Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Prince of Peace

The Prince of Peace
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 20,  2014
for the Blue and Gray Christmas Service
Sesquicentennial Celebration
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Isaiah 40: 1-8
Luke 2: 1-14

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For thine eyes show the way
            Thy mind knows the truth
            Thy being is the life.

 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And so it was that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born into this world, the Word made flesh, Hosanna, a Messiah, the Lord, in Excelsis Deo, and the like. The Magi, and Herod all were seeking him, too, they called him the King of the Jews. . . Ezekiel the Prophet foretold of the coming of a Son of Man, Jeremiah foretold of a Righteous Branch, even further back, there was the need of a sacrificial lamb to take the place of Isaac, having been spared, that father, Father Abraham, would not be asked to complete the task of sacrificing his own son, that job would be reserved for God himself, for since the beginning, way back in Genesis, after Eve, and then Adam had partaken of the fruit, falling us completely into sin and darkness, it was said that Satan's head must be struck, a battle against sin and darkness had begun. . . but the prophet Isaiah called him, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and of course Prince of Peace, and it is this name, Prince of Peace that I would like to discuss today, for Peace is something we sorely need.
Here we stand in the midst of the war that has raged on and on, seemingly without end, but war is nothing new, since the birth of Christ, the coming of this Prince of Peace there has always been war, before the Prince of Peace there was war. No, war is not something that is limited to just our time, nor to only our shores, even now war rages across this world, though most of us are so consumed and rightly so, that we often lose the perspective of history, but one thing has been surely the case so far in this conflict, is that on Christmas, if only for a brief season, the cannonballs cease their flying, and the night sky is cleared of the smoke of war, and we can see the skies, we can see the stars, and if we were looking up at the sky on a night like this, what would it be like if it was to us that those angels appeared? What would they sing to us? Would their song be the same? Would they Sing of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all men? Would their message be that same message of Peace to us? And if it was, how would we respond? What would it look like? What is this peace they sing of? What is it and when does it begin? Dear God, open our ears and our eyes that we may learn your Peace. . .
Our Old Testament speaks of peace often, those heroes of the Biblical story, the Hebrews spoke of peace often. . . their word for peace was shalom. It makes up the second half of the name Jerusalem. . . the king's peace. . . It was a greeting, it was a well wishing, like our God Gi'de'en. It encapsulated health, happiness, comfort, and most importantly being in the right relationship and balance with God. And to them the beginning of faith, the beginning of relationship with God, was remembering who God is, who we are as his people, and what he has done in this world. What he has done for His people. . . carrying them by hand, delivering them from their bondage, and giving them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land for all time. . . and yet squandered because they forgot. . . they were to write it on their fence posts, and wear it on their faces, they were to teach it to their children, reciting it at the beginning and end of each day. . . The Lord of All is One, Love the Lord with all thy Heart, all thy Soul, and all thy Might. But they forgot. Prophets came to remind them. Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant. . . one where this would be written on our hearts, when that messiah would come. . . but here it is, and we have forgotten again.
The Prince of Peace. . . what would we think if those angels were to come to us today, bringing us those good tidings, here to our world? Would they send us running towards Bethlehem to worship the new born king, the messiah, the Lord, or would they have us running in shame, in fear, away. For we have forgotten, and we know it. We are not the first to forget, but to be reminded in a blinding light of glory, breaking up the night, filling up that quiet, comfortable, dare I say peaceful, darkness with light. . . that would probably send us running to hide ourselves back in the darkness. Because the Angel of the Lord coming in glory, with the glory showing all around us would be frightening, it would change our world. It would make us think twice about what we have been fighting for, and against. It certainly would make us all think twice about what we are fighting for and against. For in the light we can see ourselves, there is not blessed darkness where we can hide. . .it  is all out there in the open, full disclosure, complete, and whole. . . and the problem is we find that we are broken. We fear that we are broken. We fear that we are not worthy. We fear that we must hoard, and fight, and claw, and scratch, all just to find our way through this world of darkness.
But wait, this isn't darkness at all, this is the light. This is not the darkness. The angels are singing. . . and they say, "Fear Not!" These fears that you feel are just the shadows of the darkness. . . they are the remnants of what you are so stubbornly clinging to. Let go. . . Fear not. . . for behold. I bring you good tidings, of great joy, for the world has changed. The world is not a world of darkness, but has been claimed by this light. There is nothing to fear, for fear is just a remnant of that dark and dead world of yesterday. I bring you Peace. . .the Prince of Peace has come. Peace. . . your wholeness, your health, your happiness, and your rightness with God, remember again, remember what God had done, is doing, and will do, what that baby in the manger means for us.  . . the manger that begins his humble life, and the cross that ends it, but neither are what they seem, for the light just overcomes the darkness again and again, in him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike. For what happens on that third day, yes the son rises. . . light again shining out of the darkness.
Do you have darkness in you? Do you have brokenness? Are you afraid? of the future? of your past? of this moment? Yes we do, of course we do, but Isaiah, he through whom, God first coined this descriptive epithet, Prince of Peace, also said:

"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your lord! Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished. The grass withereth, flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever."

Even in the midst of war and unrest, God's word comes to us, giving us comfort, telling us to not be afraid, and bringing us good tidings of great joy. . . Peace on Earth and Good Will to all men. Are you broken? maybe. . . not enough. Do you have darkness in you? maybe . . . not enough. Are you afraid of not being worthy? Or not worth it? Is there something you could have done to earn all this that you failed to do? maybe. . . never enough? Enough, no, nothing is enough to separate you from this light. You didn't earn it, and it won't be taken away, fear not, remember, and be at peace. For the Prince of Peace has Come, "in him is life, and the life is the light of men. and the light shineth perpetually in the darkness. . . the darkness comprehends it not. . .  the darkness forgets it, but for us. On a night like this, clear, quiet, and dark. . . let us let, the herald angels sing for us anew. . . and then may we be filled, not with fear, but with great joy, so much so that we run, to worship the king, who is in the manger, written forever on our hearts.