Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Meditation

Here is my Christmas Eve homily. Our Peace Now. Text: Micah 5.2-5a.

Sam Thielman, a film critic for World Magazine, wrote, “Going to the movies has always been a good way to figure out what’s on everybody’s mind, and if you didn’t know we lived in a world filled with natural disaster and economic failure before you walked into the theater, you certainly know it coming out of Zombiland, 2012, 9 and now The Road.” (p.22, Dec. 19, 2009)

If Thielman’s original comment is true, that movies reflect what’s on our collective minds, then tonight, in this place, we have much need to attend to the words of the prophet Micah and the singing of the angels – “that a in the City of David, a Savior has been born to you . . . glory to God on the highest and on earth peace, to those on whom His favor rests.”

Micah, a prophet of the late 8th century B.C. was greatly concerned with the rejection of the covenant between the children of Abraham and Yahweh, God of the universe. That rejection was showing itself in many religious, political, and practical facets. Micah like other prophets said, there is a price to be rendered for abandoning God, that price was being illustrated across the northern border as Israel, the break away brethren, succumbed to Assyrian attackers and became a decimated country side.

What kind of future did Judah have? Would Judah have the inner strength to stand alone? If she needed help, where would it come from? Could the prophets help? Would the Lord strengthen the armies of the King of Judah?

Micah said, “not these kings, nor these prophets. To have a day of peace we’ll have to revisit Bethlehem, the small town in the shadows of Jerusalem. To find a King who can rule justly and mercifully like David, will require one whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Isaiah, prophesying about the same time said, a shoot from the stump of Jesse (11.1), will appear and the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him.

Micah said out of Bethlehem would come one who would stand and shepherd his flock, leading them and guiding them – not driving them. Out of Bethlehem would come one who would stand in the strength of the Lord – and not the strength of armies or alliances. Out of Bethlehem would come one who would stand in the majesty of the name of the Lord – not in the majesty of pomp, office, or attire. Out of Bethlehem, a least likely place, would come our peace.

To the people of Micah’s day – peace could have been interpreted as the cessation of war. Some today might make the same equation. If we’d bring our troops home from foreign lands, if we’d lay down our arms, then we’d have peace. It doesn’t take long before such notions are dislodged. Many of us, far from war zones will see the films which speak of present or approaching doom. We’ll see them not for entertainment alone, but our minds are uneasy, our spirits jittery, our souls on edge. Maybe, we think, if we face it, it won’t be so bad. Maybe there will be a sort of peace that comes.

Micah described peace not as an emotion, a feeling, a state of mind or being, a lack of hostility – those can be aspects of peace, but peace in its fullness is a person. Messiah, one from Bethlehem, from Jesse’s stump, one whose lineage is old, will be our peace. Peace is found, Micah says, in a person.

The angels appeared to Shepherds encamped around Bethlehem to tell them, one is born in their midst and sleeping in a manger in their hometown, maybe their manger. To the shepherds, came the Shepherd – though small and vulnerable, Messiah has come. And to them, comes peace. They are invited to look on the one who is the Prince of peace, the Savior, the Messiah – for on them rests the favor of God.

As we gather here, to worship, to adore Jesus, we gather with hearts often panting for peace. Tonight, hear the good news, our Peace has come – into a world still very much at war, into a world which looks to thrive on anxiety and despair. Peace has come. And His favor, his protection, his joy, his peace is available to all who look to Him.

I want to share a story of the power of His peace.

The Truce of 1914

In 1914, when soldiers in Europe marched out to the first great European war of the 20th century, they said they would be home by Christmas to celebrate their victory. But the young men were not home by Christmas. The war dragged on and on for years and Europe was never to be the same again.

In December of 1914, however, a strange thing happened on the Western front. It was Christmas Eve, and the weather suddenly got cold, freezing the slush and water of the trenches in which the men were bunkered down. In the German trenches, soldiers started lighting candles. British sentries reported that there appeared to be small lights, raised on poles or bayonets and, although these lanterns clearly illuminated the German troops, the British held their fire. Even more startlingly, British officers saw through binoculars that some enemy troops were holding Christmas trees over their heads with lighted candles in their branches. The Germans, who celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, were extending holiday greetings to their enemies.

A few German soldiers started singing carols and it was soon picked up all along the line as others joined in harmonizing. Then they began singing “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” The British immediately recognized the melody and began singing “Silent Night” along with the Germans.

Then occurred one of the most unusual incidents in military history. One by one, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and ventured into no man’s land – too many of them to prevent their superior officers from objecting. An undeclared truce had broken out spontaneously, against all orders and the rules of military combat.

One eye-witness account of the unofficial truce is given in the wartime diary kept by veteran Frank Richards. In it he wrote: “We stuck up a board with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy stuck up a similar one. Two of our men threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads as two of the Germans did the same, our two going to meet them. They shook hands and then we all go out of the trench and so did the Germans.”

They gave each other small gifts from chocolate bars to tins of processed beef. Others joined in and as the day progressed, this mass fraternization spread along the front to include soccer matches between the two forces. Men who, the day before, had been shooting to kill were sharing family snapshots.

The men sat around campfires together singing the choruses of Christmas carols. “Silent Night” being the favorite since it was known by both sides. Before midnight they said their farewells and returned to their own lines.

Where ever you’re at tonight, whatever duties are before you, whatever conflict before you, or trials ahead of you – may the Prince of Peace be your Peace now. Welcome Him. Embrace Him. Adore Him.

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