In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.`
The prophet Isaiah, speaking in advance of the birth of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, writes,
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, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Writing many hundreds of years before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah describes a baby who will be born, a male child, who is God Himself, and who will bring peace and justice.
At this Christmas time the world surely needs the peace which God promises. Today there is conflict in many parts of the world, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering violent persecution in parts of the Middle East. And if we imagined a visitor coming to the UK from another world at this time of year they would find it almost impossible to work out what this season is all about. Far from being a festival to celebrate the coming of the Son of God into the world, it seems to have become a celebration of spending as much money as possible on as many things as possible. The streets and shops are filled with people rushing around trying to create the perfect Christmas experience. Money is spent that can perhaps not easily be afforded. A great many families will gather on Christmas Day with no thought of the meaning of the Feast of the Nativity. A recent survey found that only 2% of the Christmas cards being sold in the High Street contained any reference to the birth of Jesus Christ, or other aspects of the Nativity. Yet 60% of people living in the UK wish to identify themselves as Christians, according to the 2011 census. Something has gone wrong and something is missing when the message of the coming Prince of Peace has been so drowned out in the business and noise of a Christmas without Christ.
It is not surprising that the Samaritans, the charity that helps people who feel lonely and desperate, have more calls to their volunteer workers at this time of year than at any other. Far from being a time of peace, for many people who do not know our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, it is a time of stress and anxiety, of arguments and loneliness.
What has gone wrong?
When our Lord Jesus was born, the angelic host appeared in the skies to simple working men of Bethlehem, shepherds tending their sheep in the hills, saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The Prince of Peace, spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, God made man, had come to earth. How do we know that this Jesus Christ is the promised Prince of Peace? Isaiah had also written..
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.
Emmanuel means ‘God with us’. And this is exactly what we read in the Holy Scriptures, the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived and bore a son, and he is indeed God with us. The Prince of Peace has come to dwell among us, as a man with us, while remaining God, and his coming indeed brings peace on earth.
As the Lord Jesus grew into manhood and began his public ministry he often spoke about peace. It was one of the aspects of the Gospel or Good News which he came to share with us all.
When he was in the house of an important man, a sinful woman came and with many tears wept as she anointed the feet of our Lord with a precious and costly anointment. Our Lord saw her repentance and said to her..
Your faith has saved you, go in peace.
On another occasion an elderly woman who had been sick for many years, without receiving any benefit from the many doctors who had examined her case, touched the hem of the garment of our Lord as he walked past in the crowd. Immediately she knew in herself that she had been healed. Our Lord stopped in the middle of the busy and pressing throng and picking out this one woman he spoke to her saying..
Your faith has made you whole, go in peace.
And then towards the end of his ministry, at the time when he was about to be taken and crucified and die for the salvation of the world. When he could have spoken about many things, he chose to speak about peace, and it made such an impression on his Holy Apostles that they recorded his words in the Gospels.
The one who is the Prince of Peace said to his disciples..
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Then he was led away and crucified, and died, and buried, and it must have seemed to the Holy Apostles that they had every reason to be troubled in their hearts and filled with fear. But while they were gathered together he came and appeared among them after his resurrection, saying to them..
Peace be with you.
Nor did he only say it once, but the Scripture records for us that he said it again.
Peace be with you.
This must have meant something to the disciples when they wrote down their Gospels. It was more than a simple repetition of a phrase, but it was something that needed to be written down and remembered. Our Lord was not simply greeting them. He wasn’t just saying ‘Hello’. But he was giving them that which he had promised a few days before, his own peace.
Of course the Apostle Thomas was not with the disciples on that occasion. And when he met with the disciples he was filled with a great desire to see the risen Lord himself. It was eight days later, when the Apostles were all gathered together again, that the Lord appeared among them, and even the fact of the doors being shut could not prevent the coming of the Lord. This time the Apostle Thomas was there with them, and once more our Lord speaks to them all, saying..
Peace be with you.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the baby born at Bethlehem comes among us as Emmanuel, God with us, and brings us peace. But this is not a peace that pours out upon the world from heaven with no thought or response required from us. We should not be surprised that when we live our lives without Christ, the Prince of Peace, we lack this peace in our hearts.
As our Lord taught, it is not the peace which the world gives, and it is not given in the way that the world gives its peace. In the world only a temporary peace can be found and given. It is the peace when things do not appear to be going wrong. It is the temporary peace which comes from having enough money to pay the bills, but when the money has been exhausted then a sense of peace disappears at the same time. It is the temporary peace which comes from not having problems with health, but this peace also disappears when sickness comes. It is the temporary peace of having many friends and seeming to be popular, but this also disappears when our friends leave us for someone more popular.
The lasting peace which Christ gives is a peace which must be built on solid ground. It must be established on a true faith in Christ. This peace which the Prince of Peace offers to us is beyond human understanding. It allows the one who is sick to be at peace, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. It allows the one who is poor, the one who is unemployed, the one who has been betrayed and mistreated to be at peace, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a lasting peace. It is the peace that the world needs and cannot create for itself. Are you troubled about many things, and afraid? Then have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, he waits to give you peace if you will trust him.
This is the message of the Christmas Gospel. That there is a peace which comes from God which we may experience ourselves if we will have faith. And having received this peace we are called to share it with those around us, even as the Word of God came himself to bring this peace to us.
May you all experience the peace of God which passes all understanding. If you have anxieties and fears then may God grant you the courage to have faith in him so that you might receive his peace. And having received the peace of God may you share this peace with one another and with the world.
O King of Peace, grant us your peace. Make your peace to rest upon us and forgive us our sins.
To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.