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Edward F. Markquart

The Peace of Christ or Christmas

Christmas Eve  Luke 2:1-14 

The “peace of Christmas Eve?”  ...  The “peace of Jesus Christ?”   ...  Are they one and the same?   Christmas Eve peace?  Jesus Christ peace?  Are they the same???

We all know that Christmas Eve is about peace.  Ever since we were children and brought to the church on Christmas Eve, we were taught that tonight was the birth of the Prince of Peace. Tonight was the beginning of the epoch of peace.

So we come to church on Christmas eve and we want to sing those carols about peace, carols which we know so well, those carols that we learned in childhood.

“Silent Night, holy night, all is calm and all is bring, round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” 

“It came upon a midnight clear that glorious song of old, when angels bending near the earth, they touched their harps of gold.  Peace on earth....”

“Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.  Peace on earth...”

We have come tonight because we believe in this peace, this peace of the Prince of Peace.   We believe...we believe that our lives can be touched by peace and that we too can be children of peace.  That is why the whole world is drawn to sanctuaries on this Christmas night. 

Tonight, we have come to hear those words of peace from Isaiah, the prophet.  We have come to hear those beautiful images of peace; that our God is a “wonderful counselor, mighty god, everlasting father and ...prince of peace...and of his government and of his peace, there shall be no end!!!  Peace will be established with justice and righteousness and the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”    ...  We have come to hear those words tonight, those magnificent metaphors about peace....about turning swords into plowshares.....spears into pruning hooks....nations not making war against nation anymore....a leopard shall lie down with a lamb....and a cow and a bear shall graze together in the same pasture....and a little child shall reach his hand into a swarm of hornets and not being stung.  Then we come to that absolutely gorgeous line:  They shall not hurt and they shall not harm one another anyplace in my holy mountain for the whole earth shall know the Lord

Wouldn’t that be nice ... to live in that kind of world?  ... where there was no hurting or no harming or no injuring of other people ... Wouldn’t it be nice to be that kind of person?  Who did not hurt others?  ...  And wouldn’t it be nice to live in that kind of a house?  Or apartment?  Or live in that kind of family?  Or live in that kind of neighborhood?  Or in that kind of city or world?  Would you like to live in that kind of world that understood and experienced peace?  All of us long for peace and want to be children of peace.  That is why we are here tonight:  we want to be touched by God’s peace.

Yes, we all know that Christmas is about peace.  We sing our Christmas carols about peace and we come to listen to our Christmas prophecies about peace and we all know that Christmas Eve is about peace...  But ...but...but it all seems to be a big farce.  Such a mockery.  There is so much hurting in this world.  There is so much harming of one another.  There is so much destruction and so many wars.  There is so little peace.  Peace seems to be but an echo from the distant past. 

There is a story of a young Norwegian soldier during WW II, and his mother and father and his whole family were killed.  It was a tragic situation.  He was now alone for his first Christmas Eve.  He was very depressed.  He came out and stood by the edge of that Norwegian fjord and in his frustration and bitterness, he shouted into the sky:  “Glory to God in the highest” ... and the fjord echoed back...  HIGHEST   Highest.  highest.  “And on earth, PEACE” ... Peace...peace...peace.  The young man sat down and cried.  ... There was no peace.  Peace for him was only an echo that began to fade and fade and fade far away.  

Christmas peace?  It is only an echo tonight in so many parts of the world.  Christmas peace is only an echo in Bethlehem tonight, that’s for sure.  I doubt if any of you would want to spend much time in Bethlehem tonight, or feel safe there.  ... Christmas peace is only an echo night in Ethiopia and the Sudan ... Or shall we remove the troops between North and South Korea ...or within Bosnia ... within Rwanda ... and would you feel safe?   And certainly Christmas peace is only an echo for those families who were bombed by a terrorist.  Is that what Christmas peace is, merely an echo?  Just an echo from the distant past? 

Tonight Christmas peace is merely an echo in so many homes tonight.  I can’t tell you the number of men and women I know who are waiting for the new year in order to get a divorce.  They don’t want to do it during the Christmas season.  I mean, the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year; and the day after New Year’s is the busiest divorcing day of the year.  People are wanting for the holiday to be over. ... Is peace only an echo in so many homes?  Where husbands and wives fight like cats and dogs, shouting obscenities to one another, afraid and embarrassed if any other adult walked into the room and heard them acting like that? Those people would be utterly embarrassed if other adults heard them shouting like that.  Is peace only an echo in so many homes and ashamed...where there is so much hurting and so much harming?

Is Christmas peace only an echo in so many people’s personal lives, an echo within our psychological selves?  There are so many tensions and so much stress and we get ulcers and migraines and heart attacks and we explode in anger at our children…in anger at our spouses over nothing...exploding at just about everybody if for a short time, when things don’t go the way we want.  Then we are so embarrassed by our explosions.  Christmas peace?

I recall the words of Longfellow.  “I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat, peace on earth good will towards men.  In despair I bowed my heard, there is no peace on earth I said, but hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will towards men.”

“Silent night, holy night, a bursting bomb, a flash of light, a thousand whirring airplanes roar, dropping their gifts, their gifts of war, and all is calm and all is bright and sudden death stalks day and night.  Where children dream of daily bread and go to sleep without a bed.”  

Walter Henry tells a story from W.W.II.   He tells us one of those stories of one of those Christmas truces during war, where the sun goes down on Christmas Eve, and soldiers are not supposed to shoot at one another until the next morning.  The Germans and the Americans are on opposite sides of the line, opposing each other.  There was a young American soldier, and he was just getting ready to push that detonator to explode a set of mines on the other side.  A flare went up, and he knew that is was the beginning of the Christmas peace, the Christmas truce.  He settled down into his foxhole and as the night went on, in the distance, not so far away, he heard this gorgeous German tenor voice,  “stieliege nacht,  heilige nacht.”  He listened...and listened...and he knew that voice anyplace...the voice of Johan Leibr...his music teacher from Munich.  Johan Liebr started to sing the second stanza, and the American soldier began to sing with him...and there was a momentary break in Liebr’s voice...a crack in his voice...but he continued...and together they sang all of Silent Night, one in German, the other in English.  The night continued. One would begin to sing a Christmas carol and the other would join in.  The other would begin a Christmas carol and the other would join in, singing through the night.  But...but...but...dawn came.  It was time.  A flare pierced the sky; the truce was over; and the young soldier regretted it as he pushed the button and killed the enemy soldiers...and his music teacher, Johan Liebr.  … Peace on earth.  Is it only an echo from the past? 

Is there something wrong with us as human beings?  Is there some fundamental flaw to our human nature?  What is wrong with us?  What is wrong with us that we are the only creatures on earth that murders and tortures our own species?  What is wrong with us?  That we make weapons capable of destroying 500 million people within a span of hours?  What is wrong with us?  ...  What is wrong with a man and a woman called a husband and wife who can hurt each other so deeply and shout at each other and be so deeply cruel to each other?  The two closest people on earth?  What is wrong with us? ... That a mother and a father can actually abuse their own child?  My God, what is wrong with us? ... Why is peace so hard for us to learn? 

Because we are so deeply flawed and because we are people who hurt and harm one another, God sent us his son, Jesus, the Prince of peace:  Jesus says:  I have come to bring you peace, to teach you to walk in the paths of peace. I have come to teach you what you need to learn be a person of peace. 

Where does it begin?  Where does it always begin?  It begins here with me...with you.  When the Prince of Peace finally comes to live in us.  If the Prince of Peace doesn’t live in me, where is that peace going to come from?  It certainly doesn’t come from within me?  When the peace of the Prince of Peace comes and lives within you, when the goodness of Jesus Christ lives in you, you do not hurt...or harm...or injure ...another human being.  The Bible says,  “They know me, they shall all know me on my holy mountain, and when all people know me, they shall not hurt or harm or injure one   another.” … O yes, you can be a churchy person; that is,  you can come to church on Christmas eve.  You can come the Sunday after.  You can come and study your Bible and pray with other Christians.  But the primary religious experience for a Christian is that the Spirit of Christ and God’s peace live inside of you.  When Christ lives inside of you, you do not want to hurt or harm or injure anyone.  It begins with me. It begins with you.

We then begin to work for justice and righteousness.  When the Spirit of God begins to live inside of us, we work to establish justice and righteousness. 

We must take a commercial.  In television, they take commercial breaks after so much talking and we need to take a commercial break now in the midst of a sermon.  I would like to tell you about a beer commercial...made by Budweiser beer.  In this Budweiser commercial, they have two great big workhorses, two big Clydesdales, and behind the Clydesdales is a beautiful sleigh.  You see the giant horses trotting through the snowy woods, down a quiet country road, and up to a country house.  In this commercial, have you ever seen the sleigh in front of the big Clydesdale horses?  And the horses are behind the sleigh, trying to push the sleigh along?  Have you ever seen that?  Of course not.  That would be dumb, for a big Clydesdale to be pushing a sleigh.  We all know that the sleigh is behind the two great big Clydesdales.  That’s the way it is with peace.  There is one great big Clydesdale and its name is justice.  There is another great big Clydesdale and its name is righteousness.  Behind the two workhorses of justice and righteousness comes peace... Peace always follows after justice and righteousness.  That is true within your family life, your personal life, the life of your city, your neighborhood, your state, your nation, your world.  It’s the same everywhere.  If you want peace, you find it after you pursue justice and righteousness.

So what is this justice?  What is this great big workhorse called justice? Justice is the organization of life so that the little people can be taken care of.  It is the structuring of society, the structuring of our economy and government, so that the little people are taken care of e.g. the widows, the orphans, the handicapped, the blind, the poor.  The most important function of a government is not defense.  In spite of what all the books say, in spite of the fact that we live in a defense related economy, the most important function of government is the pursuit of justice.  It is the organization of law and society in such a way that widows and orphans and the maimed and blind are taken care of.  That is the primary purpose of government, according to the Bible.  You don’t need to worry about the rich; they will find their lawyer to attempt to get them off the hook.  But not the poor.  They can’t afford it.  ... And, do you think that it is really fair, when a person with two children works forty hours a week or fifty, and does not have enough money for food, housing, heat, clothing...while the boss makes hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars?  Do you think that is fair? Fair in God’s eyes?  Do you think that is just? Of course not.

Justice is the desire for fairness within our own families. People want to be treated fairly, to not be taken advantage of.  It’s not fair in a family system when certain people get “stuck” with all the dirty work, the hard work.  Fairness is not taking advantage of others in the family.  Fairness is everyone doing their fair share within a family.  It’s hard to have peace in a family if you don’t have fairness in terms of work and responsibility.   …Justice is the workhorse, and justice is the ordering of society and family so that the little people are taken care of, and if there is no justice and fairness, there will be no peace within that society or family.  For peace always comes behind that great big workhorse called justice. 

But...there is another workhorse, and its name is righteousness.  It too is a great big Clydesdale.  Righteousness is right relationships within our individual lives.  If justice is concerned about the organization of society, righteousness is concerned about our primary life relationships...that I would have a goodness and a closeness and a kindness with my wife, my children, my friends, my work associates, my neighbors, with all people. 

Righteousness primarily begins and ends with forgiveness.  The only way that you can live with a flawed person like you and like me...the only way you can work with people who explode over nothing...the only way you can live with someone like you and me is with the gift of forgiveness, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  For me to be in a right relationship with any person presupposes that one forgives again and again and again and again. 

If anyone doesn’t think that forgiveness is not work, if anyone thinks that forgiveness is easy, that person has not been deeply hurt by another.  In the real world where we harm and hurt and injure one another, my God, do we need to forgive one another! 

Justice.  Righteousness.  Those two big Biblical words are like great gigantic Clydesdales.  Behind them comes the sleigh of peace.  Foolish is the person who tries to put the cart before the horse, who puts peace before justice and righteousness.  It never, NEVER works. 

What is the “peace of Christmas eve?”  “Christmas eve peace” has to do with the candles, the quietness of Christmas eve,  a silent night, a  lovely sanctuary.  It’s a lovely experience, and like an aspirin, it will last about four hours. 

What is the “peace of Jesus Christ?”  The “peace of Christ” has to do with those people in whom the Prince of Peace comes to live. When the Prince of Peace lives within the manger of our heart, we become one of those workhorses who work for justice and rightness. Peace?... follows along behind.

I quoted Longfellow.  Do you remember that he wrote:  And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will toward men.”  But then he continues.  There is more!  Longfellow does not leave us on a note of despair.

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will toward all.” 

When I was a little boy, I was taught that Christmas Eve was the night that we remembered the birth of the Prince of Peace.  The years have flown.  I have now grown older, much older, and I now understand more clearly my need and your need for the Prince of Peace to live within us. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, forever and ever, that we would always work for justice and righteousness, so that we would know peace.  Amen. 

Advent/Christmas Gift:  If you as a pastor have found the sermons from this website helpful in your preaching, please consider giving a gift to Lutheran World Relief as an expression of your appreciation. Contact and mention Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Washington, the congregation which has given Pastor Markquart time to make these sermons available to you free of charge. Pastor Markquart served on the Board of Lutheran World Relief for twelve years. He believes LWR is both effective (great partnerships with 150 indigenous partner agencies located in 50 countries) and efficient (administrative overhead of about 10%) in its work to combat hunger and injustice around the globe. 

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