Peace on Earth?

Reading: Luke 2.1-20 (Drama: Counted!)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn.3.16, NIV).

Those words, the best known text in the whole Bible, express in a nutshell what Christmas is all about.

God and his Love

It has become fashionable to laugh about faith in God, to infer that a believer is someone more than a little odd, that faith is one of those options that some people choose and that others get along very well without.

Suppose you are in the market for a new car. You go down to the showroom and the salesman says, “Here are our two models. The paintwork is identical, the same fine upholstery, the same superbly-engineered power-steering, excellent suspension and handling qualities. But this one costs $5000 less than that one.” You ask, “But why the difference?” And he says, “Well… they’re identical in every respect except that the cheaper version has no engine.”

A ridiculous story? Yet it is what so many in this generation are doing with faith in God. They think about faith as a stripe down the side – an optional extra. But in reality God – and our relationship to him – is really the engine that enables us to live!

The news each day highlights again at one point or another the stupidity, the self-destructive stupidity of life without God. And Christmas comes again with the reminder that there is a God and that he loves this stupidly independent world.

He came into our History

God’s love was so great that he moved into action. It was at his right time, at a particular time in history. Luke is concerned that we get the historical pointers right – Augustus was Caesar in Rome, he had ordered his first census, Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Our little dramatic reading has stirred our imagination. What would it really have been like to be there? It is widely accepted that the real purpose of the census was to ensure that the taxes could be more rigorously collected. I have always been intrigued by the thought that the Jews with their stubborn insistence on being counted by tribes and families were in part sabotaging the whole reason for the census! But there is another intriguing thought – if Mary had to be counted as well as Joseph, the bread-winner, surely that would mean every child as well! If, in fact, all the records of Rome were available for us, the name of Jesus would be recorded in this census as well as later in the record of crucifixions!

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son... He came into our history. Part of that history is the fact that there was no room for them to stay in the inn, that he said much later that he had no place to lay his head, that the people moved against him, the religious and the irreligious, the Jew and the Gentile, acting to get rid of him from the face of the earth.

But he came into our history – “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2.11). Even in our rejection of him, the message is true – “A Saviour has been born to you!” God is saying, “I love you! Believe in Jesus and you will be saved!” No room! No Room! No room! God took our “No Room!” and made it the very means of salvation, of forgiveness, of a new beginning for all of us. God is saying to us, “I have room for you! Come to me!”

Peace on Earth

We celebrate this Christmas against the backdrop of the threat of terror in various parts of the Middle East. At least Christian pilgrims will again this year be able to go to Bethlehem. Yet in spite of hopeful signs in the Holy Land, Hamas and Hizbollah are making it quite clear that they reject the new Palestinian leadership and will continue their campaign of violence. Iraq is supposed to be moving toward free democratic elections, but the world observes increasing terrorist attacks… Where will it all end?

In the midst of these threats we hear the angels’ song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (v. 14).

It seems such a contradiction? Has God got it all wrong? Is Christmas a nice wistful idea with no substance in reality?

We have missed the call of John 3.16. Remember the words? “God so loved the world that he gave his one and  only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

God is calling us to respond to his gift of love in sending his Son. We are to receive him, to welcome him, to live on the basis of trust in him as our Saviour and responsive obedience to him as our Lord. Where people begin to do that, the peace of God begins to spread among them. Peace with God is translated into peace with others. How have we responded to the action of God in Jesus Christ? He is waiting for us to come. He wants to share, not only our Christmas, but all our life – every day of the year as well.

In the very deepest and truest sense, Happy Christmas!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Ayr Uniting Church, Christmas Day, 25 December 2004
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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