Christmas Eve - Midtown

Christmas Eve - Midtown

December 24, 2023 • Rev. Mindie Moore

 And His Name Shall Be Called...Prince of Peace 

Advent 4/Christmas Eve: Isaiah 2:2-5 

I have this habit that certain members of my family think is very odd. 

Sometimes, after a long day or a trip to a busy store, when I get home and pull my car in the driveway, I turn my car off and I just...sit there. 

I sit there alone, in the quiet, sometimes in the dark...and it is amazing! 

Now, like I said, some of my family members think this is weird. My 10-year-old once told me, “Mom, what are you doing. We KNOW you’re out there just sitting in your car.” 

But I felt very vindicated for my weird behavior when I read a psychology today article that said most Americans are living in a heightened state of what’s called drive and threat, where our sympathetic nervous system is going way more than it should. It makes us anxious and always in a state of being “on” instead of letting our parasynthetic nervous system do its work keeping us in a more baseline calm state. And this article said the best thing we can do to regulate our nervous system—is to do nothing! It’s to take moments of just stopping and resetting...aka sitting in the driveway outside of your house! 

So at the end of the day, this odd habit is actually a self-regulating ritual that is helping me find peace. And the question I have for you this Christmas Eve is: 

(SLIDE) What do you do to find peace? 

You know, it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to come by right now. I don’t think if I asked you if you wanted more peace in your life or in the world, you’d be like, “nah, I’m good.” There’s just a lot of chaos going on and it can show up in a lot of different ways—maybe it's on a large scale, with the events happening in our world, or maybe it's really personal and we’re trying to navigate conflict or disruption in our families. No matter what it looks like, when we don’t have peace, we feel the impact. 

This whole Advent season, we’ve been looking at the names that the prophet Isaiah uses to talk about hope. He says that there will be this person, and this person will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and (SLIDE) Prince of Peace. And these words that Isaiah used...once Jesus was on the scene, people began to recognize that the things that Isaiah was dreaming about...they were happening! Jesus was living into all of it. God’s promises were being fulfilled through this person. 

And Jesus’ birth brought with it an earth-changing type of peace. And that peace, in the Old Testament, when Isaiah first said the words he did, it has a specific name- (SLIDE) SHALOM: Universal flourishing, wholeness and delight. 

Now, I love this definition of what peace is, but I’m going to be totally honest with you—that kind of peace...that sounds like it’s going to take some work! It sounds like God’s definition of 

peace is a lot deeper than letting things seeming fine on the surface, or having a false sense that everything is ok, but it’s about doing the work for things to actually be healed or changed. 

So maybe if we’re going to live into Jesus’ type of peace...we might get a little uncomfortable. It might mean that have to have some brave conversations, or be more curious or open to a different viewpoint. Because this peace is bigger than just avoiding hard things and hoping it will all get better—True Shalom gets in the mess and tries to see what is possible. 

In fact, there’s a video from a group I like learning from called The Bible Project on this word, I’ll put the link in our Facebook group this week if you want to watch it, and it goes through all the places that Shalom or this idea of PEACE is found in the Bible, and what it really means. Here’s just a few of the things that it says about Shalom: 

(SLIDE) Shalom is complex. It’s all the different parts and pieces coming together to make the thing they are intended to make. 

(SLIDE) Shalom is honest about what's missing and is willing to do the work to make things right and whole. 

(SLIDE) Shalom doesn’t just stop fighting from happening, but it works together for the benefit of all involved. 

We see these things in Isaiah’s vision of what peace looks like. Listen to this again. He said: (SLIDE) 

they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD

None of that is easy...but it sounds like it’s probably worth it. Because the Shalom that Isaiah talks about and that Jesus invites us into...that’s a peace that our world can feel. That’s a peace that makes a difference. 

But I want to be clear—peace isn’t just something that happens OUT THERE. Peace also has to happen IN HERE. And I’m not sure we can actually live out this idea of shalom or be creators of it if we don’t take the time to grow that kind of peace in our hearts first. It’s hard to create something that we can’t first experience ourselves. 

In fact, the Christmas story is actually a perfect example of what happens when people have this peace inside...and what happens when they don’t. Look at Ceasar Augustus—he needed to have his power confirmed, so he made all these people take these long, expensive, inconvenient journeys just so he could count ‘em up. Just so he could say, “Look how big my empire is.” 

Look at Herrod, who heard these rumors that there was a new king being born and felt so insecure, so threatened that 

he was willing to do the unthinkable and wipe out an entire generation of people. 

When we don’t have shalom inside of us and our peace gets threatened...sometimes that takes us places we don’t want to go. We don’t have to be kings or emperors to experience that. That’s just part of being human. That can happen on the interstate or in the workplace or in our friendships. Our lack of peace inside can create some real chaos outside. 

But the good news is that those guys I just told you about aren’t the only characters in this Christmas story. Because look at Mary. And look at Joseph. Look at these two who did not sign up for the job of being the parents to the Savior of the World. They didn’t ask to have this surprise pregnancy that would test their reputations and their futures and everything they thought they knew. They didn’t ask for ANY of that! They were just two normal people who wanted to get married and live their very boring unremarkable lives together. That would have been enough. They didn’t need or expect all this amazing stuff! 

And I’m guessing that all this amazing stuff that God was doing in them and through them- I'm guessing there was potential for that to cause some tension! I don’t know about you, but when plans get disrupted in my house—and we’re talking something like the location of a basketball game moves, it’s not always that peaceful! And this stuff is not that deep! When I think about Mary and Joseph and all the things that overnight they realize are going to be radically different 

about their’s hard to imagine that they could find peace in the middle of all of that. It’s hard to imagine that they had anything in their inner state other than just panic. 

But it’s exactly in that moment of upheaval and disruption that shalom gets to do its thing. And it's only because of that peace that they carried in their hearts...that they could do the brave things that life was going to now require of them. It’s that peace that lets Mary say what she does in Luke 1: 

(SLIDE) With all my heart, I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 

She can say: With all my worry, with all my questions. With all my unknowns and maybe even all my fear...underneath all of that, I can find the peace of God within me. 

You know there’s a truth in this story about what peace does for us. And the bottom line is that (SLIDE) Jesus’ Peace gives us courage to face what’s really happening in our lives. 

And sometimes we really need this courage. Because some of us are carrying things around that are just so hard. And here’s what I know- Some of us are dreading what comes next after the holiday rush fades away. You don’t want the calendar to hit January 2 because you know real life is coming back and it’s coming back LOUD. We’ve got grief or something painful that we know we need to tend to and we don’t want to do it! We’d rather be busy and just keep that thing over in the corner and ignore it. Sometimes there are 

just things that we wish we could stop, we wish we could control, we think if whatever this thing is would just go away, then we would have peace.’s just that we can’t always do that. Life isn’t always that simple. And that’s where we’re in good company in the Christmas story. Because Mary and Joseph couldn’t stop the census, they couldn’t stop Herrod, they couldn’t stop what God was doing with their lives and their family. 

But what they could do...was care for the vulnerable baby that they had been told was going to do something significant. What they could do is be open to this way that God wanted to use them even if it didn’t totally make sense. What they could do was choose peace even when peace wasn’t the obvious answer. 

The late pastor and author Tim Keller says that usually we associate peace with FEELINGS—and as a person who is driven by ALL the feelings, this landed with me. I get it! I know what peace feels like or at least what I WANT it to feel like. And when I don’t have those feelings, it can seem like peace isn’t really part of the picture. 

But that’s the thing about Jesus. That’s the thing about the Christmas story. Because the whole point is that this is a story that looks the real world in the eye and says, God is here. Love is here. And there might be some chaos, there might be some things that break our hearts...but those are the kinds of places where Jesus and his peace know exactly how to show up. 

One of my favorite books I read in 2023 was (SLIDE) by Maggie Smith called “You Could Make This Place Beautiful”. Now, it’s not a book about faith but it is a book about real life, and for Maggie Smith that real life event that she’s writing about is her divorce. 

And she says that as she navigated this massive change in her family, she was desperately seeking whatever peace could look like. Because she knew that in order to make it through, she needed that peace inside of herself, but also her kids needed it in order to thrive when their whole sense of normal was falling apart. 

And like you might imagine, that peace wasn’t exactly easy to find. The circumstances weren’t changing. Wounds were constantly triggered, the pain was right in her face. Nothing was going back to how it was, so she had to choose...what would the life she was creating look like, and what role would peace play in that life? 

Probably the hardest thing for her to realize, and she tackles this in the book, was that peace could be part of her story, even if the ending didn’t feel neat and resolved. Even if she couldn’t get all the answers to her questions, even if she didn’t LIKE what was happening. Even if all of that was true...peace could be real for her. 

Peace can be real for us too. That's such a major piece of the hope we find in the whole narrative of Christmas. And I know it might not feel like it right now. I know we experience reasons not to NOT have peace every single day. I 

know that disruption can be much louder and in our faces than this idea of Shalom. 

But it’s in the disruption, that we get to hold on to this promise. It’s in the disruption that we remember that thousands of years ago God came to be with people in the form of a baby. And the way God did it made not even a BIT of sense. Not one. It was vulnerable, and powerless; it involved real, complicated people that could mess the whole thing up. And even in the middle of all of that—it opened the door to a type of peace that no one had ever thought was possible. 

What does it look like for you to open the door to that possibility? To believe that God’s Shalom is still at work? To hear this story and know that even though it happened a long time ago that Jesus is still very much at work in this world? To know that even when it seems like a stretch, even when we can find every reason for why it won’t happen, even when every news report says it’s hopeless, even then: (SLIDE) Peace is possible. 

Because wherever we are, Jesus wants to be there with us. This Prince of Peace, this creator of Shalom, this God who loves YOU wants to be part of it. And that’s a peace that is available to each and every one of us. 

Let’s pray. 

Move to Christ Candle Lighting and Silent Night...