It’s that time of year again. With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, we once more make the month long journey toward Christmas. For about thirty days, we see decorations on homes and businesses; we hear Christmas music in the grocery store; we get Starbucks coffee served in red cups; and we watch the mall reach its zenith as the epicenter for human activity in our communities. In the midst of the commercialism, craziness, and comedown, however, most of us still manage to find time to enjoy some form of family tradition. Cards are sent, parties are attended, and pleasure is taken in watching the anticipation build in the hearts of our little ones. Yet, for the Christian, there is much more to Christmas than both the materialism we chide and the memories we cherish. Christmas, of course, marks an annual remembrance of the greatest drama ever staged: the coming of the Son of God into the world in order to accomplish redemption on our behalf. It is a festive holiday that celebrates God’s promise of peace on earth. While ‘peace on earth’ is a slogan in our culture that gets a lot of mileage during the Christmas season, true peace on earth comes at a very high price. True peace must be made between God and man. This requires God’s justice to be satisfied. Without sin being dealt with, there can be no peace. Without the righteousness that God requires from the sinner, there can be no reconciliation.
The joy of Christmas comes from knowing that God himself has made that peace for everyone who believes. Jesus Christ paid the price for peace by coming in the form of a servant, living a life of perfect obedience to God’s law, and going to a Roman cross of shame to face the unmitigated wrath of God for every person he represented. This is the peace that was promised to our first parents, Adam and Eve, after the fall, that One would come to crush the Serpent’s head. This is the peace proclaimed by the prophets, that Israel’s true deliverance would come through Immanuel. This is the peace that was announced to the shepherds by the heavenly host of angels. This is the peace that, as Paul says, is ours “since we have been justified by faith” (Rom 5.1). Peace that comes to us by grace alone, through faith alone, because of the work of Christ alone.
While believers now enjoy this peace because of Christ’s first advent, they will experience this peace in its fullest measure at Christ’s second advent. When the King returns, he will bring everlasting peace on earth as he ushers in the glory of the age to come. This present evil age, with all of its sorrow and suffering, will finally and forever come to an end for God’s people. In that day, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21.4)
In the meantime, as those living between the two advents of Christ, we have the blessed privilege of hearing God’s salutation of peace whenever we gather together for worship. As God’s covenant people, we call upon his name in the invocation at the beginning of every worship service. In response, the Lord greets his people. As God’s ambassador, the minister raises his hands and – not with magical powers, but as a divinely appointed emissary – blesses the people with God’s blessing. God’s own words, such as those found in every one of Paul’s salutations, are used: “Grace to you and peace…” Hearing these words at the beginning of every worship service, we are reminded that we are assembled together in the presence of God; we are reminded that God responds to the cry of his people; we are reminded that we are forever at peace with God. By these words “grace to you and peace” we are also able to look back to what Christ has done in his first advent and look forward to what he has promised to do in his second advent.
Of all the salutations in the New Testament, probably the most clear in this regard is Paul’s greeting to the Galatians: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Gal 1.3-5) These words of peace are ours because Christ “gave himself for our sins.” We look back, not merely to a nativity scene of baby Jesus meek and mild, but to the whole mission he accomplished. Without the horror and offense of the cross, the manger is meaningless – something our sentimental culture fails to understand.
But we also look forward to the completion of our redemption, that is, to be delivered from “the present evil age” in the resurrection. Only then will true peace on earth be realized, when all things are made new. Not a superficial peace that comes from mere warm and fuzzy thoughts about the world coming together with chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Rather, a true peace that comes when the King returns with a sword to forever stamp out evil and suffering.
So, as we make our way into this festive season, let us rejoice that the Son of God invaded human history and came into this world to save us from sin, death, and hell. And let us remember that we have something for which all of the world longs and gropes. We have peace – peace with God presently and peace on earth in the future. And this same peace is announced to us, morning and evening, every Lord’s Day. May God give us a passion to bring that message of peace to the culture in which we live, so that we might see others be the recipients of those blessed words: “Grace to you and peace.”
Merry Christmas, Pastor Brown
First published in The Outlook, December 2005, vol.55, issue 11 Copyright 2005 Michael G. Brown
Before the service begins, you are encouraged to pray silently or turn to the text or the first song of praise and meditate upon its words as we prepare to worship the living God. After the service, which closes with the benediction and a brief moment of silence, you are encouraged to “greet every saint in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4.21).
* Indicates standing if you are able
CALL TO WORSHIP
*INVOCATION Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble and hearty thanks for your goodness and loving kindness to us and all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for your inestimable love in the redemption of sinners by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
We beg you to give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
* GOD’S GREETING
* SONG OF PRAISE (#204) Psalm 103: “O Come My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord”
* SONG OF THANKSGIVING (#222.1-3, 6) Psalm 111: “O Give the Lord Whole-hearted Praise”
OFFERING (for the URC Spanish ministry in Los Angeles)
* SONG OF PREPARATION (#217) Psalm 107: “O Praise the Lord, for He Is Good”
* PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
SCRIPTURE READING Psalm 118
SERMON “God is Good and His Steadfast Love Endures Forever”
PRAYER OF APPLICATION
* SONG OF THANKSGIVING (#284) Psalm 136: “Give Thanks to God, for Good Is He” [tune: “The Church’s One Foundation”]
* GOD’S BENEDICTION