Sermon title: CHRISTMAS: PEACE ON EARTH?
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, December 15, 2019
As the Christmas holiday approached in the year 1914,
the world was at war.
It seemed like it wasn’t going to be a very merry Christmas.
Back on June 28th a Serbian terrorist
assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Few Americans cared much about that event,
and many had never even heard of
either one of those far-off European countries.
But, as a result of that assassination
Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
That would have been a small war,
but a treaty required Russia to defend Serbia.
So, Russia declared war against Austria-Hungary.
Another treaty required Germany to defend Austria-Hungary,
so Germany declared war on Russia.
France had a treaty promising to defend Russia,
so France entered the war, too.
German forces marched through Belgium to attack France,
and that kicked-in a 75-year-old treaty
for England to defend Belgium
And British entry into the war automatically obligated
the British colonies of
Australia, Canada, India,
New Zealand and South Africa.
So, in less than a week
there was a World War being fought—
a World War that no one really wanted,
but that treaty entanglements forced on everyone.
Other countries would also join the fray.
And that war would eventually kill around 10-million people.
The United States didn’t enter into the war
until almost 3 years later.
But as Christmas, 1914, approached,
the countries at war
were already mobilizing 6 million fighting men.
British and French forces pushed back
the advancing German army along the Western Front.
By Christmas time, they had reached a stalemate.
Each side dug trenches,
and the soldiers of each side
hunkered down in those trenches.
British and French soldiers
exchanged rifle and heavy artillery fire
with equal numbers of Germans in the opposite trenches,
just a short distance away.
Every so often the commanding officers
would order their men to climb out of the trenches
and advance against the enemy—
only to be driven back to the trenches
by heavy fire from the other side.
Casualties were heavy,
and dead bodies littered the ground
in the No Man’s Land
between the opposing trenches.
That’s what it was like
along the hundreds of miles of the Western Front,
as Christmas approached.
On December 7th, Pope Benedict
begged the warring governments
for an official Christmas truce.
The wording of his request asked
“that the guns may fall silent
at least upon the night the angels sang.”
But the governments on both sides refused.
They wanted their men to keep fighting,
and those were the orders they gave.
However, in the trenches on the front lines,
something different began to occur.
On Christmas Eve, soldiers on each side
began singing Christmas Carols,
and the shooting stopped.
Each side sang “Silent Night, Holy Night”
in their own native language,
but the tune was the same.
Some German soldiers lit candles
and placed them atop their trenches.
On Christmas morning,
some of the men began raising their heads from the trenches.
They shouted Christmas greetingsto those on the other side.
When they saw those on the other side do the same,
and no one got shot,
cautious individuals began climbing out of the trenches
without their weapons.
In some places along the Western Front,
the first thing those on each side did
was reclaim from the No Man’s Land
the dead bodies of their friends.
They held quick burial services,
in some cases with soldiers from opposing sides
praying and burying their dead together.
Somewhere else along the Front,
the unofficial truce began
when a British soldier hidden in the trenches
sent a soccer ball flying
into No Man’s Land.
A German soldier emerged from his trench
and kicked the ball back.
Then other men from both sides
climbed out of the trenches without their weapons,
and an informal soccer match
was soon under way
in the No Man’s Land.
In other places along the front,
after greeting one another with “Merry Christmas”
in their own languages,
men exchanged gifts with enemy soldiers,
and ate together,
sharing holiday treats
that had been sent from their families at home.
They shook hands and exchanged presents
of cigarettes and plum puddings,
and souvenirs from their home countries.
Many sang carols together.
The Western Front stretched for hundreds of miles,
and fighting continued along parts of it.
But the guns fell silent in many areas,
and reports indicated around 100,000
British and German troops
held this impromptu Christmas cease-fire together.
In some areas it continued the next day, too.
And in some sections of the front lines,
the shooting didn’t resume until after New Years Day.
And that was the Christmas truce of 1914.
It was never repeated.
Orders came down from military high commands
not to let it happen ever again.
Future attempts at holiday ceasefires
were blocked by officers’ threats of disciplinary action.
So, what happened to the Christmas slogan “Peace on Earth”?
Don’t we see that expression everywhere at Christmas time?
If Christmas was supposed to bring “Peace on Earth,”
then where is that peace?
That question is brought to mind
by the familiar carol
titled, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
We sang it last week.
The lyrics come from a poem
written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
He wrote it on Christmas Day in 1863,
in the middle of the Civil War.
The lyrics begin like this:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
But then he brings up
the harsh reality of the world around us.
We just looked at the First World War,
but Longfellow was face-to-face with the Civil War.
In the next stanza he says,
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Yes, that is enough to cause despair.
Where is this promised “Peace on Earth”?
Longfellow concluded on a positive note, saying:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
So, he concludes by expressing confidence
that God will indeed bring “Peace on Earth.”
But, why is that promise
associated with Christmas.
We’ll see it,
if we turn to Luke Chapter 2,
which we read from
in this morning’s Responsive Reading.
Beginning at Verse 1, we read a familiar part
of the Christmas story:
1 And it came to pass in those days
that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that all the world should be registered.
2 This census first took place
while Quirinius was governing Syria.
3 So all went to be registered,
everyone to his own city.
This reference to the Roman census is important,
because it shows the Christmas story is historical fact.
It’s not presented as something that happened
‘once upon a time, in a land far away,’
like we might find in the introduction of a fairy tale.
No, Luke is relating events that actually occurred
at an historically verifiable time and place.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee,
out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea,
to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5 to be registered with Mary,
his betrothed wife, who was with child.
The genealogies found in Matthew Ch. 1 and Luke Ch. 3
place Jesus in “the house and lineage of David.”
And this established Jesus’ legal right to be king.
God had promised
that a descendant of King David
would rule over Israel forever.
Verse 6 continues,
6 So it was, that while they were there,
the days were completed
for her to be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son,
and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,
and laid Him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
This was a humble birth.
Instead of a palace, the baby Jesus was born in a barn.
Instead of being laid in a crib made of gold
and adorned with precious stones and jewels,
the Son of God was laid in an animal’s feeding trough.
God’s ways are not man’s ways.
The same goes for the public announcement of Jesus’ birth.
Angels could have lit up the night sky over Jerusalem,
or over Rome,
the populous capital of the Roman Empire.
Or, angels could have appeared simultaneously
all over the world.
But, instead, God made it happen as we read,
beginning with Verse 8:
8 Now there were in the same country
shepherds living out in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And behold,
an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were greatly afraid.
10 Then the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid, for behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy
which will be to all people.
11 For there is born to you this day
in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be the sign to you:
You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths,
lying in a manger.”
And next comes the announcement
that promises “Peace on Earth”:
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,
goodwill toward men!”
Or “peace on earth” -- as it is worded in many translations.
The angels were announcing “peace on earth”
because Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Hundreds of years earlier Isaiah 9:6 foretold Jesus’ birth
6 For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Christ is “the Prince of Peace,”
and he will bring “peace on earth”
in God’s due time.
Isaiah 2:4 foretold it this way:
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
But Jesus will bring that world peace at his Second Coming.
He will fulfill those prophecies
when he returns in poweras King of God’s kingdom.
But, in the meantime,Jesus explained at Luke 12:51,
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?
No, I tell you, but division.”
Our Lord explains it further in Matthew, Chapter 10,
beginning at Verse 34, where he says,
34 “Do not suppose that I have come
to bring peace to the earth.
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies
will be the members of his own household.’
The division will be over following Jesus.
He says, a man’s enemies
will be the members of his own household’
because unbelieving family members
will try to draw us away from Jesus.
And, since Jesus is “the Way and the Truth and the Life,”
drawing us away from Jesus
means drawing us away from life—
drawing us to our death.
Christ continues in Matthew 10:37,
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother
more than me
is not worthy of me;
anyone who loves their son or daughter
more than me is not worthy of me.
38 Whoever does not
take up their cross and follow me
is not worthy of me.
39 Whoever finds their life will lose it,
and whoever loses their life for my sake
will find it.
Our Lord Jesus’ arrival on earth
as the baby born in Bethlehem
set off a war--
a war much greater than World War One—
a world-wide war for men’s souls.
That war for human souls
has been going on for nearly 2,000 years now.
The losing side has already lost,
but they don’t know it.
Christ has already won the victory.
He won that victory at the Cross of Calvary,
when he died to pay the penalty for our sins
and to give us the free gift of eternal life.
When we choose to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,
we share in that victory.
And if we look at Philippians Chapter 4,
we’ll see that we can find the promised “Peace on Earth”
that Christmas promise of Peace.
When we share in Christ’s victory,
we don’t have to wait
for the war to be over
to experience the Peace that Christ brings.
Philippians 4, beginning at Verse 6 says,
6 Be anxious for nothing,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true,
whatever is honorable, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think on these things.
9 Whatever you have learned or received
or heard from me, or seen in me,
put into practice.
And the God of peace will be with you.