Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for 24 and 25 December 2018.
They were in the field on guard in the lonely hours of the night, looking forward to dawn and a rest from the strain of being on the alert
Bored, frustrated, tense and worried how they were going to cope with the next set of demands from Jerusalem, Rome or Herod or whoever. Oh yes, they expected the Messiah, the appointed one of God to appear: today, tomorrow, sometime or perhaps never at all. Fine for those who believe in that sort of thing but not really for practical men who had to be alert in case of predators, thieves or just the occasional drunk.
Plenty of scope for being completely scunnered as we say in this part of the world.
And then it happened: the whole of heaven just exploded – right in front of them. No wonder they were terrified, and that was before the voices. Strange, beautiful, compelling and utterly glorious.
Good news, go and see for yourselves. Life will never be the same again. The promised Messiah, but not as they expected Him. A baby – A BABY?? Yes, indeed, a baby who would grow up and say the unsayable and do the impossible. And that would only be the beginning.
Now think of soldiers in trenches and dug-outs in 1918, also on watch: tired, depressed, fed up with being on guard but at least not being shot at. Rifles loaded – but yes, the safety catch on.
Peace was promised to them also – but they and their children would be caught up in it again, just 21 years hence. Not a real peace, nothing of God: more a political arrangement which both sides would keep so long as it was in their interests to do so.
We know what happened – how the peace of 1918 turned out to be an illusion, and that of 1945 only gave way to another set of wars. Even that of 1989 is now frayed and anything could upset it.
On this reckoning, the peace announced by the angels may indeed be more lasting for it is something wrought by the glory and humility of God, committing the best that He has for the peace of, and goodwill to the world.
This kind of peace is different for it starts in the sovereignty of God who in Jesus defeated the power of darkness and death, and in the most personal and intimate of sacrifices put Himself on the line.
This kind of peace would be available to all of humanity regardless of cultural heritage or identity. It would start in the heart and be empowered by the glory and wonder of God.
It would be shared by people of all backgrounds, races, occupations and every other kind of identity. It would grow within and then between people, within and between families and streets and towns and villages and nations.
It would bypass political and economic interests, and connect all living souls on the planet with the mercy and love of God.
This kind of peace and goodwill might be upsetting to vested interests who would move against it, killing many, imprisoning more and of course compromising as many as possible.
But God is not mocked or defeated. The people who hoped to guard Jesus’ tomb should have learned that. Instead He has taken a glorious initiative – to strip death and sin and darkness of their power over us. In the passion of Jesus, sin was defeated.
And in His resurrection from the grave, death was also defeated.
And that is peace and goodwill to all of us who like the shepherds may also go and see if this is so.