This Sunday, which is both the fourth Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve, I want to invite you to a wonderful celebration – our traditional First Church Christmas Eve Candlelight services in the Sanctuary at 11:00 am, 3:30 pm, 5:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm, and 11:00 pm. Our 3:30 and 5:00 pm services are especially geared for families with children. In our other Sanctuary services, we will again hear the beautiful words of the Christmas story as told in the second chapter of the gospel of Luke (verses 1-20):
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a]the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b]praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (NRSV)
We’ll light candles, sing carols, and share in the service of Holy Communion as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace who came to show us the “things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42) As we celebrate “The Light of Peace,” we are especially mindful of our world’s great need for peace. In many areas of our world and in many ways, we are not at peace — and many of us are not at peace even within ourselves. So perhaps the light we are all seeking most right now is the dawn of peace — in our hearts and in our world.
In the scriptures we see that Paul closed almost all of his letters with the words, “Grace and Peace.” What does peace really mean? We speak of peace on a personal level, a community level, and a global level. What are the things that make for peace in our world today?
The brand of peace that Jesus brought to the world was really quite different from the enforced order — the Pax Romana — that prevailed in that time. Whereas the Pax Romana was an enforced lack of conflict brought about by powerful, oppressive force, for Jesus the things that make for peace are love, justice, mercy, and kindness.
As Jesus grew to adulthood in the little town of Nazareth, he began his public ministry with a sermon in his own home synagogue, reading the words of Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19) to announce his mission on Earth:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In that time Jesus was very clear about the things that made for peace. But the world today is much more complicated, right? Or is it? If you were asked to articulate it to others, what would you say makes for peace in your life? What is your mission for peace on earth?
I look forward to sharing “The Light of Peace” with you this Sunday in our Christmas Eve Candlelight communion services.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster