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Peace is born this day

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Luke 2:1-7

This is the Advent week of peace. Does the topic appeal to anyone this morning?

“Al Qaeda: Alive and Killing” (Newsweek, 11-25-02).

“Ready to move in: U.S. forces could be primed to start fighting Iraq again in short order” (Time, 12-2-02).

“Ammunition plant fired up” (Dallas Morning News, 11-30-02).

“‘Topping off the tanks:’ The Bush Administration has been quietly pumping as much as 150,000 bbl. of crude oil a day this fall into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve… That ensures that in the event of war, President Bush can order the release of more than 4 million bbl. a day onto the market for at least 20 weeks—more than enough to compensate for Iraq’s average daily exports” (Time, 12-02-02)

“‘Smallpox stashes:’ U.S. officials say Iraq, Korea, Russia, and France probably have secret stashes of the smallpox virus” (U.S. News & World Report, 11-18-02).

“Would a war kill your stocks?” (Fortune, 11-25-02).

We need peace. Do you?

Time magazine recently reported four traits which lead to hypertension: a tendency to get upset when having to wait, a tendency to eat took quickly, a feeling of pressure as the end of the regular workday approaches, and a feeling of time pressure in general. Do you have all four? Then you are twice as likely as others to develop moderate to severe hypertension (Time, 12-2-02).

We need peace. New research suggests that those who live to be 100 are less likely to dwell on problems and have a better ability to handle stress than those who die younger. Says Charlotte Chipman, 100 years old: “Life has a way of mixing grief with joy, evil with good, darkness with light. You have to be good at handling this, and go along with whatever comes your way” (Dallas Morning News, 11-29-02, p.55A).

We need peace. And now it’s Christmas, the busiest season of the entire year.

Fortunately, there’s good news inside the shopping malls. One area mall has created the Spouse House “for those who’d rather watch TV than shop, but still feel obligated to accompany a spouse to the mall. It features football, pizza, soda, snacks, even skating—all for free” (DMN 11-30-02, p.33A). That’s the mall for me.

What does our world need more than it needs peace this morning? What about you?

Do you need peace?

Last week we discovered the people “in the news” during the first Christmas. Today let’s focus on those who made the news, then and for all time. Here’s what we know about their first Christmas.

Mary and Joseph have come from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They must do this because the Empire requires another registration, an enrollment for purposes of census figures and future taxation. Caesar Augustus had issued this decree in 8 B.C.; Herod the Great delayed its enforcement for two years. The Jews kept family records at their ancestral home, which for Joseph’s family, was Bethlehem.

So they traveled together 80 miles (90 if they went around Samaria). He walked, she likely rode on a donkey’s back. The road climbed 734 feet in elevation from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Imagine yourself nine months pregnant, or your wife in that condition, as you set out to walk from here to Waco.

Finally the three arrive, but “there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7).

Tradition says that this was a caravansary, a hotel to our culture, and that when they arrived late after their slow journey, its rooms were already filled. Preachers for twenty centuries have made much of the innkeeper who had no room for the Christ.

Now scholars aren’t so sure. No “innkeeper” is mentioned in the text. And the word for “inn,” kataluma, typically means a “guest room” (cf. Luke 22:11: “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”). The word here was most commonly used for the room allotted to visitors in a private house.

Here’s what may have happened. Joseph returned to Bethlehem, his family’s home. He had relatives all across the area. And so he and Mary stayed with one of them, in the guest room. But this room was tiny, with no privacy at all. And so when “the time came for the baby to be born,” “there was no room for them in the inn.” The guest room was not suitable for a birthing room.

So they moved to a stable, a cave behind the home. Here Jesus was born. Here Mary placed him in a “manger,” the feeding trough for the cattle and sheep which typically were housed in that cave.

Imagine it.

You are Mary. Your marriage to Joseph has been arranged for many years, and you have dreamed of your future with him. But now people would always remember that you were not yet married to him when this pregnancy occurred. Your child would be the “Son of God,” whatever this will mean. Now, far from home, you bear him in a stable and lay him in a feed trough. How much peace would you feel this morning?

Or you are Joseph. You have planned for your marriage and life with Mary. But now she bears a child who is not yours. He is the Messiah, whatever this will mean. How much peace would you feel today?

How much peace do you feel this morning? Where is your heart most in turmoil, your mind most confused, your spirit most troubled? In what ways do you identify with Mary and Joseph? In what ways does the first Christmas feel like this Christmas to you? How can this be the Advent week of peace for you?

Where will you find peace?

King David answers: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

He adds: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Jesus promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). How does Jesus give us peace? The prophet explains: “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). We find peace only when we find it in Jesus.

Billy Graham, in a message titled “How to Find Peace:” “There can be no real peace in the world until we have peace with God. Peace is more than a mere cessation of hostilities, a momentary halt in a war. Rather, it is something positive. It is a specific relationship with God. It is a spiritual reality in a human heart which has come into vital contact with the infinite God.”

To find peace in your world, find it first in God. Mary and Joseph found peace in God in a troubled and terrifying world. Have you?

How do we find peace in God?

Paul explains: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

When we ask Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and become our Master and Lord, he makes us to be “justified” with God. It is “just-if-I’d” never sinned. My record is expunged. My past is forgiven. I am “born again,” as if I’d never lived before. I become the child of God. And I have peace with God.

Have you asked Jesus to do this for you? Have you been “justified through faith”? If you’re not at peace this morning, perhaps this is the reason. Find peace in God, by making peace with God.

Then live by the word of God.

The Bible promises, “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). The Lord spoke through his prophet: “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river” (Isaiah 48:18). And he adds: “There is no peace for the wicked (v. 22).”

Do you live by the word of God? Are you like the man in Psalm 1 who is “blessed” because “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night”? (v. 2). I must meet God every morning in his Word, if I would walk in his will all day. And I must meditate constantly on his Word. I must bring every question, every decision, never problem to the Word. I must stay in it, or I am not at peace. And you’re like me.

If you’re not at peace this morning, perhaps this is the reason. Find peace in God, by making peace with God. And then by living in the word of God.

Next, surrender to the Spirit of God.

The Bible warns us: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The “fruit of the Spirit” is “love, joy, peace….” (Galatians 5:22).

The Bible commands that we “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). This verse means to be controlled by the Spirit, submitted and yielded to his control, every day. If you’re not at peace this morning, perhaps this is the reason. Live in the Word of God, surrendered to the Spirit of God.

And you will have the peace of God.

You will live as did Mary and Joseph, in surrendered obedience to the will, word, and Spirit of God. You will say to God with Isaiah, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). You will experience with Paul: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). You will say with Peter: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

And you will be at peace.

Conclusion

Are you at peace this morning? We celebrate Christmas this day amid circumstances no less challenging than those faced by those who gathered on that first Christmas day. Yet the angel could rejoice then: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Do you know such peace?

Are you at peace with God, through salvation in Christ? Are you living in his word? Surrendered to his Spirit? Do you have his peace? You can.

Frances Ridley Havergal was one of the most gifted people of her day. Reading by age four, she began writing poems by age seven. She learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and memorized the Psalms, the book of Isaiah, and most of the New Testament. She had become a Christian at a young age, but had no peace. Great London crowds loved her singing, but the Holy Spirit kept urging her closer to Jesus.

At the age of 36 she read a booklet titled All for Jesus. It stressed the importance of making Christ King of every corner and cubicle of her life. Frances made a fresh, complete consecration to the Lord. It was Advent Sunday, December 2, 1873. She said later of that experience, “There must be full surrender before there can be full blessedness. God admits you by the one into the other.”

Shortly after, she found herself in a home with ten other people, some Christians and some not, but none fully surrendered to the Lord. “Lord,” she prayed, “give me all in this house.” Before she left, all ten were yielded Christians.

Excited beyond sleep, she wrote her “Consecration Hymn,” the song that became her life’s theme. She prayed over the words earnestly every December 2nd as she resurrendered her life to the Lord Jesus.

I’d like you to make her prayer yours today:

Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;

Take my hands and let them move

At the impulse of Thy love,

At the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet and let them be

Swift and beautiful for Thee;

Take my voice and let me sing,

Always, only, for my King,

Always, only, for my King.

Take my silver and my gold,

Not a mite would I withhold;

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine;

Take my heart, it is Thine own,

It shall be Thy royal throne,

It shall be Thy royal throne.

And then you will have peace. This is the promise of God.