Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Prince of Peace Reigns

Christmas Day – Year A
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-12; Luke 2:1-20
Tuesday, December 25, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

The angel of the Lord proclaimed, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

As Advent has wound down, and as the Christmas season begins, I have been reflecting on the names, or attributes given to the Messiah, the Savior, by the Prophet Isaiah – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In my reflections, I find that I keep coming back to the image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. While not specifically part of today’s Old Testament lesson, the portion of Isaiah that we did hear invokes rich imagery of the one who comes heralding peace. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.” It is hard not to hear Isaiah’s earlier reference to the Prince of Peace in this passage.

I suppose it is natural to turn to this imagery, to this hope, of the Prince of Peace at such a time as we find ourselves in. Everywhere you turn, there is news of war and violence. We are involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are threats of war in Iran. There is ongoing violence and conflict in Israel-Palestine. In our own back yard there are gang wars. And where there is not war in the strict military sense, there is the imagery and language of war. We are fighting the war on terrorism, the war on drugs. So where is the Prince of Peace in all of this?

I would like to share with you a Christmas story. To me, it is one of the most inspiring, one of the most hope-filled stories about the birthday of the Prince of Peace. It is the story of the Christmas truce.

It was December 24, 1914 – the first Christmas of World War I. In preparation for Christmas, German troops in the region of Ypres, Belgium began decorating the area around their trenches. They placed candles on trees and sang Christmas carols, the most notable being Stille Nacht (Silent Night). British troops in the trenches on the opposite side of the “No Man’s Land” responded by singing English carols. The German and British troops continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, troops from both sides met in the No Man’s Land, shaking hands, exchanging Christmas greetings, and sharing small gifts of whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like.

In the silence afforded by the absence of artillery fire, recently-fallen soldiers were brought back behind their lines for burial. This was an opportunity for proper funerals, as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects to fallen comrades and fallen enemies.

The unauthorized Christmas truce spread to other areas of the battle lines, with similar exchanges of Christmas greetings and gifts, and jointly administered funerals. There are even reports of football (soccer) matches between the British and German troops. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night. But in some areas, it continued until New Year’s Day. Sadly, the British commanders, upon hearing of the unauthorized Christmas truce, were, to say the least, not pleased. They vowed that no such truce would be allowed again. In following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to ensure that no such cessation of combat would occur again. Despite their best efforts, some friendly encounters between enemy soldiers did occur, although on a much smaller scale than the Christmas of 1914.

The powers that be just didn’t get it. But the average soldier in the trenches, the soldiers on the front lines, did. Even though they were at war with one another, those enemy soldiers understood the meaning of Christmas. They understood that Christ is the Prince of Peace, and, at least for one day, it was far more important for them to share that understanding, to share their faith, to share peace. For one day, they were not British or German. They were not enemies. They were brothers in Christ, brothers in the service of the Prince of Peace. And for that one day, they lived as if the good news proclaimed by the angels at Bethlehem 1,900 years before was actually true.

The angels announced the birth of Jesus not to the Roman occupation or to the local Jewish authorities, but to the shepherds. The Roman and Jewish authorities would not listen to, much less believe, that the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, was coming into the world. Such a One would undermine their authority. But the shepherds would listen. These common folk would know the significance of this event, and would know how to live into the new reality being born along with this child.

The angels announced the birth of the Prince of Peace not to the British and German commanders directing military strategy in Belgium during World War I, but to the soldiers on the front lines. The commanders would not follow the orders of this Prince. The presence of such a One would undermine their goals to win the war at all costs. But the soldiers on the front lines heard the message. They knew the significance of Christmas as the birthday of the Prince of Peace, and, at least for one day, knew how to live into the reality that was born along with this child.

The angels announce the birth of the Prince of Peace to us this day. We can learn a lot about the meaning of this significant event from those soldiers fighting on the front lines in Belgium. For that one day, they saw not enemy, but only friend. They dared to see the Christ in each other. They dared to see in each other the one who comes to bring peace. How different would the world be now if that Christmas truce lasted more than just one day? How different would our world be today if we followed their example in our lives, in our own relationships, in our own conflicts? How different would our world be if we did not just celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, but actually lived as if the Prince of Peace reigns?

It is not enough to merely gaze upon the child lying in the manger. Yes, the child is beautiful and worthy of adoration and worship. But that is not nearly enough. For this is no ordinary child. This is the Prince of Peace. This is the one “who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to [all the Earth], ‘Your God [, the Prince of Peace,] reigns” here and now.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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