Christmas Peace

Luke 2:10-14 (ESV Strong’s)
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!”

These simple shepherds were privy to a scene that the rest of us must wait for till we are in the presence of God in heaven to witness. Glory to God in the highest, in Greek “in excelsis deo”, which literally means None is higher than God. “And on earth peace” – The Greek grammar, here in these phrases, is not the normal grammar experienced elsewhere probably due to the attempt to translate into the Greek the Aramaic or Hebrew spoken by the angels.

This is not God wishing peace for the earth as some would have you believe. This is the announcement that Peace Himself had come. Peace arrived and is now lying in a manger in Bethlehem. That’s why the angelic army adds a caveat often overlooked at Christmas time…on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.

The Offering of Peace

That first Christmas an army of angels announced the coming of peace, the Prince of Peace in fact. What do we read in Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Jesus?

Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Jesus is the Prince or the Ruler over peace. Later in Isaiah, it says this:

Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.

Trusting in God, and the New Testament sense, trusting in Jesus keeps one in peace. The world may be going crazy, but those in Christ are able to have peace in the middle of conflict. Believers are the ones referred to here as those with whom God is pleased. Peace is not a universal given at Christmas time for everyone. It is offered to everyone in the person of Jesus Christ. As Paul says,

Ephesians 2:14 (ESV)
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

PEACE, MAN, PEACE

Ever since those words were spoken, and long before, mankind has searched for peace. Man’s longing for peace didn’t start with the hippies, didn’t start with “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” it has been sought after forever, mostly in vain. Despite what John Lennon advocated, it seems like we as human beings just can’t give peace a chance at all!

At Christmas, people always speak about peace, yet according to the New York Times, in the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for only 268 of them, or less than 8 percent of recorded history. Today, they tell us there are over 800 armed conflicts currently raging in 69 countries around the world, including the Russo-Ukrainian war that still drags on.

So, this Christmas Day, I want to remind you that real peace, forever peace, peace that passes all understanding is possible and is available for you, but you will never find it in mankind’s government, or the media’s latest philosophy, or the good intentions of men.

A Tiny Candle of Peace

Look at the mess in the last few years in our country alone. We are so confused as a people, we exclude people in the name of inclusivity, we compel people to do things they don’t want to in the name of safety, and we fight over the definition of male and female! There is no peace.

That first Christmas the angel promised peace on earth, not to all men, but to all men with whom God is pleased, that is those who know Him, accept His gift, and honour Him. And we have peace because we know the Prince of Peace.

Yet sometimes, in an ocean of conflict, madness and destruction, God shines a tiny candle of peace that speaks of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. So today I want to share the story with you of one such ray of hope in the midst of a world of manmade death and destruction.

John 14:27 (ESV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE

It’s December 1914, and the Great War has been raging for eight months. In that time the German army swept through Belgium, and drove on towards Paris, but were repelled by a combined French army and British Expeditionary Force in the battle of Aisne. At that point in northern France and Belgium the war deteriorated into a static war, with trenches stretching from Belgium to Switzerland.

The soldiers of both sides had confidently thought the war would be over by Christmas. However, that first Christmas there they stood in waterlogged trenches, freezing, miserable and homesick, gazing fearfully across no man’s land at the enemy.

They were shelled, machine gunned and fought not only the enemy, but also the cold and the lice and rats. They were lonely, afraid, freezing, miserable…what kind of Christmas is this?

The Truce Begins

In the Ypres sector of the Western front in Belgium, British forces from the Northumberland Hussars 7th Division stood guard on the parapet overlooking no man’s land. And as the sound of guns and artillery faded away on that Christmas Day, it was replaced by this sound coming from the German lines beyond the wire…singing…

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh

A few British soldiers raised their heads above the parapet, listening to a language they did not understand but a tune they did recognise, hearing an enemy they had been told were devils intent on conquering the world, sing praises to the same Saviour they worshipped Sundays in their churches. They noticed that the Germans had set candles on the top of their trenches, and in a few trenches. The Germans displayed makeshift Christmas trees they had fashioned from a few battered branches left after shelling.

And something broke in their spirit. A longing rose in their hearts that on this of all days, they might find a moment of peace in a mad world of carnage. Both sides began to shout Christmas greetings to each other. They stood at their posts, cold, wet, and tense, wondering what would come next.

The French and the Germans

Further down the line in the French sector the experience was similar.

As the guns and shelling began to fall silent, as the French soldiers stood damp and miserable in their trenches, they too heard the sound of Christmas carols and hymns drifting across no man’s land from the German trenches.

Then one lone French voice began its refrain…

Douce nuit, sainte nuit !
Dans les cieux ! L’astre luit.

Then one by one others took up the refrain…

Le mystère / annoncé / s’accomplit
Cet enfant sur la paille/ endormi,
C’est l’amour infini!
C’est l’amour infini!

Then a German soldier quietly, fearfully, climbed to the top of the trench, waving is arms to show he had no weapon, and he called out to the French men.

Others join him on the top of the trench, and French soldiers climbed from their trench, and both sides began to take terrifying steps into no man’s land, calling out

Frohe Weihnachten Franzose
And Joyeux Noël, Fritz!

The British and the Germans

Back in Ypres, the British soldiers also cautiously made their way to the middle of the shell torn, blood-soaked quagmire between the trenches. The Germans got out of their trenches, both sides fearful that the magic of this fragile moment would be shattered by the sound of a bullet or shell. They met tentatively in the middle. They began to speak to each other, although they could not understand properly. But with hand gestures and impromptu presents of cigarettes and chocolate and alcohol, they laughed and sang hymns together.

Some soldiers buried the many dead, others talked quietly and smoked, and then one produced a football, and they started to play. Reports suggest that the Germans beat the British 3-2. Some things never change.

All along the line, men swapped stories, showed photographs of their families, and shared cigarettes and Christmas cheer. The men, as the Generals later described it, “fraternised with the enemy”.

But for a moment or two in the midst of horror, death and war, a ray of peace and hope shone through as enemies celebrated together the birth of the Prince of Peace.

And the British soldiers, having heard their enemy sing glory to God in the highest, began to lift their voices and sing too…

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

The Aftermath

The following year this scene would not be repeated. It would never be repeated, because the generals did not want the soldiers seeing each other as human beings, with families and children and a sense of humour. They didn’t want them to see the enemy as worshipping the same God. They issued orders against such friendliness and tried to demonise the enemy.

But for that first year of 1914, during one of the worst wars in human history, peace reigned for a few short hours. Then, as that most extraordinary day ended, the men reluctantly returned to their trenches, and the mud, and the lice and the wet and the war.

In the midst of the hatred and carnage of the Great War, the significance of that tiny baby born in Bethlehem, of that wonderful gift so freely given by God to win back the souls of men and women, was truly felt. After all, even today,

WE ALL NEED A PIECE OF PEACE

Those soldiers experienced peace for a day. This Christmas 108 years later Jesus is offering you true, inner peace, a peace that lasts not only for a day but for eternity. That little baby was God Almighty, come to earth, humbling Himself and opening the door for you to experience peace with God, with each other and peace in every area of your life.

In 2022 we still live in a world of fearfulness. People fear COVID, they fear world war again, they fear interest rate rises, inflation, rent rises and the housing crisis. We have more mental health and anxiety and domestic violence than ever before. Our nation, from government to school and even churches are morally falling apart.

Then we have Christmas 2022, with more social tension, financial tension, and relationship tension than ever. Some of you expect to walk on eggshells at Christmas dinner. Some of you are wondering whether you should call someone whom you have been estranged from for years. How can we possibly find peace in all that?

PEACE GUARDS YOUR HEART

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

If you don’t have peace in your soul today, I can offer you the peace that passes all understanding, the chance to connect with the Prince of Peace Himself.

In other words, you’ll experience calm in the midst of chaos. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, who is attacking you, how you feel or how lonely you might be this Christmas, when you know Jesus, you can pray and be confident that God has heard your prayer.

You know He has heard you not because the problem is necessarily solved, but because of the peace that God gives you. It’s as if God puts soldiers and sentries around your feelings and thoughts.

IT STARTS WITH A BABY IN A MANGER

And that’s His gift to you this Christmas. Our world is a mess, standards and behaviour in our society are falling apart. Your family might be tense or self-destructing, but today God is offering you the peace that passes all understanding.

Remember the verse we started with, where the angel says,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

That’s the formula for peace. It starts with giving glory to God in the highest. You may have ignored Him, neglected Him, even been angry at Him all year, even years. However, on this day of all days, maybe you need to start giving Him the glory and honour He deserves.

Then the next step towards that peace the angels promised is to become one of those, with whom He is well pleased. It’s asking Jesus into your life as Lord and Saviour.

The Peace God Offers You

If you want that peace, guess what would please God right now? What would please Him most is you for to accept Jesus right now as your Lord and Saviour. Your sin has you destined for hell, but Jesus came as a baby that first Christmas. He grew into a man, and then chose to lay His life down for you. To die in your place and give you the peace you’ve dreamed of.

I don’t want you to leave this place without the peace God offers you.

The Bible says,

John 3:16-17 (ESV Strong’s)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

He loves you so much, so what’s stopping you opening your heart and receiving His perfect gift this Christmas? In the midst of a world that’s out of control, just like those soldiers in 1914, you can experience true peace this Christmas. The peace that passes all understanding. The Prince of Peace who is Jesus Christ.

It’s time to trust in Jesus.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Saviour is born!
Christ the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

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