“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
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Welcome to the most celebrated birthday party! How many times have you celebrated it? How many times have you heard this story from Luke? How in just a few scarce sentences we can hear retold the most significant birth ever.
Why do we remember this birthday? Why do we celebrate it? Why do people all around the world for already two millennia come together and listen to this well knows story of Jesus’ birth? There is no much grandeur in that story.
Except, perhaps the angels and heavenly host terrifying the life out of shepherds. Otherwise, neither time, nor place, nor people involved. As ordinary as it gets. But then – why are you here?
Let me suggest that it is because of what this birth means for us. For you. What it promises to us, what it brings to us, whoever we are, whatever your worries or hopes or dreams are. This birth changes everything.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Yes, yes, Lord, grant us peace! Grant us peace! But – what do we mean by this? How do you understand what this peace is about?
It may mean different things for different people. Perhaps, for you peace may mean that everything in your life would be under your control. No chaos. No loose ends. That you have settled in so well, that you have found your comfortable place, and everything is going according to your plans and hopes.
Perhaps, it is about your physical safety. Indeed, we are blessed to live in time and place when we don’t suffer from warfare or tribal violence. Most of us live in quite safe conditions, Barossa and Australia in general are quite enjoyable.
But perhaps, it is about your relationships; about having good and satisfying relationships, without conflicts and arguments, without envy, jealously and betrayal, where we flourish surrounded by people who are dear to our hearts.
Surely, we can continue and make this list even longer, we all may have our unique hopes and expectation, our own kind of peace that we are looking for. And now, just listen! we have this wonderful declaration:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Isn’t that great?! God has promised that there will be peace on earth for His people, for us. For you! Isn’t that so hopeful, so encouraging?!
Our God will grant us peace. He will grant us that peace that we long for, that we hope for, that we dream about. But … wait? Is this really true? Those may be things that we are hoping for, but is this what He promises?
Just reflect on what we know about Jesus’ birth. Was there peace in relationships? What about Joseph and Mary? When bridegroom learns that his bride is pregnant. How? Who? When something has happened that no one can wrap their minds around?
What about peace and control over their lives? During the last weeks of Mary’s pregnancy, they are compelled by the decree of the ruthless Roman government to travel across the country just for the sake of census. To struggle staying in overcrowded house while giving birth to their firstborn. And soon after being forced as refugees to flee to another country.
What about peace in their situation? What about being on the “Wanted” poster for the cruel tyrant Herod, chased by battle hardened solders who are looking for you with one mission – to terminate your life. To destroy you!
“… and on earth peace among those with whom God the Father is pleased!” Neither Jesus, nor His family had much of that peace that we hope for. But it was Jesus of whom the Father said: “With Him I am well pleased!”
What about your lives? Does being a Christian bring you this sort of peace, where you are spared from all the troubles and trials? Are Christians free from financial troubles? Do we have guaranteed jobs? No problems in business?
Does future always look clear and everything is under our control? Are we spared from uncertainties and sudden kicks of this life? Are we spared from encounters with people who take pleasure in hurting us one way or another?
What about our relationships? Are all our longings fulfilled? Are we always surrounded by people who love and cherish and appreciate us? What about our safety? Even living is such safe country, how much violence happens behind the closed doors, when we may suffer from those the closest to us?
What do you say? Where the heck is that peace? We can’t see it in Jesus’ live and we often can’t see in our lives either. Have our God made a false promise? Has He forgotten about us? Maybe He doesn’t care about us?
But what if He meant … a different peace? What about this understanding of peace? Peace – as our state of complete trust, where you know with your whole heart, that you are loved more than you can comprehend by the most beautiful, by the most magnificent and faithful person ever, by Jesus Christ.
That He daily looks at you with immense affection and delight: “You, you are my beloved, you are my precious, you are so good for me, I promise that nothing will separate us, and I will be with you no matter what happens!”
What about such definition? As the Holy Spirit put it in Paul’s letter to Christians in Philippe: “God’s peace that surpasses all our understanding.” Peace as heartfelt assurance that you are in the hands of your loving Father.
Peace as your restful state, when you fully trust with your entire being, that this Jesus, the Son of God, who is your Lord, who calls you His friend, His brother, His sister, that He will never ever abandon you. And how would we know it?
Because of what He did for you. He became so vulnerable for your sake. Born as a little baby. In a hostile world. Chased by His enemies since His first breath. Hated and despised by those whom He came to rescue and bless.
Sacrificing His life for apathetic, indifferent and even spiteful people, just like us. Why did He do this? So that He could bring you God’s peace. So that He can become your peace. That surpasses our understanding…
You know it quite well, that it doesn’t matter so much what our situation in life is like, what the externals are, what happens around us. There is something else that matters so much more. And that is – who is with you.
Who is with you? You know the answer. The Holy Spirit reveals it to you and convinces you. Whatever challenges you may be facing, whatever dark the world may seem from your perspective, whatever little external peace is there in your life… Jesus Christ is with you.
Your Immanuel. Your God with us. To surround you, to fill you with His peace, to gently whisper in your ear: “I am with you. I am always with you. Trust me, throw all your worries and burdens at me. One day this all will be over. For I am coming again soon. Let me be your peace!”
I pray this Christmas evening that you hear this voice in your heart not only today, but every day. May our Lord grant you His peace. May you know and experience that He is with you. Always.