"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

Christmas Eve
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:1-20 Sermon
December 24, 2013

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.


Hymns:
"O Come All Ye Faithful"
"O Little Town Of Bethlehem"
"What Child Is This?"
"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"
"Angels We Have Heard On High"
"Once In Royal David's City"
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
"Silent Night"
"Joy To The World" 

PEACE IS NOT JUST WISHFUL THINKING

TEXT (vs. 10-14):  "10And the angel said unto [the shepherds], 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'  13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, '14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

            If you've been paying attention to the news over the past several weeks, a lot has been happening.  We were shocked when 18 year old Karl Pierson took a shotgun to Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver, where he began an 80 second rampage.  He wound up shooting 17 year-old Claire Davis almost point-blank in the face, an injury from which she eventually died.  Pierson committed suicide in the school library when sheriff's deputies had him cornered. 

            Or maybe you heard about the Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who has been getting a lot of media exposure because of his anti-gay comments, specifically with his reference to Romans chapter 1.

            And the latest thing to have happened was at a "Winter Concert" at the Ralph J. Osgood Middle School in Kings Park,New York.  The children beautifully sang "Silent Night" as part of the concert; however all mention of Jesus, Christ, the Virgin Birth, and any reference to Christianity had been carefully removed.  This was to avoid causing offense to the non-Christians; however many more horrified parents were more than just a little offended by this, with some walking out of the concert in disgust.

            They morphed two stanzas into one, and sang it twice through.  This is what they did: "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright; glories stream from heaven afar; heavenly hosts sing hallelujah; sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace."     And that was it.

            It's events like these that can really rile people up.  It's a sign of the way the sinful world is, and we see it all the time in so many different ways.  So maybe it is a bit perplexing to look at the theme of my sermon this evening in your bulletin:  peace is not just wishful thinking.

            I'll explain this in a little bit, but first I want to turn your attention back to the news media again.  This time, I want to share a completely different news story with you; and considering the negative press we have been seeing lately, it's almost a miracle that this item wasn't overshadowed or buried under all of the negative press.

            Meet Jackie Turner*, a 26 year-old woman from Rocklin, California, a suburb of Sacramento.  Jackie's childhood story is indeed a sad one.  She was raised in a very dysfunctional home, where she was sexually abused, verbally abused, emotionally abused, and physically abused.  She remembers looking into her father's hateful eyes when she asked for something to eat.  Instead of feeding her starving body, she was beaten and locked into a closet.  This, along with other stories too hideous to tell, were the benchmarks of Jackie's childhood.

            As it so often happens, Jackie turned to the street where she was heavily involved in gang activity, drugs, and crime.  In her estimation, this was a better life than what she had at home.  She was finally arrested for grand theft, and sent to the California Women's State Prison for a year.

            Her future would have been very dismal, had the Holy Spirit not intervened in her life.  She took a good hard look at herself, and turned her life around.  After prison, she went to Christian Encounter Ministries in Grass Valley, California, which is a camp for troubled youths.  And then, she began her studies at William Jessup University, a non-denominational Christian liberal arts school, where she has a scholarship and holds a 4.0 grade point average, putting her on the Dean's list.  Jesus is definitely a part of her life now.

            Even with this, there was something missing.  Jackie says, “There’s still something deep inside of me. There’s this void, my biological parents aren’t here, and it’s kept this hole inside of me.”

            So she decided to go to Craig's List, an online classified ad service.  The headline of the ad read:  "I want to rent a mom and dad."  Here is the body of the ad:  ”I am looking to rent a mom and dad who can give me attention and make me feel like the light of their life just for a couple of days because I really need it.  Just to sit, just to listen, just to cry with me, no strings beyond that. I’ve never felt the touch of my Mom hugging me and holding me. I don’t know what it’s like to look in my dad’s eyes and feel love instead of hatred.”  And at the bottom of the ad, she offered to pay her rental mom and dad $8 an hour for this.

            She placed the ad, and received numerous offers from couples willing to do this; and of course none of whom wanted the $8 per hour compensation she offered.  They were all freely willing to open their hearts and homes to her.

            But there was something she didn't expect, because she started getting letters from other people who shared the same situation she had.  She writes:  "People who have been raped, people who have been abused, people who have been passed on from foster home to foster home saying the same things."   So now Jackie Turner is in the process of bringing all of these people together.  She says, “When you speak up, people start learning that they’re not by themselves. Often we lock things inside of ourselves, like a lockbox of our secrets. But then you let one out and realize, ‘I’m not by myself after all, am I?’”

            This evening, we have once again heard the very familiar Christmas story from Luke chapter 2 where the angels proclaimed a message.  This message wasn't just for the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem.  This message was for everybody!  The message proclaimed one particular word that describes the coming of the Saviour, the Christ-child in Bethlehem.  That word is "peace."  Just a simple one-syllable word.  Peace. 

            As simple as it sounds, there is a lot surrounding it.  God is showing his good will to men, to all people of the earth.  Because of his great love for humanity, he sent the world a Saviour, as the angel says:  "For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."  He was named "Jesus" because he came to save people from their sins.  This is what would bring peace, as sinful man was now reconciled to God.  This would bring peace through faith alone.

            When we look at the world, peace is hard to see through everything.  One of the reasons I shared the various headlines with you is because of the apparent lack of peace in each of them.  Where is the peace when a young girl dies as a result of a crazed gunman in a school?  Where is the peace when people start verbally attacking somebody for stating their religious belief?  And what kind of peace do you think can be achieved when school officials re-write a Christmas carol in order to try to please everybody?  That's right, the world has a far different idea of peace than what God does.

            You see, peace is not just wishful thinking.  Peace is what Jesus brought to this earth.  It is here amongst us!  It is within easy grasp of everybody.  And through the Holy Spirit, it becomes something personal, something that lives within the heart and soul of every Christian person.

            Even in the wake of the events I just mentioned, peace is there in the midst of the mess.  God did not withdraw his peace when tragedy struck; rather he made it accessible to the world.

            Peace is not something outward, but it comes about as the result of something else.  True outward peace comes when the Christian puts the peace in their lives into action.  And this inward peace is what God the Holy Spirit gives a person who comes to Jesus through faith alone.  It comes when a person experiences their sinfulness and hurt is exchanged for the righteousness and love of Jesus.  It doesn't come in any other way.

            I took the time to tell you the rather emotional story of Jackie Turner because of what happened.  Jackie is a Christian who knows her Saviour.  She has that inner peace.  But yet she still felt the hurt and void left by the absence of a loving family.  So she dealt with it as honestly as she could.  She was not ashamed to ask for help.

            When she reached out, a whole new world opened up to her.  She received answers from loving families who were willing to welcome her into their family.  And even though she offered to pay $8 per hour for their time, not one single person wanted any money at all.  You can't put a price tag on Christian love and sharing.

            The part of this I find so incredible is that God used this situation to use her to serve others in ways she never dreamed.  She soon discovered that there were other people out there, many other people in fact, who had experienced similar situations in their childhood, and they were hurting.  They were reaching out to her.  Because she reached out herself, she found other arms reaching out to her.

            God used her in a very special way to share the peace she had because of Christ living in her.  She could tell others about the peace that Jesus brought to her life.  And even though she had some pretty awful stuff happen to her, she knows that God loves her and that she has an important purpose and mission ahead of her.

            This evening, I direct you to the comforting words of Jesus that the Apostle John records in chapter 14.  Listen to these excerpts:  "Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also....I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you....Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."     

            As we examine our own lives, we can see all of those instances out in the world that threaten our faith, that threaten the peace we know from Jesus.  But as we look inside ourselves, we're always fighting those battles within us that cause us distress and woe.  We need to keep reaching out to our God who alone can deliver us and bring us peace.  We need to keep this peace right within our grasp at all times.  We need to keep our faith in Jesus strong and active to know the peace of God that passes all human understanding.

            I can't even begin to fathom what was going on in the mind of young Jackie as she was beaten and locked in a closet because she wanted a bite to eat.  I can't imagine what her life must have been like living on the streets, involved with gangs, stealing, and winding up in jail.  But God brought peace to her life through the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart.  That's the peace that turned her life around, and that she now shares with others.

            Peace is not just wishful thinking, but a reality that Jesus himself brought about when he came to this earth as a true man, and yet he remained true God.  And as we look at ourselves, we know that the peace we have in Jesus is also the peace that we share.  Amidst the peace-shattering ways of the world, God's peace is always more powerful and effective, and remains the peace that passes all human understanding.

            This Christmas Eve, I'm going to close with the words of a Christmas song that has been around for a while.  It was written by Jill Jackson and Mark Miller in 1955, and has been sung by countless famous singers and groups.  I think it is most appropriate:  "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.  Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.  With God as our Father, brothers all are we.  Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.  Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.  With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow.  To take each moment and live each moment with peace eternally; let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

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*Note:  Ten days after I delivered this sermon, I received an Email from Jackie Turner, verifying what I said about her in the sermon.  She also shared more incidents with me from her childhood, making this situation far worse than I could have ever imagined.  The only thing she asked of me was that I share this link to a You Tube video she posted, and I'm more than happy to do so:  http://youtu.be/W1dMTYxCAWw .   Please keep her in your prayers.  --Pastor Dan

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