’s your comfort. God in the flesh means peace for you. And this Jesus still comes to you. The Scriptures are the manger that brings Jesus to you. The Lord’s Supper also brings the Prince of Peace to you. Once He came in blessing, all our sins redressing. Now He comes in Body and Blood, makes Himself your peaceful food.

Here is your peace, dear people of God. God is at peace with you and you with God. What a precious gift this Christmas—peace on earth! Amen.