Dec 20, 2016
An adapted version of this Sermon will be preached on Christmas Day. This sermon was frst preached Christmas 2016
There are lies damned lies and statistics but looking at some of the more conservative figures on the net we hear that in 2014 over 30 000 people were killed world wide in terrorism and over 150 000 were killed in just the top 20 wars. In Australia at least 100 people were killed in family and domestic violence. In the United States early in October 2015 this year almost 10 000 people had been killed by gun violence.
Even one of those deaths is one too many. Almost 2 000 years ago Luke tells the story of some Angels who announce to some shepherds a message of Peace on Earth and in the story we all know but did not hear tonight we her from Matthew’s Gospel that some time after Jesus is born some visitors from the East, possibly from Arabia come to a Jewish family to honour Jesus a peasant boy or at best a tradesman from a small Jewish village.
We have grown so used to the Christmas story and we’ve become so surrounded by the commercialism of Christmas that we fail to see how radical and how relevant the story of the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus really is.
Jesus is born at a time of relative peace. It is Roman peace. Think of Iraq under the dictator Saddam Hussain and you have an idea of Roman peace. The Roman Empire enforced peace at the end of a sword. The Jewish people deeply resented the Romans for two reasons first they were their conquerors. Like the people of Iraq looking at the coalition, seeing them as liberators at first but then as occupiers, as Westerners had been in the days of the British and French Empires and following World War one, and as they had been centuries before in the Crusades, the Romans were the resented overlords. The second reason they resented them was because they were gentiles. Non Jewish people who worshipped many gods and who did not respect Jewish faith. They built pagan temples in and near their cities and towns and some Roman governors including Pontius Pilate the governor who tried and executed Jesus, even tried at times to set up pagan statues in and near the Jewish Temple.
This was the peace, the great rein of peace called the Pax Romana - the Roman Peace. It was not real peace at all and this was not the kind of thing the Angels proclaim when they announce Peace on Earth. What has really changed in Israel today?
Israel itself is a peaceful place. You will find there the rule of law in most parts of the country you will find very little terrorism or even unrest, yet the temple mount where the Jewish Temple of Jesus’ time stood has two Islamic Mosques on it. Israel is surrounded by many people who would wish it destroyed and Israel itself has gained its peace like the Romans did through wars and military strength. It is not real peace. This is not what the Angels were singing about that night and it is not the vision we heard in the reading from Isaiah of peace with justice and righteousness. Peace of which there will be no end.
What the angels announce is reconciliation of all people with God and with each other. That too I believe is the vision and hope of the whole Bible and we find it coming into focus in the Jesus story including today’s Christmas story. I believe too that, that vision of peace, although it is corrupted and distorted is in the heart of every human being, of whatever faith and no faith.
To illustrate this if you go to Israel today and you are greeted by a Jewish citizen the chances are that they will greet you with not hello but with Shalom. This word can mean, hello, or goodbye but it’s main meaning is peace, it can also mean, healing, wholeness and reconciliation. If you meet a Muslim Arab or Muslim Palestinian in the same part of the world they may well greet you with the word Salaam which means exactly the same thing - Peace. You see this is because Hebrew and Arabic are closely related languages.
At the heart of the traditional understanding of the Jesus’ story is this notion of peace. It is the belief that on that first Christmas, God reconciled, became friends with, made peace with all human beings and all creation, by coming to us, becoming one of us in a feed trough, in a common family in a little Jewish town or village. God came to bring peace. Peace with God and peace between all people and indeed in all creation.
The two familiar Christmas stories illustrate this in two very different ways. Luke with his story of the shepherds says that the Jesus story, the peace of God is not just for religious people or wealthy people but even for smelly, scruffy, shepherds who could not regularly get to church (The synagogue) or the Temple festivals. God’s love, friendship and peace is for anyone. So that means that all the people no matter who they are, are loved by God and so should be loved by each other. No matter what you think of yourself, no matter what others think of you, no matter what you think of some of the scruffy, smelly, difficult people in your life the message of the Angels is for all for you and for them: Peace on Earth and so in all our interactions we should work toward that Peace with everyone our lives touch.
In the story of the Wise Men in Matthew’s gospel we hear that the Jesus story is not just a Jewish story, it is not just the church’s story, it is a story for all people even people like the wise men, from the East, possibly Arabs, certainly of another culture and faith, not Jewish and certainly not Christian. So that means that God’s peace is for all people and it means we should work toward peace with others. In this I make no political statement, I do not say that other faiths or people are right or wrong, I simply say that the message of Christmas is that God’s peace is for all and that with or without compromise we should make, Peace, love and reconciliation our aim and goal in all our relationships. For every person, and every culture and every faith, and even those without faith, the Angels sing, “Glory to God in the Highest an on earth, peace, goodwill toward all!”