First Sunday after Christmas
December 30th, 2018
Christmas Peace and Christmas Conflict
Pastor Joe Beran
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s so great to be here this morning in worship. For those of you who don’t know who I am, or missed the introduction earlier. My name is Pastor Joe Beran. I’m a pastor in Santa Clarita, California just north of LA. My better half is Sarah Beran and we have a one year old son named Augustine who is loving getting to experience snow for the first time and play with all his different cousins.
Merry Christmas! Today we are celebrating the 1st Sunday of the Christmas season or the 6th day of Christmas, depending on how you want to break it down. So take this as full authorization to keep your lights up for another week because Christmas still has 6 days left. Now Christmas is a fantastic season for a lot of different reasons. On the one hand, Christmas is a season of peace. Things slow down a little bit. You get together with family or friends. You eat way too much food together. What a wonderful time of peace. Ahh. But as anyone who has ever traveled during this season knows. Christmas can be a time of conflict as well. There can be differences of opinion on how traditions should be carried out. What should we eat? When should we eat? When should we open gifts? How should we open gifts? I come from a family that tears everything up fast, throws around some quick thank yous and moves on. Some families intricately unfold their wrapping paper, take their time, and enjoy the morning. All of these questions are even ignoring the bombshell of ever trying to get into a political discussion at a family gathering. It’s not worth it. Just walk away. Christmas brings both Peace and Conflict
So, today we’re going to be focusing on the Gospel reading from Luke 2. In case you missed it, here’s a quick summation. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple as was the ritualistic tradition at that time. Then in the temple there was an older man named Simeon who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until before he would see the Lord’s Christ. Now this is strange because it’s been like 400 years since Israel has heard from a prophet. For him to be saying something like this would be crazy to everyone around him. He would almost be like an old guy standing on the corner with a sign that says “The end is near.” Only for him it’s “I’m going to see the Christ before I depart.” A lot people probably found this strange.
So after some amount of time Mary, Joseph, and Jesus enter into the temple, and then Simeon is called by the spirit to see that this child, Jesus, is the Messiah. He takes him up in his arms and speaks these incredible words “Lord, now you are lettings your servant depart in peace, according to your work; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
This story today brings out two aspects of the Christmas story. First it brings an aspect of the peace found in Jesus. He’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles (THAT’S MOST OF US) he’s glory to Israel. Jesus brings peace. We love Christmas peace. We love to celebrate it. Yet the story doesn’t end there…
Then Simeon turns to Mary and says “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” So, not only do you have Christmas peace, but you also have division. Simeon says Jesus is going to divide the world. He’s going to reveal the hearts of many. We rarely talk about it, but it’s all over the carols, the hymns, the Christmas text.
Think of the lyrics to Joy to the World. “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.” What I’m trying to say is that the Bible tells us Jesus came at Christmas time to say that everything, every single inch of the universe is His. Everything. He owns it all. That’s a divisive claim. That’s a claim that causes conflict. In a real sense Jesus came to pick a fight. Maybe you’re wondering, “Well, didn’t he come to bring peace on earth?” Absolutely he did. But the way He brings peace on earth is different than we would expect. The way Jesus brings peace is the same way that surgeon would bring peace to a body with a tumor. He brings it through divisive incisions that cut to the core. He causes conflict to bring peace.
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” (verse 34). Simeon is saying that Jesus came and will cause everyone to either rise or fall. He’s that polarizing. There’s no in-between. Why? Well when you look to the life of Jesus you see an abundance of claims that will either attract you to him or repel you from him.
Jesus claims to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That’s an inherently divisive claim. If someone came up to you and said, “You belong to me.” You can’t be casual about that. You can’t just say maybe to that one. It’s either true or false. Either you push that person away or you comply and submit to that person. Jesus has a lot of moments in his ministry where he makes claims like that. He says to the rich young ruler “give everything you have to the poor and follow me.” Jesus says to his disciples and the Pharisees “Before Abraham was, ‘I AM’,” (which is to say, “I’m God in the flesh.”) There are a lot of moments like this all throughout the Gospels where you look at the words of Jesus and say, “Either this guy is insane and the world’s greatest liar, or He is exactly who He says He is.”
If you have ever read through the Gospel of Mark, you hear this same phrase over and over and over again: “Who is this?” “Who is this that the winds and sea obey him? Who is this that he forgives sins? Who is this?” You never get this idea that says, “Jesus is just such a great moral teacher.” You don’t get “Jesus really teaches me to live to my fullest potential.” You get “Who is this guy?” Because Jesus is inherently divisive. Jesus brings both peace and conflict.
A lot of us don’t like to wrestle with this idea. There’s probably some of us here today who are uncomfortable this young pastor from out of town is talking about this. In fact, there’s a piece of me that’s uncomfortable speaking about this. But that’s what the Bible says about Jesus and we don’t cling to how comfortable we feel, we cling to God’s word. This morning it tells us that there’s really no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. Because while Jesus did say all of those things that were so inherently divisive, he also lived a life full of such humility, compassion, tenderness, and wisdom that everyone who followed him was absolutely attracted. He healed the sick, he cast out demons, he raised the dead, he helped the poor.
It’s this incredible combination of that caused these monotheistic Jews—Jews that would say “There’s no way that God could become flesh. That’s impossible,”—caused them to, after following Jesus around for years, worship Him as Lord even at the stake of it costing their lives. There were several other people before Jesus time claiming to be the Messiah, claiming to be some kind of divine creator. But each movement would only ever attract a small dysfunctional group and then die off. When you look at Christianity you have to ask yourself. How did Jesus do it? How did Jesus lead one of the largest movements in all of history? When you look through the Gospels you see it wasn’t just because he had a nice teaching. It was because Jesus brought both radical peace and radical conflict. There’s no other explanation for it.
As if all of that conflict wasn’t enough. There’s one last piece of the story today that Simeon shares with Mary. He says “(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Simeon is predicting what Mary is going through. He’s predicting Mary is going to have a lot of pain in her life. I think there’s a tangible way in which Simeon is also speaking about the repentance that Jesus brings.
All throughout Jesus’ ministry he has this incredible ability to look at someone and know the idols of their hearts. He knows the secrets they’re hiding. He knows the pride they have. He knows everything they dream of being. He knows all these things before people even speak. And all throughout the Gospels you see him speak these piercing phrases that cut to the core of the sin and point out the persons need for repentance, but it’s never easy.
The author C. S. Lewis does an incredible job painting a picture of this sort of repentance in his series, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” At one point in the series you meet a character named Eustice who comes across an incredible treasure. It was a treasure so incredible that he would look at it and dream about all the things that he could do with it. The faith that Eustice put into this treasure causes him to transform into a hideous dragon and he begins to experience pain not only from his transformation, but also from his isolation. Deep down inside he knows he’s still a boy, so he tries to claw his scales off and see if he can fix himself that way. Then Aslan (who’s undoubtedly a Christ figure in the series) comes along and removes the scales and here’s how Eustice describes it, “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobby – looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch.”
Repentance is a painful process; it cuts like a sword. Perhaps the reason why is that repentance doesn’t just say “Oh man, I did a few a bad things.” Repentance says “I to the very core am the problem. I’m the problem.” Repentance is admitting that we have a selfish and sinful human heart and the only way it can be fixed is by God himself. And there’s a piece of us that just hates that, isn’t there? We would love for there to be an easy way out. Give me the 5–step solution. Give me the right way that I need to schedule my life to fix it. Give me the way where I can just work hard enough to make everything better. But if you’ve ever tried that before you know it doesn’t work out. You might clean up your act for a little bit, everything may look perfect and put together on the outside. But deep down inside you know your soul will be longing for something more. It will be left longing for peace.
The painful sting of repentance, is so absolutely necessary because you cannot be healed without it. Why? Because repentance always draws us back to the one who brings healing. It always draws us back to the one who can and does make all things new. Although repentance may always start in conflict, it always brings us back to the one who brings peace.
So if you’re here this morning and you just have that secret sin you’ve been hiding that you think no one else knows about, you’ve got to recognize 1st, you’re not fooling God. You’re not. He knows. You can fool the people around you. You can throw on a happy face. Jesus sees your heart. You need to repent. The only way you’re going to receive healing is when you first lay it before the Lord. He will give you peace.
Now I also want to talk to some of us here today who as soon as I talked about that secret sin said, “Thank God, he’s not talking to me.” I want to challenge you to see if there are areas of your life where you have convinced yourself that by just working hard enough, behaving well enough, and by cleaning up your act you have appeased God. He sees through that façade, and you and I both know that you can try to clean yourself up but on your own it’s never going to leave you satisfied. Repent of your self-reliance, and give it all to him. He will give you peace.
Repentance is painful. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s saying, “I’m the problem.” It brings about conflict because we don’t want to admit that, just like we have trouble admitting that we belong to Jesus. But the peace that we receive through it is so much greater and more powerful than anything else in this world. It’s the kind of peace that anchors you and reminds you that regardless of how difficult life is, and regardless of your circumstances, God is with you. He has it. You don’t need to worry.
You know, there’s an aspect of being the pastor that stepped in from out of town that’s kind of fun. I can get away saying things that Pastor Larson might not be able to. Like I could say “Hey, you ought to pay Pastor Larson more.” Or “That issues you have with the grass outside, or the facilities, or the color of the carpet, or whatever else. It’s actually not that important compared to making disciples.” Because I’m coming from the outside, I have a little bit more freedom to speak to and about conflict. My prayer for us today however, is that we as the Body of Christ would never be satisfied with conflict for its own sake, but that we would instead recognize that conflict always leads us to a place of repentance. That repentance then brings us an everlasting peace. We need both conflict and peace. Let’s pray about that.