A Peace-Full Christmas

A Peace-Full Christmas

Luke 2:8-14


The word “Christmas” is simply a shortened form of “Christ’s Mass,” a service of worship and communion and a feast in celebration of the coming of the Savior, Jesus the Christ, the one who is Emmanuel, God with us. Funny, isn’t it, that the coming of the Prince of Peace is one of the least peaceful times of year for most of us?


The Christmas season is not only one of the most stressful times of the year; it’s also one of the most dangerous times of the year. A recent article in Great Britain summarized research from Great Britain on Christmas stress and accidents:


Almost 20 percent of people find the experience of hosting guests and preparing for Christmas meals and festivities “completely overwhelming.”


A third of women feel more stressed throughout December than any other month across the year.


Three percent of people suffer an electric shock due to badly wired Christmas lighting and one in 50 fall out of the loft trying to get the tinsel and decorations down.


Some 2.6 million people have even fallen off a stool or ladder while hanging up the decorations.


700,000 people have been injured in a sale rush, while trying to snag a bargain.


Russell Atkinson, CEO of Great Britain’s National Accident Helpline said: Unfortunately the festive and winter season can bring with it hazards for your health, from the cold weather and long, dark nights to unsafe electric decorations around the home. As such, we urge people to pause and take steps to keep themselves, their friends and family safe, in order to ensure they have a relaxed and cheerful holiday season.[i]


For a people who are supposed to be filled with the spirit of the one who was called the Prince of Peace, we’re awfully full of stress and anxiety this time of the year, aren’t we? In fact, we, who are supposed to be filled to overflowing by the spirit of the Prince of Peace, are stressed and anxious all year long, aren’t we? We’ve all been there. Exhausted from the daily grind … Overwhelmed by expectations from work and family and social commitments … Needing the peace and quiet of a nice, structured jail cell.


There’s actually a mock prison where “inmates” pay $90 to spend 24 hours in solitary confinement, away from all phones, clocks, and people. The photographer for the article shows inmates meditating and resting, depositing cell phones into baskets. The facility is called the “Prison Inside Me,” and the name seems telling – that the self could be a such prison that we might need to lock-down, in an actual prison, in order to get some rest.


Clients get a blue prison uniform, a yoga mat, tea set, a pen, and notebook. They sleep on the floor. There is a small toilet inside the room, but no mirror. The menu includes steamed sweet potato and a banana shake for dinner and rice porridge for breakfast. Co-founder Noh Ji-Hyang said the mock prison was inspired by her husband, a prosecutor who often put in 100-hour work weeks. “He said he would rather go into solitary confinement for a week to take a rest and feel better,” she said. “That was the beginning.” She also said some customers are wary of spending 24 or 48 hours in a prison cell, until they try it. “After a stay in the prison, people say, ‘This is not a prison, the real prison is where we return to.” So if Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” what does that peace look like, and where has it gone?




Luke paints the life of Christ as the single most significant event in human history. In Christ God was acting once and for all to set things right. All of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament were coming to fruition in Christ.


At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus would stand up in front of the congregation in the synagogue in his hometown, pick up the writings of the prophet Isaiah, turn to Isaiah 61, and read these words: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,     and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Is. 61:1-2). It was a promise they knew well. These were words of hope that they clung to in their darkest days. And after reading these words of promise from God, he turned to the congregation and said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21).

But it wasn’t just the prophecies. Every word of the Old Testament was pointing forward to the coming of Christ. And the birth of Christ was the beginning of that history-altering event.


The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the single most significant event in human history. So who did the first announcement of this event come to? Look up at V. 1. These verses certainly serve to set the birth of Christ in its historical context. But Luke also wants us to notice that the onset of the most important event in human history happened right under the noses of the most important and powerful men in the world, humanly speaking, and they didn’t notice. God didn’t send his angelic messengers to them. Caesar claimed to be a god and the son of a god, and God ignored him. He sent his angelic messengers to shepherds instead. Look at V. 8.


Shepherds. On ancient Palestine’s social scale, shepherds weren’t on the bottom rung … they were one step above it. In spite of the fact that Israel’s greatest king, David, had tended sheep early in life, and David referred to God as shepherd to his people, at the time of Jesus’ birth only lepers were viewed with more disdain than shepherds.


You see, they couldn’t keep the ceremonial laws. They tended to have to do more work than was allowed on the Sabbath. Much of their life was spent in dirty fields and sheep folds with their sheep. Many who kept sheep were teenagers like David, boys who hadn’t yet made their way in the world. The typical adult shepherd may have had a little land to farm, but it wasn’t enough to support his family, an agricultural business, and the taxes he would have to pay, so he tended sheep for more wealthy landowners. They were often roaming vagabonds and thieves who didn’t respect the property of others. Most viewed them like we view the homeless today. That’s why, when Jesus talked about being a shepherd to the lost sheep of Israel, he didn’t just say “I am the shepherd.” He had to say “I am the GOOD shepherd” (Jn. 10:11, 14). It was a statement that would get attention quickly, because there was no such thing as a good shepherd. It was an oxymoron.


Who got the first birth announcement of the birth of the Son of God? Not Caesar. Not Quirinius, the Roman governor. Not Herod, king of the Jews. No, it was a small band of despised nobodies, shepherds out in the fields with their sheep. Before the Christ child took his first step, before he performed his first miracle, before he ever met a leper, or a prostitute, or a tax collector, or a fisherman, God was reaching out to the scum, the nobodies, lifting them up, proclaiming the coming of his kingdom, in which the first would be last and the last first, in which Christ himself would become the servant of all and take upon himself the sins of the world.


So what did this birth announcement look like? It involved an announcement, and then a song. Look at Vv. 9-12. We’re so used to this story that we miss the wonder of it. A group of dirty, good-for-nothing, socially inept, spiritually hopeless nobodies got front-row seats to the first announcement of the single most significant event in human history. And they were invited to the party. They got VIP passes. No bouncer would keep them out. No barriers. No one crossing to the other side of the street. They were allowed. They were welcome. They weren’t the kind of people you wanted knocking on your door at any time, much less late at night. But their presence was wanted.


And then the blinding light of one mighty angel became a heavenly light show as the skies filled with angels. Vv. 13-14. “Glory to God.” Why? Because at long last, in the coming of Christ, he was bringing peace.


Peace. Ancient Jews had a very powerful word for peace. It was the word “Shalom.” The Greek word for peace here refers back to that Old Testament concept. Shalom. It means far more than we generally mean when we think of peace. For us, peace has become the absence of conflict. But shalom, peace, is far more than the absence of conflict, whether that conflict be between persons, or families, or nations, or within one’s own heart. Shalom isn’t just the absence of conflict. It is the presence of harmony, of security, of prosperity, of a sense of well-being.


Caesar Augustus had brought peace to the empire, but it was a far cry from the shalom God promised. Luke does something really subtle at the beginning of chapter 2. We’ve already mentioned it briefly: he quickly but intentionally draws our attention just for a second to the great Caesar Augustus and the regional Roman governor Quirinius. In particular, he wants us to think about Caesar. Augustus was actually Gaius Octavius, the adopted son and only heir of the great Julius Caesar. When Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by the very men who had declared him a god, Octavius became Caesar.


He spent the next 20 years turning himself into the greatest ruler Rome had ever known. Our month of August is actually named after him. He slowly added titles such as Princeps, “leading citizen,” Pontifex Maximus, “high priest,” and then Augustus, “supreme ruler,” all the while portraying himself as a humble leader who did not seek power. He was a cunning and powerful political and military leader, and his rule ushered in the great Pax Romana, the Roman peace, during which time the arts, the economy, and agriculture flourished throughout the empire. Trade expanded as roads were constructed, allowing merchants to move throughout the empire and the Roman army to move quickly to quell any dissent in any corner of his great empire.


But the peace of Augustus was far from a just peace. It favored the powerful, the rich, and the elite. It allowed for corruption throughout the land. Caesar didn’t care what happened provided the corruption didn’t lead to an uprising of the people. A lack of armed conflict. That’s what he wanted. Don’t rock the boat. Keep things moving along smoothly.


The peace, the shalom, of Christ is much deeper. The biblical sense of shalom is probably best described by the prophet Isaiah: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (Is. 11:6). The picture is of mortal enemies, of predator and prey, coexisting in harmony, not separated by fences and protective barriers, but occupying the same space. And it is all-encompassing.


First, it is peace with God. In the cross of Christ God dealt with the sin that separates us from him, so that when we place our faith in Christ, we receive peace with God. We are no longer separated from God. Paul says “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Col. 1:21-22a).


Second, it is peace with ourselves and our past, present, and future. Because God has dealt with our sin, we are shaped by but no longer defined by our past. And although we continue to struggle with sin, in Christ we are children of God who have been reconciled to God. And our futures, however many days we may have, are in God’s hands. We may, likely will, suffer in this world. We will experience injury, illness, and disease. We will experience the deaths of dearly loved ones. We will face trial and temptation. And eventually, we will each face our own death. But we are not alone, and we have a future with God in Christ.


And third, it is peace with one another. The shalom, the peace of God is far more than the absence of conflict. It is a just peace that brings prosperity, well-being, even harmony for all, between God and humanity, within the human heart, and between the peoples of the earth. We will never see this in its fullness until Christ comes again, but we have this promise: that “by [his] blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) so that “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 5:9).


So Luke invites us to do two things here. The first is to see the shepherd in each one of us. To come to terms with the dirty, good-for-nothing, spiritually hopeless nobody in ourselves, and to kneel in awe before the babe in the manger, shocked that we were even invited to the party, much less allowed to be so close to the infant host. If we can stand before the babe of Bethlehem thinking in our hearts, “I deserve to be here”; or if we pass on the invitation, saying “No thanks Gabriel, I’ll pass. I’m fine like I am. This Christ can’t do anything for me” we are in a dangerous place indeed.


The second is to see the shepherds around us. Having come to terms with the great need within us, we are set free to see the great need around us. Look down at V. 17. We know that Mary already knew what was happening. But the shepherds didn’t know that Mary knew. So they were sure to tell her. They shared their experience. And then skip down to V. 20. You’ll find these shepherds doing something they’d never done before, something they’d never been permitted to do before. Our job is to invite others to come and meet Christ, the one who came to bring peace.


[i] Becky Fletcher, “Is Christmas making you ILL? Britons left overwhelmed and stressed by festive period,” Express UK (12-16-15)