Sermon from 19th Dec 2021 (Advent 4)

Micah 5:2-5a (EHV)

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
    from you, will go out the one who will be the ruler for me in Israel.
    His goings forth are from the beginning, from the days of eternity.

Therefore the Lord will give them up,
    until the time when the woman who is in labor bears a child.
    Then the remaining survivors from his brothers will return to the people of Israel.

He will stand and shepherd with the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
    They will dwell securely, for at that time he will be great to the ends of the earth.

5a This one will be their peace.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may receive your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as our peace. Amen.

I’d like you to imagine what peace would look like for you …

As you imagine what peace would look like for you, what image comes to mind?

Some of you might imagine a beautiful beach where the waves gently lap at the shore, the breeze lightly blows to keep you cool, and the palm trees lazily nod away.

Some of you might imagine sitting in a comfortable chair with your favourite drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

Some of you might imagine you’re in a sun-dappled field beside a babbling brook as you watch the soft grass swaying softly to the breeze.

Whatever your picture of ‘peace’ is like, hands up if your perfect picture of peace includes other people?

Hands up if your perfect picture of peace included spending time with those you’re not getting along with, or those you’re grumpy with, or those you won’t normally associate with, or those you label as your ‘enemies’?

Knowing we humans are naturally self-centred people who want to get our own way all the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if your own pictures of ‘peace’ are when you finally get to have things your own way. For this reason, your pictures of peace probably exclude anyone who could threaten or interrupt getting in the way of your peace. In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if your pictures of peace are all about you and what you want!

Now, it’s possible you don’t know much about the prophet Micah, but he was talking to his own people who wanted to get their own way. In fact, they’d been getting their own way and God wasn’t very happy with the result!

The rich were getting richer as they took advantage of the poor and so justice wasn’t being practiced. The local prophets and priests were telling people what they wanted to hear, telling them they’re good people even though they weren’t faithful to God’s instructions on how to live as his holy people by practicing compassion and mercy.

In response, God sent Micah to warn them of God’s impending judgment, but he also gave them words of hope. These words of hope we hear today included the promise of a Shepherd-King who would come from the tiny town of Bethlehem who would restore God’s kingdom of peace and mercy and justice. In fact, this promised Messiah, this promised Saviour, would himself be their peace.

Now, since we’re told the coming Christ himself will be our peace, it makes sense that the best way to understand what this peace looks like isn’t by starting with our own ideas of peace, but we should instead start with God’s concept of peace and how he gives his peace to us.

In this case, the Hebrew word which is translated into English as ‘peace’ is ‘Shalom’, but this Hebrew word is much richer and more meaningful than just ‘peace’.

For example, ‘Shalom’ can describe a state of well-being or bodily health. In this way, when you experience good health and wholeness in your body, you’re experiencing a form of ‘shalom’.

Similarly, you can also describe mental or emotional wellness and wholeness, where you experience no cares or anxiety and are content and satisfied, as another form of ‘shalom’.

Therefore ‘shalom’ is where you feel content and relaxed: physically, emotionally, and mentally; where you feel healthy and are able to rest without any worries.

However, that’s not all. This ‘shalom’ isn’t just about when you’re feeling satisfied, content, relaxed, or healthy, but it’s also about having healthy and wholesome relationships with others.

An example of ‘shalom’ was first experienced in the Garden of Eden when God and the first humans walked and talked together in that perfect garden. There was harmony in their existence as they existed side-by-side without any division or disagreement, but the ‘shalom’ was broken when the first humans wanted to become like God.

Similarly, whenever we want to get our own way, our ‘shalom’ between ourselves and God is always broken. Instead of humbly submitting to God’s will for our life and living according to his teachings about mercy and compassion, we want to decide for ourselves. We reckon we know better than God and seek to redefine good and evil for ourselves.

In the same way, whenever we’re selfish or self-seeking, we strain or break the ‘shalom’ between ourselves and those around us. We judge and punish others. We seek to exclude those who threaten us and what we want. We want to divide and differentiate between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and try to avoid loving and serving our enemies.

So, for us to experience ‘shalom’ again, God seeks to reconcile or ‘re-shalom’ our relationships with him and each other through his radical justice of forgiveness.

In this case, godly peace, or a divine experience of shalom, would include health in body, mind, and spirit. It would include harmony and unity between us and God. It would include reconciliation and concord between ourselves and all those around us, including our enemies.

‘Shalom’ would also mean no more wars or fighting, no more fear, no more division, no more sickness, no more anxiety, no more guilt, no more shame, no more hiding, no more depression, no more loneliness, and no more fear of judgment from God. All these things would be absent because we’re at peace; or rather because Jesus is our peace; because Jesus is our Shalom.

So why don’t we experience this now? Why do we still experience sickness, injury, anxiety, depression, conflicts between family and friends, segregation within churches, and struggle with our faith in God?

Well, the strange thing about God’s peace, is that it’s not just an experience or event that we can manufacture for ourselves, but peace, or shalom, is a person.

So, when the angels announced: ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those whom he loves’, they weren’t announcing that everything will be perfect on this earth right now. They were announcing peace himself is on earth and among those whom he loves.

Since Jesus Christ is your peace and is your ‘shalom’, you receive peace whenever you receive him in Word and Sacrament.

You receive peace whenever you receive and trust his promises of life, forgiveness and salvation. You receive peace whenever you receive his forgiveness of all your sins so that you know your relationship with God is restored. You receive peace when he touches you with his peaceful presence in the waters of baptism or in the body and blood of his Holy Supper. You also get the privilege to pass on peace to others whenever you proclaim the Prince of Peace through his forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.

In this way, peace isn’t an idyllic island or a sun dappled field. Peace isn’t silence or the absence of enemies. Peace, or Shalom, is the person in whom the whole fullness of humanity and the whole fullness of God dwells in perfect harmony and unity, and so in this way, in him, the fullness of peace dwells. Jesus is your ‘Shalom’, your peace himself coming to establish peace in and among you.

Jesus came to give you his promise of peace so you can trust wholeness and completeness is yours even when your bodies are ageing or falling apart. He gives you his peace so that you know you can come to God in complete trust and without fear because you have faith that Christ has reconciled you with the Father through his vicarious suffering, the shedding of his blood, and the payment of his death.

He gives you his peace through the forgiveness of sins to restore your relationship with God the Father, and you get the divine privilege to pass on this same peace when you reconcile with your enemies. He gives you peace through reconciliation so that your enemies are restored to you as your friends. Because he is your peace, you can experience some of this heavenly peace even today.

You see, already today he has offered you his peace, his ‘shalom,’ and he will again.

For example, in worship when you confess your sins, you receive Christ’s forgiveness. After Jesus declares that you’re forgiven through the one who stands in his stead, he says one more thing. He says: ‘Peace be with you!’ ‘Shalom’ be with you. Christ, the incarnation of Shalom be with you. Wholeness, restoration, reconciliation, peace, and Christ himself is with you through faith.

When you receive the body and blood of your Prince of Peace incarnate, your bodies, minds, and hearts are washed clean and made whole. Here as you eat and drink you have nothing to fear, but you receive the Prince of Peace himself, the living Shalom, in faith. After receiving the Prince of Peace into your own bodies, he declares ‘peace be with you.’ Shalom is yours. And with God’s help, you get to offer peace to those around you through your Spirit-inspired words of forgiveness and actions of mercy and compassion.

Then, as you’re about to go back out into this troubled world where accidents and injury and illness and animosity keep breaking our shalom, the Triune God, including Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace himself, blesses you with peace. He sends you out in peace. He sends you out as his beloved ‘Shalom-sharer’. He sends you out with the assurance he is with you always – that the Prince of Peace himself travels with you.

Therefore, whether you’re in hospital, in a car, in pain, in trouble, or in an argument, Jesus, your Prince of Peace, is still with you, constantly offering you the shalom of his presence. Even at Christmas time, whether you’re in a room full of rowdy and disruptive people, or sitting alone in silence and sorrow, Jesus is still with you, offering you peace.

You also look forward to receiving the fullness of his shalom in heaven where everything will be back in its rightful order of shalom in body, mind, spirit, and community.

No matter how you celebrate Christmas this year (or who you’ll celebrate it with), celebrate the fact Peace himself, ‘Shalom’ himself, has come to earth and promises to be with you. After all, when you hear someone say, ‘Peace be with you’, you can now understand this to mean: The God of peace, the God of Shalom himself, is with you.

Jesus is your peace. All peace on earth and in heaven begins and ends in him. And it’s this shalom, this…

… peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard your hearts and minds and bodies and relationships in Christ Jesus. Amen.