Dear people who have walked in darkness,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
The simple salutation, common at the beginning of the sermon, emphasizes that God’s peace comes to us in Jesus Christ. But is that the peace that we are looking for, that we long desire? On Christmas Eve we would like nothing better than a night of peace: a night when the babies don’t scream in church; a night when the children settle down quickly and sleep through until the coffee maker turns on; a night of quiet sitting before the fireplace and the Christmas tree, in the warm glow, sipping a hot beverage, resting in the arms of a loved one.
On Christmas Eve we would like nothing better than a night a peace: a night without sirens screaming through the neighbourhood; a night with no one having to be rushed to the Emergency Department at the hospital; a night where everyone finds shelter and is shielded from the cold in a warm bed with a hot meal in their stomachs.
On Christmas Eve we would like nothing better than a night of peace: a night without rocket fire or bomb explosions anywhere in the world; a night without angry demonstrations and protests in the streets or on social media; a night when soldiers, police, and security personnel can keep the safeties on, and neither be at risk, nor be forced to be a threat.
Pretty much everyone in the world would like a night of peace like this, and not just on this night, but on any given night. So what makes Christmas Eve so special that we might desire such peace especially tonight, and even expect such peace especially tonight?
Perhaps it was a peaceful night in the fields around Bethlehem that was disturbed by the events that we celebrate tonight. Perhaps the shepherds had settled down and lain back against a rock or a tree or a fence post and were gazing up at the stars while their sheep curled up in the soft grass under the glowing moonlight. When suddenly an angel of the LORD appears and disturbs their peaceful night, with a booming announcement that would not put them to sleep with pleasant dreams, but rouse them to hurried action. A multitude of the heavenly host shining with the glory of God burst forth in song as we did tonight, disturbing the soft and gentle glow of a traditional Christmas candlelight service.
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace…”
It is a peace that comes not with a soft glow, but with a great light. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, upon them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). This may not be the peace that you are looking for. This is a peace of light instead of darkness. But in this light of Christ we do indeed find some of the things that we desire. In the light of the glory of God, we see His love. His love is His glory and His love is shown in the sending of His Son into this world of deep deep darkness, this world overshadowed by the darkness of sin, your sin and mine.
The only thing that can dispel this darkness is the light of Christ, the light of God’s love sending His Son into our sinful world in order to suffer the effects of our sin and the punishment for our sin. That kind of love dispels the darkness. It removes our sin by His loving forgiveness and inspires love in us to refrain from sinning and to forgive and sacrifice ourselves for others.
The peace that you are looking for is not in a quiet, still, dimly lit night. It is in the glory of God bursting forth into the darkness of your life of sin. This is the only way that true peace comes, not a peace where disturbance is hidden from us, or where we block it out for a night or a season, but a peace that is everlasting and complete and full.
This peace that brings light instead of darkness, is the peace that brings joy instead of oppression and warm shelters instead of cold war. It is a peace of justice and righteousness, not built on our ability to hide or enforce some peace by overlooking sin or pointing out the gravity of someone else’s sins. It is a peace that only the love of God can bring to sinners. And if you are a sinner, this peace comes to you.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Those who are caught in the darkness of their sins see the great light of the angelic announcement not as the source of peace. A loud and boisterous “Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” can startle the babies in church and disturb that peaceful candlelight warmth of the Christmas Eve service, but it is the announcement that brings true peace, the peace that the Prince of Peace came to give. Glory be to God on high who sent His Son “that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”
That angelic announcement that we sing might also disturb the rest of your evening. It may disrupt your quiet cuddly night before the fireplace in the glow of the Christmas Tree lights. It may set your mind to contemplate your sins and the need for this Saviour, displacing the dreams of sugarplums dancing in your head or of a white Christmas, just like the ones you used to know when you didn’t allow thoughts of sins and the Saviour to creep into your mind and heart.
The peace of this prince is not meant to be for one unique church service, or one special night, or even for a whole season, but forever. “of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7). Forevermore, that is, not just for tonight, not just for the next twelve days, but forever. That is more than a lifetime.
This is the peace of knowing that God kept His loving promise to send you a Saviour. He sent His own Son, born of the Virgin Mary, to walk through the darkness of this life and to bring to it the light of the glory of God, the loving forgiveness for sinners that only God can give. That is the peace that this prince brings, and He brings it to you.
With the knowledge that you and every other sinner has forgiveness in the loving sacrifice of Jesus, you can have peace not just this night, but always and forever. You can have peace even if babies are screaming, even when the children can’t settle down at night, even when sirens are heard up and down your street, even when it is you who are rushed to the Emergency Department, or when one of your loved ones dies. There is peace even for people without a home and for soldiers who are off at war. There is peace in this prince of peace who has come to shine the light of His glorious love into every dark place.
When this peace disturbs your Courier and Ives portrait of what Christmas should be like, all of the things that mar that image can be seen as incidental, forgivable, and unable to take away your peace of sins forgiven and eternal life with the God who loves you so much as to give His own divine Son to save a sinner like you. When this peace comes upon you, it spreads through you to calm the distressed child, to relieve those in poverty, to comfort those who mourn, and to pray for those who have put themselves in harms way to protect and serve others this night and every night.
“To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.