Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2006

Peace on earth, good will to all. That is the message of Christmas and as we celebrate the birth of a baby who would become the savior of the world, I wanted to reflect on a Christmas Carol.

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.

Peace on earth, good will to men. That is the message of Christmas. Some of you may recognize the words of this Christmas Carol even though it is absent from our Hymnal. It was written by a man during the holidays several years after the tragic death of his wife. He was still dealing with his feelings of loss and wrote these words to try and help himself heal during the holidays. It was his attempt to try and recover the feelings of the holidays he was so used to experiencing with his wife.

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.

I can almost feel in my own being that the writer has truly begun to capture the spirit of the Christmas message. The message of peace and good will is a difficult one to reject. You feel this spirit building in each stanza. There can be no doubt that God has done an amazing miracle in the incarnation and that God continues to do amazing things in the world around us. Who would have expected peace on earth and good will to all from a child in a manger.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

These two stanzas may be unfamiliar. They are not found in most songbooks. They are a reference to the Civil War. The author wrote this carol during that conflict but because these two verses clearly don’t play well with the Christmas message they are usually left out. However I think it important that we face them. Then as now we are faced with the terrible reality that humanity has a way with ruining that which God created. We are willing to attack and kill those made in the very image of the creator. It is hard to share the message of peace on earth, good will to all in the face of this reality. How easy it is for the sound of battle, strife, and hate to drown out the message of the Christ child. Christians of good heart and intention are working all over in the world to try and alleviate suffering, starvation and death. And yet what do we hear on the new. Only the sounds of battle. The work of God in the world is drowned out. The next stanza (which is familiar to us and perhaps even better understood in the context of the preceding verses) is:

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.”

These are strong and powerful sentiments. As Christians they are probably feelings we all can share. When we look out on the world and see so much hatred amongst people and so much apathy to the plight of the poor and the oppressed how can we feel any way other than that the message of peace on earth, good will to all is mocked by the world today. I say an item in the news tonight about a “Christian” game called “Left Behind”. In the game, you can get points for killing those who do not come to faith. What sort of message is that to send, The world is in bad enough shape without the image of Christians gaining points for killing people.

But our song ends in triumph and not defeat:

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.”

The message of Christmas is that God is not dead. The same Jesus who appeared in the manger as a child, who lived his life on earth and finally laid his life down on the cross is not dead. God is alive and well in the world today. We know that in the end wrong shall indeed fail and right will prevail and the message of peace on earth, good will to all will come true.

God calls on each and every one of us to do our part. God calls on us to work for the kingdom today. No matter how bleak the future looks, no matter how impossible the task seems, God calls for us to speak out, to take our place in the world today working to make this world a world where the message of peace on earth, good will to all can seem like a possibility.

As we celebrate the birth of a savior in a lowly manger and as we look forward to the new year to come, let us not give up hope. When people ask me why God allows this or that evil in the world today, my response is why do we? What evil in the world can you work on making right. Go out and do you part to bring peace on earth and good will to all.

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