Christmas in Chaos Means Peace, Luke 2:8-14, Preached at Kendalia Community Church on December 11, 2016
Illustration: Peace and the Marines
You may have noticed, being with me, but I am a Marine. When you become a Marine, it’s with you for life (much – I guess - like being a Christian is). They say that once the Eagle Globe and Anchor (the Marine symbol) gets on your heart, it’s permanent, like a brand. I was an officer, and went through Officer Candidates School – where you are tested and then some – and those that make it through are commissioned 2nd Lieutenants. Then, The Basic School is where Officers are taught how to be a Marine Officer, and it’s done by teaching you how to be an infantry platoon commander. It is a 6.5 month training environment where you learn to lead Marines to close with the enemy and destroy them by fire and close maneuver. It is – to most – a close up look at the profession of arms: which means discipline, a Spartan way of living, and the brutal forms of killing the enemy.
I tell you all that – not to brag – but to tell you one of the things that stayed with me all these years later. It is that Marines love Peace, which I was taught at The Basic School! When I first heard it, it kind of shocked me. Later on, I learned that peacemakers are sometimes Marines, where when diplomacy fails the military is called in to settle conflicts. The fact is: We Marines like peace because that means Marines don’t have to die in battle. Unlike the Spartans of Greece – who thought a glorious death was on the battlefield - most of U.S. Marines don’t like to die – we reserved that right for the enemy (though to die in battle for another Marine is an honor).
An article written by Ross W. Simpson in 1998, for the Leatherneck Magazine for Enlisted Marines is called “We Hope for Peace, but Train for War,” and talks about the dichotomy from an enlisted Marines standpoint. The Chaplain’s corps in the Marines has something to say, as well. Lt. Dan Robinson, USN (the Marines don’t have chaplains, corpsmen, doctors, dentists, or nurses, as they are not “riflemen’) a Command Chaplain at Officer Candidates School, wrote in a letter called “Lasting Peace,” about peace from the Chaplain’s side of it. Listen to a portion of that letter:
When God became man, taking on humanity and entering into our brokenness, he also secured for us the hope of lasting peace. It is a peace unlike anything the world has ever known or seen. It is a hope for peace in a world torn apart by violence and hatred. It is a hope for peace in a world of insecurity, isolation and doubt. It is a hope for peace in a world where men and women are enslaved to sin and death.
When we lose sight of this great hope of peace, we fall into anxiety and despair. When we forget the goodness of God shown in Jesus, we are left to trust in our own efforts at peacemaking, which always fail and leave us wanting. Yet when we remember and experience the peace of God, we are set free from anxiety and worry.
That sounds good...But is peace like the Marines think about or like peace that we Christians think about or peace the Bible talks about?
Christian View - Matthew
In the Advent season, we look to the Bible and what it says about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Last week, I talked about the relationship the God brings to us through Jesus Christ. In Matthew 1, Matthew said a prophet from the Old Testament, Isaiah, said: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” That was Jesus Christ.
But it was also in chaos and it just gets stickier. Herod, having founds out from the eastern wise men that a savior was born among the Jews, sent the wise men to go spy for him. The wise men were supposed to bring the baby back to Herod. However, the wise men, perceiving King Herod’s evil plans, don’t tell him where the baby is but go another way home. An angel comes to Joseph and tells him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, to avoid Herod’s looking for the baby. They flee and live in Egypt until Herod dies some years later. Meanwhile, Herod issues a decree to have the babies 2 years or younger killed in Bethlehem, which is brutally carried out. Sounds like more chaos, right?
But I thought the birth of Jesus meant joy and peace...
Let’s listen to the birth story from Luke’s Gospel...
The Disciple Luke
As I said last week, there are four Gospels, written at different times. The Gospel of Luke was probably written second of the four Gospels. Most scholars think that the Gospel of Luke was written about 85 A.D. Luke looked at information in Mark’s Gospel (written about 70 A.D.) and a writing that was lost to antiquity.
Luke was not an apostle that Jesus taught while He was alive, but did travel with Paul, who Jesus appeared to on the Road to Damascus.
In the ancient Gospel prologues, it says: “Luke is a Syrian of Antioch, a doctor by profession, who was a disciple of apostles, and later followed Paul until his martyrdom. He served the Lord, without distraction, unmarried, childless, and fell asleep at the age of 84 in Boetia, full of the Holy Spirit.” He is probably a Gentile and of the artisan or “blue collar” class). Physicians, oddly enough, were not rich in Jesus’ day.
The NT provides meager information about Luke. Philemon lists Luke among Paul's "fellow workers" (Philemon 24). Colossians, which was probably written about the same time, names Luke among Paul's companions and identifies him as "the beloved physician" (Col 4:14). Second Timothy, which was probably composed later by Paul or one of Paul's associates, reports of Paul's final imprisonment, "Only Luke is with me" (2 Tim 4:11).
Luke’s Birth Story
It is interesting that the infancy narrative in Luke’s Gospel has no parallel in the other Gospels and is quite different from the birth account in Matthew 1–2. The Gospel of Matthew speaks of Joseph's role in the birth of Jesus, Luke's account centers on Mary's role, although we are not going to get into Mary’s story in this sermon. We are talking about the angel of the Lord and the shepherds to whom he spoke.
Our Scripture today is Luke 2:8-14, focusing on the 13th and 14th verses. In this Scripture, the shepherds are in the field, at night, watching their flocks when an angel of the Lord appears to them.
Come to think of it, the shepherds fit into the setting of Jesus’ birth – in chaos, among the lowly of society. Although King David was a shepherd, and the Old Testament is full of analogies that use shepherd when talking of leaders, so shepherd was figuratively a king, shepherds in the time of Jesus were a lowly class or ordinary people. They were also people who wouldn’t think twice about going to a stable to see the baby Jesus.
Let’s go to the Scriptures for today, Luke 2:8-14.
Luke 2:8-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
Luke 2:11 Or the Christ
Luke 2:13 Gk army
Luke 2:14 Other ancient authorities read peace, goodwill among people
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Luke 2:8-12 The angels announce good news and a sign of God’s grace, but the shepherds are afraid. Just like Mary and Zechariah earlier in Luke, the shepherds fear an unexpected sign from above. I think I would, too! But the angel says do not fear (just as he had for the other two), for he is bringing good new of great joy for everyone – Gentiles, too. It is an occasion for celebration and the response is praise!
Luke 2:13 It is interesting that at the time of Luke’s writing the Gospel, literature of the times referred to the births of other leaders with similar grandness. This language also employs ideas that were in ancient Mediterranean world that were important to the ruler ideology. Words like “good news,” “savior,” and “peace.” Rulers of the day like Caesar Augustus had similar things said about his birth, such that people of the day knew that the baby Jesus had “ruler” in his future.
Luke 2:14 I am reading from the New Revised Standard Version. The last word of the song of praise has been interpreted variously by scholars. The interpretation I read “among those whom he favors!” is in keeping with the Qumran or “Dead Sea” scrolls. From the Greek language, there is ambiguity, however, and so “peace, good will among men” for example, is good, too.
But what does “peace” mean?
Illustration: Christmas day in World War I – Peace
In World War I in 1914 - shortly after it started - on December 7 Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus or truce of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.
Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
Then, at the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines - across no-man’s-land - calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
Is this the kind of peace we’re talking about?
Bring it to the Congregation
Peace is seemingly hard to find these days in our world. I talked about chaos last week, and chaos tonight. The fact is there was chaos at the time of Jesus’ birth, and chaos has been repeated at various times throughout history.
Is there a lack of peace globally? Look at ISIS, look at Russia, and look at Europe or Africa. Of look close to home: Look at our nation, with political and racial chasm that are almost too wide to bring back together; or look to our families.
Isn’t it strange that this time of Christmas means that some family members get together and struggle for peace at times? Have you ever found yourself struggling for peace? I know I have struggled at some tomes in my life....
Maybe we have to look at the shepherds 2,000 years ago, unexplainably watching the angels and hearing the good news on a dark night. With nothing around them but sheep, and then bright lights as the glory of the God was displayed, and the angel spoke: “Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people!”
The peace that the angels spoke of is peace that our Lord Jesus himself said to His disciples.
John 14:27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
It is the peace of Jesus, now in our hearts because of the Holy Spirit indwelling us after we surrender to Jesus and believe. Can you feel it!
Illustration: Christmas Bells –
I think of peace and Christmas and think of the poem “Christmas Bells.” It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War, the bloodiest time in American History. It is now turned to music by Casting Crowns, called “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” If you haven’t read the poem or heard the song, I recommend them to you.
The poem was written in the 1860’s. Longfellow’s wife died from a freak accident in 1861, and then Longfellow’s son was injured during the Civil War. After visiting his son in the infirmary, he left feeling about as low as a man can get. But it was Christmas time, and he heard Christmas Bells in a church that evening that spoke to another time and a joy and peace that was missing in his life. He wrote the poem that night. It is a beautiful poem and a correspondingly awesome song, both for its lyrics and the message it gives to all.
Listen to the last four stanzas:
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
It seems to me that peace is not on the earth, wherever you are in history, but in our minds, hearts, and soul. It is put there by the Holy Spirit, which is inside of us. The “God with us” of Emmanuel, that I spoke of last week; the relationship that God now had with us (because of Jesus) – gives us peace that the world cannot provide. In other words, peace – the kind Christ speaks of – is a mystery. It is found by knowing Jesus, and living – as much as you can – His life in your life down here.
It is what the Marines long for, what Lt. Robinson writes of, what the soldiers enjoyed that December day in 1914, and what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow uttered so eloquently. It is the peace that Philippians 4:7 talks about:
Philippians 4:7New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Mark Hall, the lead singer of Casting Crowns, said in a prelude to his song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” that Christians have a peace that surpasses all understanding, quoting Philippians 4:7. He said what that means is “when the people of God are in the world, there is peace in the world.” I agree. There is peace for the people in your neighborhood; peace for the people you work with; peace for those opposing your points of view; and peace for your enemies. Peace and fill in the blank ________________. Because you have peace that comes from God.
Let there be peace amongst us and then amongst the world. Amen.