Christmas Sermon: Peace on Earth
At the peak of winter, in the dead of night, in cold, darkness, poverty, rejection, and vulnerability, God was born in a manger.
What do we make of the manger? We could spend our whole life pondering it, and it would be a life worthwhile. Of all the places for God to be born…a manger? The world had so much to boast of. The Romans had carved out an empire. They had gold, silk, and luxuries beyond imagining. Yet, God was born in a manger
Of all the glories of that time, what do they compare to humanity today? We have skyscrapers, universities, and medical centers that dwarf all accomplishments in human history. We have technology to grow organs, edit genes, and create human embryos. Humanity has transcended limitation after limitation. God is outside of time. He could have been born anywhere in any century. Yet, he was born in a stable. He chose a throne of straw. He picked a palace of dirt and wood. He came to a despised people, lowly, simple and poor.
In this small stable, we find everything we need.
Can you see what’s happening? There’s nothing quaint and sentimental about Christmas. It’s as dramatic a story as you get. There are two themes, two motifs, two melodies clashing against each other like waves in a storm. Outside the stable is a broken world. We all know it. It’s the same today as it was before. There’s oppression and injustice, disease and divorce, fear and anxiety. God warned Adam that sin would bring death, but I doubt Adam had the slightest idea what that death would look like. Life without God really is death. Ecclesiastes calls it vanity, a chasing after the wind. Shakespeare calls it a tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Richard Dawkins sums up a godless universe as “a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication…at bottom, no design, no purpose…nothing but pitiless indifference.” Is he too pessimistic? Is there really anything, after all, outside of that stable? Whatever there is, it is marked by fear and anxiety for a few years, until it dies.
But something else happened that night. A spark lit in a little stable. A baby was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. What do you see? Hands soft and little, yet the same hands that hold creation and tear down the gates of hell. A voice tiny and gentle, yet the voice which causes the devil to tremble and the dead to rise. Eyes small and quiet, yet bright enough to banish hell.
Ponder this moment. In that tiny manger is a revolution. St. Paul writes that, “the whole creation groans as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22-24). What is it groaning for? Where is the childbirth? Right here, in the tiny manger. It’s a break in everything. Outside the stables the world roars in fury. But inside everything is quiet. Everything is calm.
Isaiah prophecies: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (9:6). Do we know what peace means? We can only know it when we kneel by the manger.
The peace in that room can only be called a “peace which passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). We sing “Silent Night” so habitually that we loose so easily its profundity.
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
‘round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
What is this peace? It’s the peace that we looked for when we were children. It’s the peace that haunts us at night. It’s the peace which you know is real, waiting.
Do you pray the psalms? You can’t really appreciate Christmas without them. They express the groaning of creation and the longing in our hearts, and they always take us to the stable. David calls out: “O God, you are my God, and I long for you. My whole being desires you; like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land, my soul is thirsty for you. Let me see you in the sanctuary; let me see how mighty and glorious you are. Your constant love is better than life itself, and so I will praise you. I will give you thanks as long as I live; I will raise my hands to you in prayer. My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you” (Psalm 63:1-5). “Let me see you in the sanctuary.” Where is God seen? Where is his sanctuary? It’s in the manger.
What is the message on Christmas day? Peace is born in a stable, and we will find peace when we retreat to that stable. Why was Jesus Christ born in winter, at night, in darkness, poverty, rejection and vulnerability? To show us where to find Him: in our own winter, in our own night and darkness, when we are suffering or feeling rejected, when we are most vulnerable, God is with us. If you leave the world behind and go to the manger, you will find peace.
Listen to the gospel reading:
“There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 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, to men of good will” (Luke 2:8-14).
To those humble enough and quiet enough, the angels appeared and sang. But they didn’t just proclaim the good news. They told them to go search for the manger.
Do you know what this means? It means we too are called to the manger. We don’t have to be part of the rat race. We don’t have live a life of sound and fury, signifying nothing. We don’t have to be anxious. We don’t have to be afraid. All we have to do is go to the manger.
God is flesh and we eat and drink that flesh. He is in our hearts. The stable is right here.