Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
Peace On Earth Goodwill To All, Is 9:2-7 & Luke 2:1-20, Christmas Eve
2014, Rev. Neil A. Margetson
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, good will toward men.
The theme tonight is Peace...Peace and Reconciliation. God knows we need it. We seem to become more divided and embittered every day. It seems to have no end.
I was watching a football game the other day between the Giants and the Rams. Did anyone see the game? Here’s the thing...both of those teams have had terrible seasons...neither of them made the playoffs this year. Even so, there seemed to be a lot of aggression and tension on the field. At least that’s what I thought...and then it just exploded! Became a regular melee. Players attacking players, crashing into spectators and newscasters...officials...chairs...you name it. Hand to hand combat!
It was not like anything I had seen before on a professional football field. The more I have thought about it, the more it seemed like a perfect metaphor for the state of our nation and our city.
Three players were ejected from the game outright. Two Giants and a Ram. It was shameful, because those players are professionals. Not only should they have known better because grown men do not engage in fisticuffs to settle disputes...they should have remembered that they are role models for millions of young people, many of whom lack appropriate role models in their home or community. But the image that has stuck in my mind is of one of the Giants who’d been thrown off the field, strutting back to the locker rooms with one of the coaches, looking for all the world like a conquering hero, even as the announcers talked about how terrible it all was and how many fines the league
would levy in the weeks to come.
The takeaway message for a young man watching was that bravado and violence are good things. Things that the authorities may profess to frown upon but in reality encourage!
It seems to me that our society is becoming like that football game. A place where we pay lip service to unity and peace, but where violence is part of the fabric of life. A place where those skilled in violence are congratulated and admired. A place where soldiers are often memorialized while peacemakers are often ignored.
That is not what Jesus taught us.
...a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace...
One of the things that is so miraculous about Jesus, is that we never tire of hearing his story. It moves us every time. Even people who aren’t believers...are moved by it.
I think one of the reasons is that it is a story about regular people going about their lives who get swept up in the tide of history. A story about working men and young mothers whose lives are upended by God’s will and by their association with God’s Christ.
People had spoken of...been waiting for The Christ of God...The Messiah...for a long time before Jesus was born. We know that because we have the OT and we know that it was written hundreds and hundreds of years before that first Christmas. The reading from The Prophet Isaiah that we heard just a few minutes ago, is all about The Messiah and what The Messiah would be like. Actually meeting The Messiah was not one of the things the average person expected to have happen, in Roman Palestine of the First Century. Joseph and Mary were completely unprepared for the son who came into their lives that night.
Scripture tells us that Jesus had brothers and sisters, so Joseph and Mary had more than one child, which means he had a family life like everyone else. Was he a troublesome child? Was he different from the start? We don’t know much. We do have one story of Jesus the child that comes to us from The Gospel According to Luke. Goes like this...
Luk 2:40-51 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
So, judging by this, Jesus was different from the other kids, but not all the time. And certainly his parents reacted to his disappearance like any parent of today, yesterday or tomorrow. Can you imagine how worried they were! I remember one time, after our daughter’s graduation from high school, she and all her friends went to the prom. And they arranged to spend the night together in a hotel downtown. It wasn’t as radical as it sounds saying it. They were good kids, they all had cell phones and they’d just graduated. Except the next morning, we just happened to try and call her for some reason and could not get an answer. Only then did we realize that we had no idea what hotel they were in! We went nuts. We tried this hotel and that hotel and the other even though we had no idea whose name the room would be in! Of course she finally called later… Hey...what’s up? Now that I think of it, a lot like Jesus saying, But surely you knew I would be in my father’s house?
Right now, we need Jesus more than ever. We need to listen for his voice and his words...think about his deeds and what they mean. There are malign forces in the Universe that thrive on conflict and chaos...hatred and greed. Forces that work to keep us fearful, angry and apart. In recent weeks and months we have watched our electoral process become a cage fight, and our politics a money pit. Ethics no longer seems to play any part at all.
For decades it looked as though racial divisions were softening and old conflicts finally being forgotten in America. And then came Ferguson and Staten Island and now a police assassination. These are terrible terrible events, however, it is not the events themselves but the reaction to the events that keep me up at night. The willingness to draw up battle lines and face off with an enemy that just might happen to be the next door neighbor.
It is time to hear Jesus...whatever our religious beliefs, whatever nationality we may be, whoever we’re angry at. There will be no peace unless there is also reconciliation. Nor is this an unachievable dream. If reconciliation could be achieved in South Africa, after the decades of apartheid and revolution, then surely it can be achieved anywhere!
What then does Jesus say? What does he stand for? It’s a strange thing but it seems to me that most people know...at least some of it. Doesn’t matter whether they’re Christian or not. If asked they will tell you, He stands for Peace and Love. He stands for Mercy. He stands for the weak and the oppressed. He stands for Healing. Maybe as Minister of Word and Sacrament, my perspective is skewed, but I don’t think most folks around the world have that kind of general understanding of what the other great religious figures stand for. Buddha? Mohammed? Confucius? How would we summarize their doctrines?
The Buddha preached the Eight-Fold Path that would lead to an end of suffering and escape from the Wheel of Existence into the Great Beyond. Mohammed, taught that following The Koran - the God-dictated text that guides all Muslims - would lead one to Paradise, and the way one lived ought to reflect the dignity and spirituality appropriate to a believer. Confucius is not always remembered in The West as a spiritual leader, but he was. One of several that make up the Chinese spiritual patrimony. He taught that all things in human society should be in harmony. That reverence for traditions and relationships between people is the most fundamental and important characteristic of a healthy world.
The teachings of these great men cannot be fully expressed in a few sentences, but I think all of them share some basic truths about the kind of people we should be and the kind of world we should be building. All of them. And yet, it is the carpenter whose words we remember. For me The Beatitudes capture it best, and I do not think we can hear them too often.
Mat 5:7-9 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The poetry is Jesus’ - but the ideas and the principles they express belong to all of us. People of every faith tradition...even those with no faith tradition...just the pure ethics...cannot help but agree. These are the bedrock realities on which the entire edifice of human society is built. We are the ones who grant mercy. We are the ones whose intentions are honorable. We are the ones for whom negotiation is always preferable to war.
We need peace. And we need reconciliation. We need to understand one another and recognize that we are all the same. We need to stop honoring warriors and start honoring peacemakers. We need to set aside anger, no matter how justified it may be. We need to start listening to Christ. Really listening. Do you remember that he said, All of you hearing me...how many are listening?
I know how faithful you are...you who are gathered here in Christ’s name. I know you. But we can do more and we must do more.
When we are faced with conflict...with war and violence and the threat of violence...we need to stop taking sides. Instead we need to start telling others to remember what it is they say they believe. We need to be evangelists for Reconciliation. Evangelists for Peace. Evangelists for Love.
...a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…
And all God’s People said...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed