HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Isaiah 11:1-10
EPISTLE LESSON Romans 15:4-13
SERMON: “Countdown to Christmas: Hope for Peace”
It’s fun thinking about some of the misunderstandings of the children. For instance, three small boys were in a Christmas play at school, representing the three wise men and they were to present their gifts to baby Jesus. The first boy stepped forward, held out the gift in his hands and said, “Gold.”
The second boy stepped forward, held out his gift and said, “Myrrh.”
The third boy stepped forward, held out his gift and said, “Frank sent this.”
How are you doing in your preparations? In that Countdown to Christmas we have just 17 more shopping days. I like gift-giving. I just don’t like shopping, and I always want the gifts I give to be something the person wants or needs, or at least can use . . . so I encourage my family to have wish lists on amazon. I’ve got them all bookmarked. It’s a little frustrating that some of my people haven’t updated their wish list since 2011, but we do the best we can.
One thing I imagine every one of us would like for Christmas, if it were possible: I would give up everything else on my wish list if we could receive the gift of Peace.
For centuries, bells were one of the ways churches “spoke” to the communities in which they were situated. Bells would be rung to call the people to worship, to announce a wedding, to toll when someone died. It still makes me smile when I think of the bell in the church I served in southeastern Illinois. There was a small entry way between the main church door and the narthex leading to the sanctuary. In one corner of that entry way was a long, heavy rope with a huge knot at the bottom. The children would take turns each Sunday ringing the bell before worship started. Of course what makes me chuckle is that some of the smaller children would pull hard on that rope, some would even jump up to get a grip up higher. When they came down the bell would ring, and the rope would then go up, and down, up and down, with a small child riding on the bottom of it.
Bells and Christmas just seem to go together. Probably no one expressed that better than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
In the poem, he said that the sound of church bells tolling out Christmas carols caused him to think of their words about peace on Earth and good will. In fact, he recalled how that theme had long been the “unbroken” song from the “belfries of all Christendom.”
Then, looking at life around him, where there was no peace, he had a moment of despair, saying “hate is strong and mocks the song / of peace on earth, good will to men.” But the bells kept ringing, and the poet took fresh heart. And so his final stanza says:
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.”
Peace with God
In his letter to the Christians at Roman (15:8-9) Paul declares the purpose of Christ’s coming is to confirm the promises given long ago to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles may give glory to God for his mercy.
What are these ancient promises that Paul says have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ? Primary among them according to Paul is the promise announced by the prophet Isaiah that “the root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” This is the great messianic promise for all people; the promise that Jesus is the one who will bring hope to the Gentiles, which means, in the world of the New Testament, the whole human race.
Part of the promised hope is hope for peace. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.
He taught “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”
Before he went to his execution he told his disciples “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.”
When he appeared to some of his disciples after the resurrection “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)
From Genesis to Revelation, “peace” appears 249 times.
We long for peace – peace with God, peace between nations, peace with one another and peace within ourselves.
This week one of God’s great servants for peace graduated from this life to eternal life. My friend and colleague the Rev. Dan Anderson posted this about Mandela:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Mandela. His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world. He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realize, we are our brothers’ keeper and that our brothers come in all colors. What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever.”
I remember growing up in a racially mixed neighborhood in Chicago and being required to read Cry, the Beloved Country, a novel by Alan Paton about South Africa, first published in 1948 telling the story of racial injustice. Some of you will remember the movie Invictus we watched as part of the Saturday night at the movies series, highlighting Mandela’s gift for bringing the people together. If only more of us had his hope, commitment, courage and endurance.
We hope for peace within and between nations.
We long for peace with one another.
In my search for commentary on this longing we have for peace I came across something written by a pastor from Oklahoma:
A couple of years ago a rapidly growing congregation I know very well sent out a questionnaire and asked its members to fill it out and send it back because they were trying to find out what the people felt about certain things. More than 200 members did so, and they compiled the results.
The one thing that the survey revealed most dramatically was that they were a very diverse congregation. (sound familiar?)
For instance, some thought they ought to go to the bank and borrow all the money they could borrow, buy more land and build all the buildings they needed immediately. But others felt that they shouldn’t borrow at all. Instead, they ought to wait and not build anything until they could pay cash for it.
Some felt they were giving way too much to missions. They wanted to keep the money for themselves, and use it to help pay for their new buildings. But others said, “We’re not giving enough to missions. We need to give more!”
One person responded that the preacher didn’t preach enough on stewardship, and he ought to be encouraging the people to give more. But someone else wrote, “It doesn’t make any difference what the subject is, the preacher always talks about money.”
Bonnie and I attended the presbytery meeting at Marshall last month. Mike Wicks, pastor at Sturgis preached for the worship service. The main point both Bonnie and I remember from his message was: we fight. We Presbyterians have opinions about all kinds of things and we fight – from doctrine to donuts – as in “Do not take the donuts away from coffee hour!”
Now a wide diversity should not surprise us because almost everybody has opinions on almost everything - even in the church. But the question is, what do we do with the diversity? Do we allow it to cripple us? Do we say, “We’re so diverse we’ll never agree, so therefore we won’t do anything?” Or do we move forward prayerfully, realizing that some will disagree with whatever course you take?
-Frederick Buechner wrote, “Peace has come to mean the time when there aren’t any wars or even when there aren’t any major wars. Beggars can’t be choosers; we’d most of us settle for that. But in Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness, means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself.
One of the titles by which Jesus is known is Prince of Peace, and he used the word himself in what seem at first glance to be two radically contradictory utterances. On one occasion he said to the disciples, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34). And later on, the last time they ate together, he said to them, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you (John 14:27).
The contradiction is resolved when you realize that for Jesus peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.1
Mandela struggled for peace.
Jesus struggled for peace.
Are we willing to struggle for peace?
“Peace often must begin with ourselves,” wrote Billy Graham in Peace Prayers. Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea. When I love someone, I seek what is best for them. If I begin to take the love of Christ seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor. I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be.”2
Alan Paton ends each chapter of his book Instrument of Thy Peace, meditations on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, with a prayer that includes these words: ... and every day let me perform an act of peace for thee. (New York: Seabury Press, 1982)
Can we do more than hope for peace? Can we be inspired by the determination of a Nelson Mandela? Can we be true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ? Will we join in the struggle for peace … with God, within and between nations, with our families and neighbors?
1Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,  1993), 83.
2-Billy Graham, cited in Peace Prayers (Harper San Francisco, 1992), 97.