As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Prince of Peace, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 21 December, 2014, for our Christmas with the Salvos Carols service. The Reading was Isaiah 9:2-7.
I chose the passage for today a few weeks ago. The theme for this Sunday was chosen a few weeks earlier than that. And as I sat down on Tuesday morning, in a coffee shop just down the road, only 24 hours after a siege in another coffee shop in Sydney had started, which ended up costing three people their lives, and changed the lives of countless more, I had to wonder how I could possibly preach on peace, when our peaceful existence has been so shockingly changed.
We live in a world characterised by it’s non-peacefulness
The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world that is characterised by it’s non-peacefulness. Wikipedia currently lists 13 Wars and conflicts currently happening around the world. So far, in 2014, that has resulted in at least 113,804 deaths. Over 100,000 deaths in this year alone. That is almost as many as the average number of deaths per year during the Vietnam War. If you add in those classed as minor skirmishes and conflicts, you have 44 Wars, Conflicts and skirmishes, with pushes it up over 118 thousand deaths in this year alone. Some of this conflicts have been going on since 1948 – the cumulative fatalities caused by these active skirmishes tops 6.5 million. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that in 2013, we had 51.2 million forcibly discplaced people. This is the highest on record. During 2013, conflict and persecution forced an average of 32,200 individuals per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – up from 23,400 in 2012 and 14,200 in 2011.
But it’s not just armed conflicts that we have to worry about. Life seems to get busier and busier. That business leads to stress, which means that we can’t perform at our best, and can lead to mental and physical health problems. Elsewhere in our society, people are dealing with poverty, drugs, violence, domestic violence and more. All of these things chip away at that ideal, peacefilled existence.
We have a choice to live a peaceful life
However, we do have an opportunity to change how we live. Many Christian commentators – even since the early Christian church – have applied this passage to their understanding of Christ. We call Christ our wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.
Jesus applied a sort of upside-down rule of life, as exemplified in his Sermon on the Mount. For example, let’s look at the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Those who mourn will be comforted, those who are merciful will receive mercy, whose who are peacemakers will be called children of God, those who are reviled and persecuted and lied about are to rejoice and be glad. The upside-down world of Jesus is a challenge, but it’s a call to all of us in how we are to live, and how we are to respond to events like this.
Later on in that same sermon, Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We could respond to anger with anger. We could respond to Hate with hate. But, as Martin Luther King Jr said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” The only right way for us to respond to hate is to respond with love.
We can change the world around us
When you invite the peace that Christ brings into your life, the way you live your life will change. When you change how you live, people will start noticing and asking questions. And that opens up the opportunity for you to share the Prince of Peace with them as well. And as more and more people learn to live a peaceful life, we can slowly change the world. Mahatma Gandhi is attributed as saying “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
But sometimes, we can get caught up with how big it all is. We listen to those statistics that I mentioned earlier – 100 thousand killed in armed conflicts this year, 52 million forcibly displaced people, just under half a million Australian women reporting that they have experienced physical or sexual violence or assault in the past twelve months, and we wonder – where do we even begin? God, as played by Morgan Freeman, has the answer:
You wanna know how to change the world? One act of random kindness at a time. You want to bring peace to the world? Start by bringing peace to your own life.
Invite the Prince of Peace to reign in your life.
I want to tell you about one of my favourite carol. An old friend says that this is the Schizophrenic’s carol – Do you hear what I hear? – but it’s message is one that we would do well to hear.
The night wind tells the lamb about a star, with a tail as big as a kite. The lamb tells the shepherd boy about a song, with a voice as big as the sea. The shepherd boy tells the king about a child, shivering in the cold. And the king calls to the people everywhere to pray for peace.
As we listen to this carol, I’d like to invite you to come forward and to do just that. To pray for peace. Maybe you need to pray for some peace in your own life. Maybe you want to pray for the people in Sydney. Maybe you want to pray for peaceful resolutions to the many conflicts in the world. Maybe, you want the peace that only Jesus can bring, and you want to invite him into your life. This time is yours. Come.