Silent Night

Luke 2:8-15

By now the gifts have all been open, the boxes and discarded wrapping paper have been taken to the street. Most of the leftovers have been eaten or also discarded. And now all we are left with the memories of Christmas and possibly a few broken toys and lost gift receipts. Finally the rush of the holiday is coming to an end, and I wanted to take a moment this morning for you to think, really think about the holiday. If you were to summarize the Christmas story with one word, what word would you choose?

Presents? Food? Hustle? that might describe the season but not really the story.

Maybe Family? That’s a good word, but once again not really the Christmas Story. 

The word you are looking for has to capture not only the greatest human need but the way that God in His infinite love would meet that need. You might think that it is impossible to summarize the Christmas Story with just one word. But it doesn't take paragraph after paragraph, written on page after page, filling volume after volume to summarize how God chose to respond to the outrageous rebellion of everyone in all humanity from Adam and Eve to you and me. God's response to the sin and brokenness of people can be captured in a single word.

Maybe you are trying to get a head of me and you are thinking about the word mercy, or grace, or forgiveness. But even those words cannot adequately describe the Christmas Story. Because God chose to respond to our brokenness not with a word, but with a name: Jesus.

Our final hymn this morning is probably the second Christmas song you learned as a child, after Jingle Bells. Silent Night is a beautiful description of the night that God kept His promise. In this one song we have the angels, Mary, the Christ Child and the promise that we can sleep in the peace of heaven.  As we take one last look into that manger, our focus is on that beautiful baby boy. It’s through the Christ Child that God comes into the chaos of the world and the chaos of our lives to offer us what we desperately needed most; Shalom.

Shalom is not a word that we use very often. Usually when you hear it you think about peace. And while it is the Hebrew word that we usually translate as peace or peacemaking. It is also a traditional Jewish greeting like we use hello or goodbye. It’s a word of blessing for someone’s life that we find in Numbers 6:24-26: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you Shalom.

Every year we spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to find peace, but very few people have taken advantage of the gift that God offered us when He sent Jesus into the world. Shalom would better be translated wholeness or completeness.  It refers to harmony and unity between all things. That’s why Shalom is a central theme of the biblical story.

In the beginning there was Shalom.  Everything was good.  Everything had a name.  Everything was provided for.  There was harmony.  Creation was complete and whole.  God’s looked at all that He had created and declared shalom.

But then the disobedience of Adam and Eve sent the world into chaos. Sin began and continues to destroy the goodness and harmony of God’s creation.  It unravels what was once whole.  It tears down relationships and causes hostility between people. If Shalom is the way things are supposed to be, then sin is the way things are not supposed to be.

When God saw our great need, God didn’t respond with a thing. He didn’t respond by establishing an institution. It wasn't a process or a program. In His infinite wisdom God knew that the only thing that could rescue us from ourselves and repair the horrendous damage that sin had done to the world was not a thing at all. It was a person, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus. God's response to our rebellion was to give us Himself. He is our rescue, our forgiveness, our restoration, life, hope, peace, and security.

Jesus came so that Shalom could be restored. Jesus says in John 14:27: Shalom I leave with you; my shalom I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. The peace that God offers through Jesus is different than anything we can find in the world. Warren Wiersbe points out that the world bases its peace on its resources, while God’s peace depends on a relationship. True Shalom is found in Christ alone.

On that silent night in a manger out in Bethlehem, God sent Jesus so we could have Shalom With Him

One of my favorite passages is found in the beautiful words from the prophet Zephaniah who wrote in chapter 3:17: The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. I have always been drawn to the fact that when the Creator and Savior of this world considers me, His love causes Him to rejoice over me with singing. I remember holding my boys in my arms and being overwhelmed with love, that often times I would just look at their faces and start to sing to them. God’s overwhelming love for us makes Him break into song.

That picture stands in stark contrast to the idea of His justice. Because of my choices, because of the devastating effects of my sin, I am at war with God. Paul would say in Romans 5:10 that we are enemies of God. Which many of us find hard to believe because we are good people. I mean I don’t feel like I’ve been at war with God. And while we might not think we’re fighting Him, the Bible clearly teaches that God is the enemy of sin. Before you accepted His gift of grace you were locked in conflict with the Almighty.

That’s why I believe before we can really understand the shalom we are offered with God we must first come to grips with what our relationship with God looks like apart from Christ. While God loves us and cherishes us, He is also repulsed and filled with anger because of our sinfulness. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people…

That’s the bad news, but Paul also shares some good news in Romans 5:1 where he writes: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have shalom with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Because on that silent night, Jesus came into the world, lived a life of sacrifice, and freely gave His own life on the Cross, you and I can now be at peace with God. The Father poured out all of His wrath and fury on that baby born in the manger. Jesus came to provide shalom and make everything right.

We don’t deserve this shalom. In fact, what we deserve is death and eternal punishment. But, because of God’s great love, He provided a way for us to be at peace with Him. God’s mercy and His justice converge on the cross of Calvary. When we put our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous. We are at peace with God not because of anything we have done, but because of what was done by our Savior.

Secondly, God Sent Jesus so we Could Have Peace Within.

In Luke’s account of that silent night we read that on the night Jesus was born the great company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth shalom to men on whom His favor rests.   

Every one of Paul’s letters talks about or includes a greeting of shalom. And not only does Paul wish for it, he tells us what we must do to find it. In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul instructs us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We have so much inner turmoil in our lives, our souls are burdened with worry and concern. Paul’s a realist and he knows that we can’t just decided to not be anxious and suddenly we’re flooded with peace. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t will yourself to shalom. The path to inner peace means that we are moved into the action of prayer.

The word petition carries with it the idea of being specific about what our wants, needs, and problems. Paul is painting a picture of us coming to the throne of grace with our arms filled with cares and concerns and then we hand them to God and trusting that He loves us enough to do what is best for us. But it is also calling us to trust that God understands things we will never understand. When something happens or doesn’t happen, God is pouring out His love in our lives. When we don’t see the benefit in something, when we feel pain or loss, we have to trust that God loves us. 

God’s peace is dependent on our ability to trust Him, to trust that His love is overwhelming and always right. Once we present our requests to God, we trust Him with our struggles and concerns, His peace will come.

This peace passes all understanding, which means that it goes way beyond all that we can even ask or imagine. Our minds cannot even fathom the peace that God has to offer. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our hearts and minds. But in order to have this type of inner peace we must be moved to action. Paul says Don’t be anxious about anything… But if you are, then present your requests to God… When you do, His supernatural and profound peace will come and protect you… So that you won’t be filled with worry and anxiety.

Finally God sent Jesus so we could have Peace Among Men

Jesus says in Matthew 5:9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. For the longest time I thought Jesus was telling us to be peacekeepers, but that’s not what He says. There are times when we must disturb the content, in order to get them to reconsider their relationship with God. What Christ is calling us to do in this text is to be workers of peace, and to help bring conflict to an end.

In the book of Philemon, we have a biblical model of three people who work to bring about peace. We have the offended, the offender, and the peacemaker. They each have their part if they are going to find peace.

Paul is the peacemaker. Paul goes the extra mile to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus. He could have just stayed out of it, but he chose to be a peacemaker. Philemon 13 mentions that Onesimus was assisting Paul in ministry but Paul wanted him to go back and make things right with Philemon.

We need to be careful here, because a lot of want to do some holy meddling, but it just comes out as meddling. Paul doesn’t demand, he’s not pushy, he doesn’t intrude. Paul simply, gently, asks Philemon to consider how deeply Christ has loved him. He asks him to remember how deeply Paul has loved him, then he asks him to share that same love with his runaway slave who was now his brother in Christ. 

Onesimus is the Repenter. Peacemaking in the body requires not only one person who is willing to take the initiative, but also people who are willing to be reconciled. When Onesimus escaped from Philemon’s household he evidently stole something. Now, after being converted, he wanted to make things right so he was making the 1,000 mile journey back to his master. Paul was sending this letter with him to encourage Philemon to forgive Onesimus.

When you wrong someone you must be willing to take the necessary steps, no matter how long the journey, to be reconciled. As repenters, we must be willing to acknowledge our sins and go to those whom we’ve offended.

And we see that Philemon was the Receiver. In a culture without slavery it’s hard for us to realize the magnitude of Paul’s request. Philemon was asked to receive his runaway, thieving slave, not as a piece of property but as verse 16 says, as a dear brother in the Lord.

We must be willing to offer forgiveness and restoration if we have any hope of receiving forgiveness and restoration from God. The need for receivers is important in the body of Christ. As receivers we offer the forgiveness and mercy that people need so that we can live in peace with each other once again.

There’s more conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ than we care to admit. If we want to experience the peace of God we must be vigilant about keeping our relationships with each other healthy. Satan loves to divide and create conflict. Jim Cymbala, writes the Holy Spirit is a dove that soars away when there is division. If the Holy Spirt cannot be seen in this church, in your family, in your life that is a really good indication that you are living in conflict. 

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Peace is a beautiful promise from God that we need to see in our lives. Since this is the last thing sermon you will hear from me before the new year I want to encourage you to allow peace to move you in to action by following some basic steps.

First this morning make peace with God. If you have never made peace with God, this is your first step. I’m not talking about a truce. A truce is saying, God you stay on your side of the line and I’ll stay on my side. You handle all the big problems of the world and I’ll handle my life. That’s not peace. Peace happens when you acknowledge your sins, believe that Jesus died in your place on the cross, and receive Him into your life by faith.

Secondly I want you to identify one thing that you are worried about right now. Give it to God in prayer. Don’t hold on to it. Present it to God and trust Him and His decisions. Shalom comes as we practice the power of prayer.

Finally I want you to say something good when someone says something bad. When you hear gossip, give the gift of grace by immediately speaking a kind word about the person being talked about. This is how we will help one another know that we’re slipping into unwholesome talk. If you’re talking about someone and someone else starts building that person up, you’ll know that you’ve slipped into slander.

This morning we are living in a community with tension on the rise as hearts have been ripped open and relationships are in shreds. God is sounding His siren this morning, He has offered us heavenly peace, peace that surpasses all of our understanding. This morning the Gospel is calling you into action, so that there can be shalom with Him, shalom within, and shalom among men.

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