1st Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
“Peace in Christ”
1) Not Peace with Worldly People
2) Forgiven, We are at Peace with God
3) Forgiving, We are at Peace with God’s People
Dear peace-filled followers of Jesus Christ,
Peace predominates. Peace hogs the headlines. Not when current news commentators review an earthly year ending the way it began with ‘wars; rumors of war, people who love themselves; natural disasters in various places’ all tell us our earth’s end is coming closer. Peace might not even rise to mind as we assess our personal life’s situation. But whenever godly people celebrate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, peace is stressed again & again. An angel announcing Jesus’ birth to shepherds outside Bethlehem exclaims, ‘Do not be afraid, for I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior is born for you, the Messiah, the Lord.’ Suddenly a choir of angels appears to emphatically sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven & peace – peace – on earth peace to people God favors.’ Forty days later, embracing Jesus as Mary & Joseph present her baby in the temple, Simeon praises God, ‘Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace – peace – you can dismiss your servant in peace as you promised, for my eyes have seen your salvation…salvation you prepared in the presence of all peoples — a light for revelation to the Gentiles & glory to your people Israel.’[LK 2]
Peace, Christmas peace, is not limited to Jesus’ birthday celebrations, of course. Christ’s peace is timeless, unrestricted. Peace predominates wherever Jesus gives faithful followers eternal life. Peace will hog the headlines whenever Jesus’ truth guides his faithful follower’s earthly life. Paul’s instructions for us saints are easy enough to understand, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts …Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you …Forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you.’ Easy to understand, peace-producing attitudes / actions, are not easy for Christians to exhibit. As we aim to imitate Jesus, consider a few facts: 1) experiencing, enjoying peace in Christ, we will not necessarily be at peace with worldly people. 2) experiencing, enjoying forgiveness because of Christ, we are at peace with a forgiving Lord God. 3) Forgiving other souls the way God first forgives us, we will also be at peace with God’s people.
First fact: Christmas peace is not worldly peace. A Christmas day truce between enemies dug into opposing trenches in World War I may be legendary, but Jesus is not born into our world to eliminate tension between east & west, to erase battles between criminals & cops nor to eradicate evil’s opposition to good. Jesus debunks any idea his task is to produce peace among people around our world, ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’[MT 10] ‘Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, division.[Luke 12]
Peace on earth? Impossible! Good can never peacefully coexist with evil. Exact opposites cannot be combined, cannot live in harmony with one another. Sanctifying us, giving us faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit sets us apart from worldly people, producing the exact opposite of peace. ‘If you were of the world,’ Jesus explains, ‘the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’[JN 15] Warning Christians we will encounter opposition, even face persecution in our world, God does not give us permission to fight fire with fire. God never allows us to counterattack, wielding the same weapons with which we are attacked. Our Lord’s apostle orders us to respond in a way no soul would naturally react, ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath;’[ROM 12] again, ‘Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace & to mutual edification.’[ROM 14]
Christ did not come to produce a peaceful, conflict-free life for his faithful followers in this world. Jesus was born to battle evil; to wage against the devil on our behalf; to win forever — once & for all – win a war Satan fought against God ever since his demonic followers rejected their assigned positions in God’s creation, rebelled unsuccessfully & were cast out of God’s kingdom into hell’s utter darkness. ‘The Son of God appears to destroy the devil’s work.’[1 JN 3] Jesus is born into our world to remove that barrier sin built between Adam’s evil descendants who all inherit his original sin & a perfectly holy God, a barrier of sin first put in place as the devil ruins a flawless world by tempting Eve & Adam to eat forbidden fruit from that tree labeled ‘the knowledge of good evil.’
Peace? Jesus wins the ultimate war of good against evil, God against the devil. Jesus overpowers Satan by refusing to sin. Jesus destroys death by rising from his grave the third day. Winning forgiveness for our sins, forgiveness for all sin, Jesus produces peace with God. ‘Delivered over to death for our sins, Jesus was raised to life for our justification. Justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’[ROM 4;5] Peace angels promise as Jesus is born, is peace our Savior produces between his forgiving Father in heaven & forgiven followers of Christ on earth. Jesus promised, ‘The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things & will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid. [JN 14]
Peace? Paul writes, ‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly; let the peace of Christ rule your hearts,’ urging us to regularly listen as God in his Word announces Jesus’ forgiveness for every sin that separates us from our Father in heaven. Jesus reiterates, ‘I told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[JN 16] Born a human being, yet remaining true God, Jesus dies Good Friday to redeem us from our sins’ death-demanding guilt. Easter Sunday, Jesus rises to life, declaring each one of us ‘forgiven.’ Inside a locked room Easter evening, Jesus greets startled disciples, ‘Peace be with you!’ Jesus beautifully explains the way his gift of forgiveness putting God at peace with us; allowing us to be at peace with God, is not to be contained inside our soul but to be spread throughout our sphere of influence, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ Breathing on them, Jesus says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven.’[JN 20]
Not that forgiveness for others is optional. Not that I can choose when I forgive or select whom I will forgive. Paul instructing, ‘Forgive as the Lord forgave you’ takes any choice out of my hands. Whenever anyone admits their sin; asks me to forgive them, I can only say what Jesus says to a sinful woman sorrowfully anointing his feet with oil during a dinner at Simon’s home, ‘Go in peace, your faith has saved you. Your sins are forgiven.’[LK 7]
Why must I forgive people who, in my opinion, might not really deserve forgiveness? Simple answer: God always forgives me, although I never deserve to be forgiven. Why must I repeatedly forgive the same person for the same sin ‘seventy times seventy times’? Simple answer: Jesus never runs out of mercy, never refuses to forgive me when I sorrowfully confess some ‘pet’ sin I have, in my weakness, committed too many times to calculate. Why am I to forgive an individual for sinfully offending me before they ever repent, before they even realize how they may have hurt me? Simple answer: Jesus did not wait for me to repent before he was born into our world, before he climbed his cross to pay my death penalty. ‘At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’[ROM 5]
Peace? Peace in Christ? Enjoying Jesus’ forgiveness, for us, forgiving other souls is not optional. Teaching us to pray, ‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us,’[LK 11] Jesus explains, ‘if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’[MT 6] Instructing, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, Paul similarly orders, ‘Bear with each other; forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you..’
Peace? At peace with God, we will also enjoy peace among God’s people as forgiven saints continue to forgive each other the same way God undeservedly & endlessly forgives us – not only at Christmas, but every day of the year, every year of our life. Impossible? Not if we ‘let the message of Christ dwell among us richly’ – if we let God’s Word ‘teach & admonish us with all wisdom’ – for through his Word ‘the God of peace…will equip us with everything good for doing his will, working in us what is pleasing to him.’[HEB 13]