Have You Heard? Luke 2:8-20

We have all experienced them.  You know those times...the dark times.  Those periods in our lives when it seemed like everything in the world was in complete chaos...the times when nothing good was ever going to happen again.    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow experienced those times.  For Longfellow those times lasted over three decades.  It began in 1834 when his wife of three years suddenly became sick and died.  Almost thirty years later, his second wife died after striking a match and her clothes accidently catching fire.  Still mourning the death of his second wife, Longfellow slid further into the darkness, as he watched his beloved nation, the United States of America, erupt into civil war.  Being a man of deep faith, Longfellow entered into fervent petitions asking God to bring end the chaos.  Longfellow was pushed over the edge, though, when his nineteen-year-old son, Charles, was wounded in the chaos of that war and sent home.  Seething with anger, Longfellow watched soldier after soldier return to town and spent times with families whose children had been lost to the conflict.  His family and friends remember him asking over and over again, “Where is the peace?”[i] 
2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War.  Our nation marked two other anniversaries this year where the feelings that Longfellow experienced may have crept over us.  In September we marked the ten year anniversary of September 11th and the attacks on the US in New York and Washington DC, followed by the beginning of the War on Terror that continues to this day.  The other anniversary quietly slipped by much of this nation, but there were those who remembered the events of seventy years ago when kamikaze pilots descended upon Pearl Harbor.  We remember these two days of infamy and all the wars that raged between and since, and we want to cry out with Longfellow, “Where is the peace?”
What peace is it that we long for?  Why do we think we ought to be experiencing peace?  It is because we, along with Longfellow, remember the words of the angels when they appeared that night some two thousand years ago.  The shepherds were out in the field.  It had probably grown quiet except for the occasional bleating of a sheep, or the call of the shepherd after one of the sheep that had tried to wander off.  Maybe the shepherds were sitting around wondering themselves where the shalom was that God had spoken of so often through the prophets.  Their people had not known much peace.  They had been conquered or occupied by one empire after another.  They now found themselves under Roman rule with Herod the Great now appointed by Rome as ruler over their region.  They knew they could not expect peace under Herod, whose jealousy and suspicion had led him to execute one of his wives, his mother-in-law, and three of his own sons.  There was truly not a sense of shalom or peace in Jerusalem.
Suddenly, in the midst of their conversations that dark night, a holy light burst forth on the scene and an angel stood before them, and said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger.”
Now think of this, the shepherds were out in the fields, and except for a small fire they used for some lighting and for warmth, it was dark.  Then suddenly there is an angel standing in front of you , and the field is lit up with a pure light white streaming down from heaven.  Is it any wonder that the shepherds, despite the angels urging for them not to be afraid, were probably quaking under their robes.
If that wasn’t enough, “…suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, [an army of angels], praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace good will toward men.”
Why did Longfellow cry out wondering where in the world he could find peace…why would we expect, in a world filled with conflict since Cain slew Abel, that there might be peace.  We long for and expect that peace, because the shepherds heard, and we have read, the promise of the angels of “peace, good will, toward men.”
Where is the peace?  Where is the peace?  Where is the peace?
One December 25, 1863, as Longfellow struggled with his dark view of reality and the apparent absence of God’s peace, that a sound filled the air and filled his mind which in turn fed his heart.  He heard church bells ringing.  Despite the loss of his wives, despite conflict of war, despite the struggling of his son, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned words that have endured for almost 150 years…the words that our sister, Annie, shared with us this morning.  For it was on that Christmas morning, as Longfellow sat in the silence of that Christmas morning, that a sound broke through the silence and reminded him of just where that peace was to be found…the sound of the church bells heralding the celebration of the birth of Christ.
In the ringing of those bells, Longfellow remembered where the peace was to be found.  While he hoped, as we all do, for the cessation of violence, for wars, conflicts, and even the end to gang violence and domestic disputes to come to an end.  We have to understand that God’s peace has come…the Prince of Peace has arrived, and His rule has been established on Earth.  We are called to remember the words of our Savior as he spoke, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” [ii] Jesus did not share those words because all violence had ceased…in fact it would be merely hours later that an army would arrive to arrest Jesus a day before he would be flogged and then hung on a cross and laid in a tomb.  However, the bells of Christmas announce that violence did not win…that no matter how bad things get, no matter how much Satan appears to have gain control, no matter how crazy our lives seem to be, God has not left us, God has not gone to sleep, God is not dead, God will intervene.
The empty tomb and the resurrected Christ tell us that violence will not win, that God will have the final word.  The empty tomb and the resurrected cross point us back the manager, back to the point in history where God’s Kingdom broke in and brought His peace.
My brothers and sisters, it does not matter where you find yourself this Christmas morning…
Maybe we are troubled by the escalating violence throughout the world…maybe someone we love or care about is in the midst of that conflict or may find themselves in the midst of it…
Maybe we are troubled by conflict in the workplace…coworkers, supervisors, or employees that are unable to get along, that practice a kind of psychological warfare by stabbing one another or us in the back…
Maybe we find ourselves in the midst of war in our homes…conflicts, physical, mental, verbal between husband and wife, parent and child, siblings…
Maybe our financial security has been attacked by the continued struggle of the economy…
Maybe we or someone in our family has been violated by the terror of disease, illness, or injury…
Maybe it is even the specter of death that has entered our lives, or we know lurks nearby waiting for an opportune moment…
As we struggle with any of this, my friends, the darkness can loom heavily, our lives feel like a warzone, and we cry out, “There is no peace on earth…for hate is strong and mocks the son of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
Yet it is in these dark times when we need to let the light of the angels radiate into our lives as they did that dark night for the shepherds…it is then that we need to hear the words of the angels proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, good will to men.”  It is then that we begin the victory cry knowing that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
My brothers and sisters, are you in a dark place this morning?  If so, have you heard the bells, have you heard the angels song, come to the manger and receive peace from the One who has overcome it all.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] Collins, Ace.  Stories Behind The Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”
[ii] John 14:27


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