A Peace Offering
(Luke 1: 39-45)
What do you get the man who has everything? We have this little game we play at our house that apparently has become a tradition as it has been played out several times a year for around forty years. Every year around my birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas, Teresa and the kids will ask me what I want and I always, always, respond: “World Peace.” You’d think after asking over a hundred times over the last four decades I’d finally get it. Well, I guess maybe my grandkids will take me seriously and someday deliver. We can only hope.
Peace is what the nation of Israel had been desiring for generations through many wars, won and lost, captivity and enslavement and now they were under the rule of the Roman Empire who only saw them as a source of revenue. They longed for the arrival of their long-promised Messiah who would cast out their oppressors, bring them righteousness and justice, and restore the Nation of Israel as God’s chosen people who would live in peace and prosperity. Well, it didn’t appear peace was coming anytime soon. They were a little slow on the uptake. They had the word of God, the Torah, and the Ten Commandments. God had sent them prophets, kings and judges to lay it all out to them, prophets like Micah who said, But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. But they just couldn’t seem to get it. I guess, to be fair, there were times that it did seem unrealistic. As previously mentioned, there were those times they lived in captivity and under the rule of some foreign entity which made their daily survival their first priority. And then there were those times when their own rulers and authorities did not have their best interests at heart who were only in it for themselves, maintaining their position on the high-end of the societal ladder. You know, the one percenters. What a stiff-necked people! What’s a loving and just God to do? I guess go on down there and straighten the mess out yourself.
And this is where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for today. Mary, the expectant mother of Jesus, had just been visited by the Holy Spirit who had just broken the news, solving the mystery of her pregnancy, that she was to give birth to the Son of God and that, one day, the Lord would give him the throne of his father David, and he would reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom would never end. Now that’s quite a bit for a pregnant teenager to process, especially when your own family and friends were sure to question the pregnancy when she was promised to the much-respected Joseph. She did what any confused teenager would do, she sought the counsel of an older and wiser female relative who would listen to her and tell her what to do. We learned that Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands where she entered the home of Zechariah and was greeted by her much older cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with a male child, a child who would grow up to become John the Baptist who would, one day, introduce his cousin, Mary’s baby, as the long-awaited Messiah. When Elizabeth heard the greeting the child in her womb leaped and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice Elizabeth blurted out, God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her. For a scared, pregnant teen this was just the reassurance Mary needed to hear.
Most of us know the rest of the Christmas story fairly well. The Romans ordered everyone to return to the city of their birth for a census, so Joseph loads up his pregnant wife and headed for Bethlehem to register. The city was so crowded that finding lodging was next to impossible resulting in them staying in a stable. The only other witnesses to Jesus’ birth were some shepherds who wandered into town after being alerted to the birth by an Angel of the Lord. The three wise men came at a later date looking for the new King of the Jews which resulted in Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt with their young son to return only after Herod’s death which began the development of the young rabbi who would ultimately take on the powers that be and create followers who would work to transform the world, which is where the real story begins.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews applies to Christ the words of the psalmist in Psalm 40: 6-8, when he says in Chapter Ten, Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll-I have come to do your will, O God. The writer explains that first he said, sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them, although the law required them to be made. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. What the writer is saying is that Christ came to offer his body on the cross for us as a sacrifice that is completely acceptable to God. God’s new and living way for us to please him is not by keeping laws or even by abstaining from sin. It is by coming to him in faith to be forgiven, and then following him in loving obedience.
Because Jesus shed his own blood for us, his sacrifice is infinitely greater than any Old Testament offering. Considering the immeasurable gift he gave us, we should respond by giving him our devotion and service. We should remember the words of the prophet Micah where he said: And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.
In our worlds of turmoil and unrest what peace do we desire? Do we desire peace within ourselves? Is it peace in our relationships with friends, co-workers and family we seek? Do we long for peace in our communities and in our country? Are we praying for peace among people with whom we are different or have differences? Are we desirous of world peace? Is it peace with God for which we yearn? Through the offering of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his sacrifice for us, we can have this peace. Jesus told his disciples: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14: 27)
God has sent us this peace offering, a sacrifice that if we accept it, will bring us the peace we need to live as Followers of the Way in an uncertain world. All we have to do is follow the direction of the Apostle Paul who said in Romans, Chapter 10, verses 9 and 10, that if we confess with our mouths that “Jesus is Lord” and in our hearts we have faith that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation.
If peace is what you desire, it’s there for the asking. All you have to do is confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and the salvation and the peace you seek will be yours.
Please pray with me.
Holy God, heaven and earth are met this day in the newborn Child, Savior of the world. We celebrate his birth; for in him you come to be close to us, that we might be close to you. Especially, we give thanks for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and what he means to us, for prospects of peace in the world, for confidence in your almighty love, for those who generously give, for those who graciously receive, for the Church’s nurturing us in the faith. God of all mercy, as you have come in Jesus Christ to be our guest, inspire our hearts to a hospitality that welcomes all your children in his name. In the name of your most holy Son, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we pray, Amen.