>Image by Snapies via FlickrText: Isaiah 11:1-10 & Matthew 3:1-6
Title: “PEACE…Strength to Hold On”
On Christmas Eve, 1914, British and German soldiers faced each other across the muddy fields of Flanders, Belgum. They had been at this for about five months now. And they were tired of the fighting already. It was cold. It was muddy. Trench warfare took a toll. That night, perhaps, they were oblivious to the fact that this war would go on for another four years, ultimately claiming the lives of 8 million persons.
Even though it was war, the soldiers on both side had received presents of food and tobacco. And a few small Christmas trees and candles had been shipped to the front lines to lift the spirits of the boys in uniform. And something that night happened.
Author Stanley Weintraub, author of “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce” put it this way:
[T]he Germans set trees on trench parapets and lit the candles. Then, they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to their enemies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent and crawled forward to watch and listen. And after a while, they began to sing.
By Christmas morning, the “no man’s land” between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines. Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with improvised balls.
According to the official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, “Tommy and Fritz” kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. “This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter … The game ended 3-2 for Fritz.”
This spontaneous truce lasted almost a week but was pretty much over by New Year’s Day. The commanders on both sides were unhappy that the two sides weren’t killing each other and, under threat of court martial, ordered their troops to pick up their guns again.
On November 1918 finally ended the shooting for good. Perhaps nothing was learned that night. Perhaps something was. Perhaps we can learn by just recounting the story.
As Stanley Weintraub noted at the close of his book on the 1914 Christmas truce:
A celebration of the human spirit, the Christmas Truce remains a moving manifestation of the absurdities of war. A very minor Scottish poet of Great War vintage, Frederick Niven, may have got it right in his “A Carol from Flanders,” which closed,
O ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.
We are now about three weeks from Christmas morning. We’re about three weeks from looking into the cradle and seeing that sweet, little Jesus boy…sweet little boy who is true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. In him the fullness of God chose to dwell. And in him comes the Kingdom of God.
Remember what Matthew writes in our opening reading:
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, Repent, for the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN has come near. This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Oooh. The Kingdom of heaven has come near… That is a phrase that would have resonated with the listeners as it resonates with us. The rule of God is coming. The reign of God is coming. The Kingdom of Heaven, of God, is in our midst. It is coming to where we are.
For John the Baptist, this means repentance. It means turning to God from the things that have been keeping us from God, it means a new day is to begin. And for Isaiah, in his passage, it means righteousness. It means equity. It mean doing no harm. It means a unity under the rule of God. And it’s here that we have some of the famous words from the Bible:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Many persons know that whole “the wolf shall live with the lamb” but few know that, just after it, Isaiah tells us that the coming of God will mean “the cow and the bear shall graze.”
But it is this “peaceable kingdom” which our Lord brings. After all, remember the words of the multitude of the heavenly host in Luke 2: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Our God, when he comes, it to usher in this new day of peace and, maybe we have to go to the battlefield at Flanders, almost 100 years ago, to remember that lions and lambs can lie down together…or at least not kill each other…for a while.
The peace of God is a real one and we look for places in the world where we pray it would come. We pray for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We pray for North and South Korea. We pray for the violence on the streets of Mexico and for the violence that takes place on streets closer to home. For we know that, when we worship a Prince of Peace…who comes to us as a helpless infant, who dies for us a criminal’s death, and who rises again and says, “Peace be to you” that our violence against one another is met with a different reality in our Gospel.
It is right to pray that peace would come to the troubled areas of our world.
But peace is not just something “out there.” It’s not just something in other countries or in other places. The need for peace hits close to home. In fact, it hits pretty hard in most of our homes.
For not only is PEACE the absence of war or hostility against one another. PEACE is something that implies being able to rest in the arms of our God, sure of our purpose, our place in his kingdom, and in knowing that we are taken care of, that we are loved.
Yesterday at the Christmas bazaar I ran into K_____ C______ and we made some small talk. She asked how I was doing and I said to her. I’m doing well. We’re just very busy…very busy. I’m just trying to find some breathing holes in the ice. And, over the last couple months, there haven’t been many holes.
I’ve often compared life to running on a treadmill. Last week I compared the onslaught of the Christmas season to a train. But I like the notion of a season of life looking like a sea lion or whatever creature trying to find a place to breathe. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like there’s any place to catch my breath. No rest.
We believe that this coming Savior makes possible peace on the troubled battlefields of the Flanders of the world, but we also believe that peace is possible to the troubled places in our own lives…in our own hearts…where something rages, not with guns and ammo but with broken dream or harried lives or soured relationships or loss. We believe, as Kingdom People, that this PEACE of God is here for us…today. And it’s this peace that gives us strength to hold on…to keep on…to soldier on…to carry on.
It was A.J. Muste who said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” Just so, there is not a way to the coming peace that Christ will bring when he comes again, but we are to live in peace here and now. We can find peace in God and peace in our families and peace in the business of this life that tries to shape us in unhealthy, unholy ways. And it does so as it pulls us farther and farther away from our King, farther and farther away from the Prince of Peace.
The main character or our kingdom story needs to be the main character in our lives…not some bit player in the background. So, it’s completely natural for us, as the celebration of his birth draws nearer, for us to refocus our lives on him, and as the whirlwind of the holidays batters us we remind ourselves why these holidays are HOLY DAYS.
Living into that PEACE requires a refocusing of ourselves on the message of love and salvation of Jesus Christ. It means setting up our lives in a way that Jesus can be received into it. It means allowing Christ to enter into our lives and claim it…the good, the bad, the ugly and offer it all to him. Only then can we really receive God’s peace. Only then can we really offer it to others.
Unrest is around us. Unrest is within us. Wars rage. Spiritual battles fight on. But our God is in control here. The kingdom of peace is upon us.
I’d like you to think of one area of unrest. It may be for an internal issue that’s going on. It could be a struggle with sin. It could be a struggle with a family member. It could be the seasonal rat race. It could be your job. It could be that you, too, just can’t seem to find breathing holes.
It could be someplace in the world…maybe one of the countries we’ve lifted up. Maybe someplace you were reading about in today’s paper or watching on the news.
But I’d like to you think of one area in need of peace. And I’d like you to lay your hands out upon your knees like this and I’d like to you close your eyes and breathe in and breathe out and picture the peace of God, which passes all understanding, coming upon that situation and calming the storms, laying down the weapons, turning the unrest into rest. What would that look like…feel like?
But I don’t want to stop there. I’d like you, after we close with prayer, to write it on one of the ornaments which will be handed to you. And, again, these will be placed on our tree here as a prayer for peace to our God. I do know your prayers for HOPE were prayed for this week and we’ll continue to do so throughout this Advent season.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.