Rediscover Christmas – Finding Peace in Our Struggles – Sermon

WELCOME

communion cup and broken bread

Communion Worship Service

Reminder: If you are planning to take part in the Lord’s Table at the end of the service, have your bread and juice ready.

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Songs

Call to Worship

This candle signifies the truth of our dream of God’s plan, of a world at peace;
Where enemies are reconciled, and children play in safety;
Where the poor and powerless find justice.
By this candle we remember God’s promise of a Ruler of Peace,
Filled with the Spirit of God, of wisdom and understanding,
Of counsel and might, of justice and faithfulness.
That’s JESUS – the one we celebrate this Advent season – Welcome to the second Sunday of Advent.  Welcome to worship!

Songs

Prayer

Prayer of Confession & Assurance

God of glory, you sent Jesus among us as the light of the world, to reveal your desire for peace for all people.
We confess that our sin and pride hide the brightness of your light.
Too often, we turn away from the poor; we ignore cries for justice; we do not strive for peace.
In your mercy, cleanse us of our disobedience, and pour out the gifts of your Spirit, that forgiven and renewed, we may show,  and others will see your glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ.  Amen!!

Assurance of Pardon:

Our God fulfills his promises and is true to his word.
We have confessed our sins.
And God has forgiven us,
because Christ died for us!
AMEN!

Rediscover Christmas Finding Peace in Our Struggles

Today's Message: Pastor Dave Page

Christmas is kind of a big deal in Finland. And there’s a great tradition there that happens every year. In fact, it has happened almost every year since the 1300s. That’s a serious tradition, going on for more than 700 years. It’s called the Declaration of Christmas Peace.

Each year at noon on Christmas Eve, the Christmas Peace is declared in the city of Turku. The proclamation is read, usually by a city official, from the balcony of a historic mansion at the center of town in the Old Great Square. It’s broadcast on the radio and television and, of course, now you can stream it on the internet. The declaration serves as a reminder and encouragement to spend the holiday in harmony, to threaten offenders with harsh punishments, and to wish everyone a merry Christmas.

The proclamation reads:

“Tomorrow, God willing, is the graceful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour; and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advising devotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully, because he who breaks this peace and violates the peace of Christmas by any illegal or improper behaviour shall under aggravating circumstances be guilty and punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offence separately.

Finally, a joyous Christmas feast is wished to all inhabitants of the city.

You’d better not mess with the Finns’ Christmas peace or you will be dealt with harshly! But what a great way to usher in Christmas, with a reminder of Christ’s coming and the peace He brings into the world!

If you’ve been journeying with us this past week toward Christmas, you know that we have been celebrating Advent. As a quick recap, the word Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and the season is marked by expectation, waiting, anticipation, and longing. Advent is not just an extension of Christmas – it is a season that links the past, present, and future. Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate His birth, and to be alert for His second coming. Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus’s coming, while at the same time looking forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people.

During Advent we wait for both – it’s an active, assured, and hopeful waiting. Each week, we’re focusing on a different attribute of God represented in the coming of Jesus: hope, peace, joy, and love. Each of these traits leads us into a rediscovery of Christmas, and we are glad you’re here today with us to rediscover peace.

The Shepherds: Peace Restored

We are also looking at different characters in the biblical Christmas story and seeing how they encountered the arrival of Jesus in the world. When we think of peace embodied in the Christmas story, we can’t help but think of the shepherds. They were the unlikely recipients of God’s message of peace. Let’s read Luke’s account about them together. It’s such a beautiful, almost poetic passage of Scripture. Maybe that’s especially true for those of us who grew up watching Linus recite it in A Charlie Brown Christmas when he tells Charlie Brown, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” It’s a great moment in TV history, but long before TV was imagined, it was beautiful, inspired writing by Luke:

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-20

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wow! There’s so much in these few paragraphs. To begin, this is like God’s birth announcement to the world. And what a way to announce a long-awaited event that happened in such an unexpected way. Suddenly in the middle of a dark and ordinary night in the Bethlehem countryside, an angel appears in the sky and is then joined by a sky full of angels. The New Living Translation calls them “the armies of heaven,” and it’s hard to imagine just how magnificent and bright and terrifying and glorious a sight this must have been.

And then there’s the sound. All together these incredible angels are praising God, probably singing, and declaring glory to God in heaven and peace on earth to humanity. What language, or languages, were they speaking and singing? What kind of melody and harmony? How loud must it have been? Or could anyone else hear it?

Of course, the audience for this grand announcement and amazing angelic show must have been the most important VIPs, the rich and famous and powerful, the kings and queens and movers and shakers of the world, right?

No! You know this story. It’s those shepherds. Those completely ordinary, average-Joe, night shift–working animal tenders who are the unlikely, unexpected recipients of this message of peace, wholeness, and God’s favor. It’s yet another scene in how God is perfectly flipping the script on what we humans would expect and plan and do if it were up to us to save the world.

But the whole experience certainly leaves us asking, “Why shepherds? Why these completely un expecting and unassuming guys?”

Maybe it’s because the shepherds actually tie many biblical threads together.

First, the shepherds remind us that the patriarchs of Israel were shepherds and nomadic animal tenders, roaming ranchers of the ancient world. Abraham was the original recipient of God’s covenant that He would bless all nations of the world. And this promise was carried on through Abraham’s ancestors Isaac, Jacob, and beyond. David, Israel’s greatest king, was first a shepherd as well.

But the shepherds were the everyman. They were nothing special. In fact, the were less than nothing special. They had no entitlement. No pride or arrogance. No religious boasting. They fit right into this process of introducing God’s Messiah: a humble carpenter and a peasant girl as parents for the Son of God, a birth in a lowly stable surrounded by animals, rough and rugged shepherds out in the fields on the edge of the more refined civilization. These were the have-nots, examples of God raising and using the humble and turning the world as we know it on its head. Those considered by society to be the “most holy” weren’t given a place in the stable to kneel on holy ground and witness the arrival of the Messiah.

These shepherds also signify Jesus’s future ministry and teaching. Sheep might have been lowly animals, but they were very special animals in Jewish culture. The Passover lamb was the sacrifice an ancient Jew would make during the most important holiday. Its blood was the atonement for a person’s sins, the cost that had to be paid to restore a person with God. And each time it was done, this sacrifice was a reminder of the original Passover and God’s rescue and exodus of His people from Egypt.

You and I know that Jesus was entering our world to fulfill His identity as the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. He was the ultimate sacrifice and payment for our sins. His death did away with the need for these sacrificial lambs. His resurrection made it possible for us to be fully restored in our relationship with God. His life made it possible to experience true peace, shalom in the Hebrew language and culture, the word and concept that encapsulate the completeness and wholeness of God’s original creation.

Peace is not based on class or position or occupation but on God’s purpose and design to bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

I think the shepherds also lead us into several insights about our own intersection with God’s peace.

1. Peace comes in the midst of our storms.

Have you ever experienced driving in a snowstorm?? It’s an eerie experience. Sometimes you can see it coming as you approach. And then you’re in it. big snow flakes, lots of wind….but then there’s also those moments when you come to a calm spot… right at the center of the chaos you’re travelling in. There, the winds calm. The snow might even cease. It’s a pause in the storm. It’s temporary. It doesn’t last, and then those winds start howling again…It’s kind of like those freeze frame moments in a movie when everything slows down to one tiny moment of reality while life or chaos or catastrophe happens all around the character like a brief millisecond of clarity or pause.

Let me ask you, how is your Christmas season going? How does your Christmas season typically go?

If we’re honest, we might choose words like busy, hectic, or frantic to describe our lives this time of year – or maybe all year round. Maybe it’s an overloaded calendar that robs you of peace. Or maybe it’s something more: relational conflict, pressure at work, a lost job, illness. You name it. We have plenty of options to choose from this year, don’t we?

For many of us, peace sounds like a long way off. A good idea. A nice thought for the holidays. Something we long for.

If this is where you find yourself today, let me encourage you that Jesus shows up when the storms of life threaten our peace and hope and joy. He is there with us when all seems lost and the way forward is totally unclear.

It’s times like this where God tends to appear.  Just like in Luke’s narrative. This is where the Christ child is born. This is where the angels show up. In the middle of Israel’s dark night of Roman oppression and centuries of suffering and wondering, “Where is God?”  In the middle of a world turned upside down for a young Jewish couple who have found themselves at the center of truly cosmic events – while at the same time trying to navigate the normal life realities of paying their taxes by traveling on foot across the country to be counted by the government. And then having to experience childbirth for the first time far from home without the support and care of the women and midwives who would have guided Mary through this painful process. And then being first-time parents, not only with the joys and wonder and fear and responsibility of having their first son, but God’s Son. You young parents out there know what I mean? We think it’s hard becoming new parents now? Think about that!

In all of these circumstances, in all of these struggles – this is where God showed up. And this is where God continues to show up for us.  In our pain.  In our fears.  In our confusion.  In our grief.  In our loss.  In our uncertainty.

I don’t know every hardship you are facing today, or every wince of pain you are feeling. But God does. He is there, bringing peace to calm your heart, peace that defies your circumstances.

2. Peace defies our circumstances.

“That’s great for you to say. It sounds nice,” you might be thinking. “But you don’t know how much it hurts.”

No, I’m sorry, I may not. And, I can only imagine how awful it is, and I can only agree with how unfair it is. But let me encourage you that there is a peace that is deeper, there is a peace that defies your circumstances. No, in the face of all you are feeling and all you have gone through, God’s peace just doesn’t make sense – but it is real. And it is healing. And it can guard your heart from continuing wounds. And it can protect your mind from the onslaught of anxiety.

The apostle Paul describes the process like this:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:4-7, NIV

Let me encourage each and every one of us today, no matter what we are facing, that this process begins with us turning to God, bringing our hurts and questions and doubts and whys and needs to Him. As Paul says it,

“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but there is a power in prayer and a transformation that grows from gratitude. It’s not the power of getting what we want or convincing God to see things our way. We can try, and He will listen. But much more than that, the power of prayer happens in this experience of peace as our perspective changes and finds an understanding that God is with us, no matter what. And our very needed acknowledgment and acceptance that He’s got this, He can be trusted, He is enough.

3. Peace is a person.

It all comes back to a person. Peace is a person. Peace is Jesus.

“For he himself is our peace,” Paul says in Ephesians 2:14 (NIV).

And long before His arrival on earth, the prophet Isaiah called Jesus the Prince of Peace.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

— Isaiah 9:6-7, NIV

There are political-sounding tones to this message from Isaiah, and you can see why the Jews who wanted their political freedom and independence were eager to see a political or even better, a military Messiah. And more importantly, there are tones of the completion of Jesus’s work and His eventual establishment of God’s kingdom. But most of all, this child that is born, this Son that is given to us, brings the power and rule of His peace into our personal lives. He is the bringer of peace between us and God, the sacrificial lamb, the giver of life. He is the embodiment of shalom, wholeness, that we find in relationship with Him.

Jesus is the God who is come to be with us, and He offers us this invitation in this Advent season and always:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

— Matthew 11:28-30, NIV

Is that not an offer of peace? Church, Let’s let those words wash over us.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

— Matthew 11:28-30, NIV

And so, in this second week of Advent, let me encourage you to look for the Prince of Peace, even when the winds blow and the storms swirl.  Let me encourage us all to come to Him and worship like the shepherds, even when we find ourselves in the darkness or the storms.

Let me remind us to come to Him. Because He is here. The Prince of Peace is with us.

May Jesus be your peace, guarding your soul with peace and filling your spirit with the wholeness of shalom.

Prayer

O, we remember God’s promises
of Emmanuel, and a branch of Jesse’s root.
And we remember the sacred story,
that happened in the original House of Bread
for a new mother
and a fostering father,
sheep and shepherds,
and many, many angels.
And we remember that the baby
named Jesus,
grew up to heal people,
and teach them with strange parables,
that made people angry.
At Passover he broke unleavened bread.
and poured wine…. and love freely.
The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us – given for you…
Take the elements now and be thankful.

Communion

The story is told that during the Blitz in World War II Britain, when the city was strafed and bombed, Operation Pied Piper evacuated many children to the country, but some remained in London and many of those were orphans. Some were sheltered in a Jesuit order of brothers, who noticed the children had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, night after night. When the children were being put to bed one night, one of the brothers guessed the children’s problem was that they were anxious because of uncertainty in their lives, and gave each child a small piece of bread, saying something like this –

“Hold on to your piece of bread while you are sleeping. Remember  when you woke up this morning, we fed you and took care of you. When you wake up tomorrow, and we will be here for you. Let the bread remind you of this. Good night, children.”

The children slept.

Come, to be comforted
in the story of Bethlehem,
and in this House of Bread.
Come to be comforted at this table
by a handful of bread
and a cup of love,
that will stay with you always.

Song

Benediction

May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.

(2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV)

In this Advent season, we need to see, feel, and share peace.

As you go out into the wonder of God’s creations, go out of your way to share peace and hope with those you meet this week. Blessings.

Blessings & have a wonderful second week of Advent.