Christmas Eve Service of Worship, Monday, December 24, 2018. Rev. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
This video is a recording of the complete 7:00 pm worship service on Christmas Eve.
The sermon starts at 18:00
Permission to broadcast the music in this service obtained from One License with license #A-708462.
To access the Bulletin, click on DOWNLOAD PDF above
I don’t know if you’ve had this happen to you, where you read a story or see a piece of art, or listen to a song that you’ve read or seen or heard a lot of times, and then you read it or see it or hear it again, and something stands out for you that hasn’t stood out for you before. You notice something that you hadn’t noticed as much before. It’s been there all along, but for whatever reason, you just hadn’t noticed it as much. Good art is like that. It has many layers, and because you’re different each time you experience it, you can have a different experience of the art on different occasions.
So this year, in preparing for Christmas Eve, in reading Isaiah 9 and Luke 2, texts that are read almost every year on Christmas Eve, my attention was drawn to a couple of words in Isaiah 9:7: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.”
There could be a variety of reasons why these words stood out for me this year, likely because of the turbulent times that we are living through in the United States and the world these days. Perhaps because some days peace can seem so far away from us. For whatever reason, these words stood out.
The Hebrew word for peace here, of course, is shalom, which means much more than the absence of conflict, as nice as that can seem sometimes. Shalom means a holistic, thorough-going presence of well-being that enfolds every part of life – the outer life of governance, politics, economics, ecology, and social relations, as well as the inner life of feelings, memories, and hopes. According to Isaiah 9 a king will be born whose life will touch all of this.
Tonight I want to invite us to imagine that the peace, the shalom, that God brings us through Jesus comes to us in three ways. It comes to us as a promise, as a gift, and as a summons. You may know that preachers are notorious for wanting to see everything in groups of 3, but bear with me here.
First of all, peace comes to us as a sure promise of the way things will be; peace and shalom are where we are headed. And that is not because of what we will do, because the human track record for achieving peace is not very good. World War I, 100 years ago, was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars.’ At least since ancient Rome, humans have thought that we could impose peace on the world through violence. But violence continues to beget violence, and the human track record continues in its sorry way.
But God lays down a promise that echoes through the Old and the New Testaments that the day is coming when the fearsome wolf will lie down with the vulnerable lamb, when warring parties from the north and the south and the east and the west will all sit together at the communion table, and when every tear will be wiped away, because death will be no more. We are on our way, by the grace of God, to the promised land of peace and reconciliation. Peace is a promise.
Secondly, Christ brings us peace as a gift right now. You do not have to wait until the promised day or complete and total shalom to experience the peace that passes all understanding. It is available right now, in the midst of everything. “My peace I leave with you,” Jesus said. “My peace I give to you.” Now. The events of Easter weekend – when Jesus died and was raised from the dead – have freed you from all the powers of death and fear, so that it is possible to live with peace in the midst of whatever difficulties you are facing, in the midst of the volatile times we have been given, because you can know as a practical matter that the Lord is with you, and whatever may happen, you cannot be separated from God. “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
Peace comes to us as a promise for the future, and as a gift in the present, and those two are not of our own doing. They come completely from God. We don’t have to do anything to make them happen; God makes them happen. But peace does come to us as a summons. Christ is born as the Prince of Peace, and when we sign on as his followers, sign on as his students, we are signing on to follow him in his work of making peace in our communities and our world. We are signing on to allow the peace that has come into our lives to spill out into the lives of those with whom we have contact. We will engage in this work of making peace in our world in a thousand different ways – through the shaping of public policy that makes the world more peaceful, through acts of justice and solidarity that stand with those who are being hurt the most, through sitting down to coffee with someone with whom you have had a serious disagreement and from whom you have become estranged, through praying for one of your enemies, through standing up for what you believe to be true, and on and on and on.
The three-fold news of Christmas is that there will be endless peace in the kingdom of God, you can begin to taste that peace tonight, and you personally have a vital role to play in making that peace available in the world. Thanks be to God. Merry Christmas. Amen.