Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Peace for a World in Conflict” (Luke 2:7-14)
Christmas 2019
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So glad to worship with you this Christmas!  One of my favorite things about this time of year is watching Christmas movies with my family.  Of course, my all-time favorite is Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, which always makes me cry.  My second favorite is the 1989 gem Christmas Vacation, which also makes me cry, but from laughing.  Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, a stressed out dad who tries to provide the ultimate Christmas for his family only to encounter one conflict after another.  His house is filled with his immediate family, as well as his in-laws—including his critical father-in-law—and of course the hilariously hapless Cousin Eddie, who rolls into town unexpectedly with his weird family in their rust-covered RV.  “You surprised?” Cousin Eddie asks.  “Surprised?” Clark replies, “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”

Throughout the Christmas season Clark is preoccupied with his end of the year bonus, which he is counting on to do something very special for his family.  His anxiety escalates as he waits for his bonus, until finally on Christmas Eve there is a knock on the door and a courier hands Clark an envelope.  Clark is filled with relief, “I can’t believe it!”  His family gathers around and his cranky father-in-law asks, “What is it, a letter confirming your reservation at the nut house?”  “It’s from my company,” Clark replies, still overwhelmed with relief.

His family starts hugging one another, “Open it, open it!” and his charming father-in-law chimes in again, “Are you gonna ball all over it or are you gonna open it?”  Clark grins, “Well, I was gonna wait till tomorrow to tell you all this but what the heck, with this bonus check I’m putting in a swimming pool!”  His family erupts with cheers and excitement.  “Sorry if I’ve been a little short with everyone lately,” Clark continues, “I’ve been waiting for this bonus, and to make sure the pool goes in when the ground thaws I had to lay out the money in advance and until this little miracle arrived I didn’t have enough in my account to cover the check I wrote.”

Clark opens the envelope and then adds, “If there’s enough left over, I’m gonna fly you all down here to dedicate it.”  His family cheers again but Cousin Eddie looks concerned, “I can’t swim, Clark.”  Clark gently grabs his shoulder, “I know that, Eddie.”  And then Clark finally looks at the paper he has taken from the envelope.  He heaves a few long sighs, but not sighs of relief.  “What’s wrong, honey?” Ellen asks, “It’s bigger than you expected?”  Clark chuckles sarcastically and Ellen continues, “What is it?”  Clark sighs once more and replies, “It’s a one year membership to the ‘Jelly of the Month Club.’”  Clark is devastated and Cousin Eddie lifts his beer, “Clark, it’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year!”  “That is it, Edward,” Clark responds, “that it is indeed.”  Clark begins chugging the egg nog, “It’s good…it’s good” and then he erupts in a rant to end all rants, a rant so funny but one I will not repeat in the pulpit because I would like to keep my job.

One of the many reasons Christmas Vacation is so funny is that it is so relatable.  How many times have you been like Clark Griswold and tried to provide an extraordinary Christmas for your family only to deal with conflict after conflict, and only to be surprised by the Cousin Eddie in your family, because as you know every family has at least one Cousin Eddie.

The truth is we all deal with conflict after conflict, and yes, in some ways we can all be like Cousin Eddie.  And the good news of the gospel is that God loves all of us so much that he gave us Someone to bring peace for a world in conflict:

Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—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 the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:7-14).

On the night of Jesus’ birth an angel of the Lord did not appear to the wealthy and powerful but to shepherds, who were often looked down on just like Cousin Eddie, shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night”, shepherds working the night shift outside in the cold who did not even have a rust-covered RV for shelter.  And after an angel tells the shepherds about the birth of the Savior of the world, heavenly hosts filled the sky and proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors.”

God offers peace for a world in conflict.

We live in a world that is anything but peaceful, a world in conflict.  You know this.  Not a day goes by when there is not news of conflict after conflict—another mass shooting, another military uprising, another terrorist attack, another day of heated debate and finger pointing in our nation’s capital, another violent incident of racism—conflict after conflict.  Maybe there is conflict at your workplace, with the undercurrents of employees undermining one another while jockeying for that coveted promotion.  There is certainly plenty of conflict in the church, but hey, if you don’t like your current denomination just start a new one because that’s what Jesus would do, right?  Maybe there is conflict in your neighborhood over the huge inflated Santa’s and Frosty the Snowmen in people’s front yards.

This time of year conflict in families is more prone to disrupt the peace in your home—especially if it’s the first Christmas after a divorce or a death or a major falling out among members of your family.  Or maybe you just wish you could find some peace in your heart, but instead find inner conflict after inner conflict.  Perhaps some of you would actually rather wake up with your head sewn to the carpet than wake up to another day of conflict.  We need peace in our world of conflict.  Bono of the band U2 describes it this way:

Jesus, in the song you wrote the words are sticking in my throat
Peace on earth
Hear it every Christmas time but hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth, this peace on earth?
(From “Peace on Earth” on their 2000 album All that You Can’t Leave Behind)

What’s it worth, this peace on earth?  In God’s perspective it’s worth everything.

God loves this world of conflict so much, God loves you so much, that he gave us his Son Jesus—“to you is born this day in the city of David a Savor” the angel told the shepherds, “to you.”  As the Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied many generations earlier, “A child had been born for us, a son given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  God offers peace for a world of conflict in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, did not preach “Blessed are those who belong to the correct denomination” or “Blessed are those who belong to the correct political party” or “Blessed are those whose skin is a certain color” or “Blessed are those who only have a particular sexual orientation”—instead, Jesus preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, did not just preach about being a peacemaker, he did exactly that on Good Friday, when he took the conflict of the world, including the conflict in your life and the conflict in your heart, upon himself and offered love and mercy and grace and forgiveness, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  God has already forgiven you for the things you have not even forgiven yourself for.  There is more than enough forgiveness in your account with God to cover every moral check you have ever floated.

While this world in conflict did not then and does not now know what it’s doing, on Good Friday Jesus, the Son of God born for you, Jesus the Prince of Peace, knew exactly what he was doing: dying for peace for a world in conflict.  Scripture assures us that “in (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20), that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

This Christmas you may not have peace in your world or peace in your heart, but you do have peace with God, who loves you more than you could ever know—who loves you so much he thought you were worth dying for, and still does.  When it comes to the peace of God for a world in conflict, even Cousin Eddie was right, “It’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year”—and will actually keep on giving throughout eternity.