Scripture: Micah 5:2-5a
As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out of you. He will stand & shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. They will dwell secure, he will become one of peace.
Most of world history is the story of conflict. During the past almost 6,000 years there have been nearly 15,000 wars, & these are only the ones we know about. As I preach this morning, there are about 25 large & small wars going on around the world. We human beings don’t seem to be very good at living in peace with one another. We are much better at disagreeing, fighting & feuding. 100 years ago, popular thinking said if we could just get the world better educated, all the wars would cease. But after 2 world wars occurred among the most educated nations on the planet, that naïve optimism vanished. Without a transformation of the heart, education simply allows us to think up more sophisticated ways to kill one another! There are many brilliant people in prison. An educated mind does not automatically produce a peaceful heart. What the world desperately needs – what families & folks in Shiloh Church need – is reconciliation.
Reconciliation is the restoration of peace. Peace with God, peace with others, & peace in our own hearts. Peace is the powerful miracle cure for broken lives & broken relationships. Reconciliation defuses conflict & turns chaos into calmness. It quiets quarrels. It swaps your stress for God’s serenity. It turns tension into tranquility. It produces peace of mind instead of panic or pressure. But the spirit of reconciliation seems in short supply these days.
Fortunately, one of the purposes of Christmas is reconciliation! Micah foretold of a ruler who would become one of peace. To the shepherds of Bethlehem, the angel announced the arrival of the Prince of Peace. Jesus would not only teach the way to peace, but would empower us to live lives of peace – if we would but trust him.
The same angel further declared: Glory to God in heaven, & on earth peace among those whom he favors.
You can travel all over this globe, to country after country. In each place, you will witness the universal problem of conflict. You can find it in backwater rural areas as well as in high-tech cities. Economic wealth – or lack of it – seems to make no difference at all. In some ways, technology is a culprit in the polarization of our society. The internet has allowed for the formation of thousands of micro-groups. And these niches keep getting smaller & smaller.
With the media always playing up our differences to create entertaining stories, civilization has lost its civility. Rudeness, not kindness, is on the increase. Around the world you can witness every imaginable type of conflict – between races, between nationalities, between languages, between religious groups, between political parties, & between rich & poor. As a pastor, I constantly hear of interpersonal conflicts in marriages, families, offices, sports teams, - even between church members. Then I go home &, like every other family, occasionally have disagreements there!
The sad result of all of this conflict is that the world is littered with the debris of divided homes, damaged children, discarded friendships & destroyed partnerships. In a Christmas survey taken at a shopping mall, shoppers were asked: “Where would you like to see peace this Christmas?”
They said: “I would like to see peace with my parents, my ex, & my kids.” “I need peace in my mind & in my heart.” “If people were more peaceful, maybe they wouldn’t be so rude.” “I want my mom & dad to get back together.” “I’d like to see peace everywhere.”
Is peace on earth really possible, or is it a fantasy? Is civility – good will toward all – even possible when our current society conditions us to be mean, cynical & sarcastic, to use put-downs & name-calling, to demean & demonize those who are different or think differently?
The starting point to peace in our lives is understanding the causes of conflict. There are many reasons, but here are 2 big ones. The first is our natural self-centeredness. When I want everything my way, & you want it your way, then there is bound to be conflict. If neither of us is willing to compromise out of love, then sparks fly. This scenario plays itself out a million times a day. Even when you love someone, it doesn’t mean you are going to agree on everything. Sheryl & I learned that on our honeymoon! So a key Bible verse for couples is Proverbs 13:10: Pride only breeds quarrels.
A second, but less understood, cause of conflict is expecting others to meet those needs in our lives that only God can meet. We make demands of others instead of looking to God. So many people get married with unrealistic expectations & then divorce. No human being can meet all of your needs. That is God’s job.
Instead of complaining & blaming others for your unmet needs, the Bible tells us to ask God instead. James 4:1-2: What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle & fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask God. If you prayed as much as you complain, you would have a lot less to argue about & much more peace of mind.
The reality is there will never be peace in the world until there is peace among nations. And there will never be peace among nations until there is peace in each nation. And there will never be peace in our nation until there is peace in our communities. There won’t be peace in our communities until there is peace in our families. And there won’t be peace in our families until there is peace in individual lives. And that won’t happen until the Prince of Peace reigns in our hearts. Jesus came at Christmas to bring 3 kinds of peace: peace with God, the peace of God, & peace with others. I will focus on the latter.
Let me be clear: in order to have peace with others, there are prerequisites. You must first have peace with God & have begun to experience the peace of God in your heart before you can begin to experience the joy of having peace with all the people in your life. God does this by turning you into a peacemaker. He gives you the desire, then the ability & power, to reconcile with the people in your life with whom you have had conflicts. 2 Corinthians 5:18: All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ & who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. When Christ comes into your life, one of the first areas where you see a difference is in your relationships.
Would you like God’s blessing on your life & career? Jesus said, Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Anytime you attempt to restore a broken relationship, you are doing God’s will. And when you help bring other people together who have been estranged from each other, you are living like Christ. The Bible calls it the ministry of reconciliation. God looks at you & says, “That’s my girl!” or “That’s my boy! They are doing what I would do.” True children of God are peacemakers, not troublemakers.
Notice that Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the peace-lovers,” because everybody loves peace. Nor did he say, “Blessed are the peaceable,” those who are never disturbed by anything. Jesus said, Happy are people who make peace.
What does it mean to be a peacemaker? It is not avoiding conflict. It is not running from a problem or pretending it doesn’t exist. When someone says, “I don’t want to talk about it,” that is cowardice, not peacemaking. When you delay dealing with a conflict, it usually only grows larger & deeper. Peacemaking is not appeasement, either. Always giving in & allowing people their way is passivity, not peacemaking. Jesus never said to become a doormat or a chameleon. In fact, Jesus never allowed others to define him.
To work for peace means actively seeking to end conflicts. You take the initiative in working for reconciliation in relationships. You offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you. You pass on to others the same grace that God has given you. You bring people together instead of dividing them. James 3:18: Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
Many people are reluctant to reconcile their relationships because they don’t understand the difference between forgiveness & trust or the difference between reconciliation & resolution. They are afraid that if they reconcile, they will have to return to a hurtful or dysfunctional relationship, with no change occurring. That is a misunderstanding of reconciliation.
First, reconciliation is not the same thing as resolution. Reconciliation ends hostility. It does not mean you have resolved all of the problems in a relationship. You bury the hatchet; not the issues. You continue to talk about the issues & work on them, but you do so with respect & love, instead of sarcasm & anger. You can disagree agreeably. Reconciliation focuses on the relationship while resolution focuses on the problem. Always focus on relationship first. When you do that, the problems shrink in size & can become insignificant or resolve themselves.
Second, there is a big difference between forgiveness & trust. Forgiveness should be instantaneous & free. We offer it to others the way God forgives us. We forgive so we can get on with our lives, instead of being stuck in the past with resentment & bitterness. We also remember what Jesus said: that if you refuse to forgive others, your sins cannot be forgiven. Restoring trust is another matter. Forgiveness takes care of the past. Trust is all about the future, & must be earned over time. Trust can be lost in a second, but it takes a long time to rebuild. If you’ve been in a physically abusive relationship, God expects you to forgive that person so bitterness won’t poison your life. But God does not expect you to continue being abused!
Are you allowing people who have hurt you in the past to hurt you now? Every time you rehearse & replay in your mind what happened, you allow them to hurt you again. I think you’ll agree, that is dumb. Resentment is self-destructive because it hurts you the most & prolongs the pain. While the people who hurt you go on with their lives, resentment causes you to be stuck in the past. You need to let it go.
Christmas, the season of peace on earth, goodwill to all, is the perfect time to offer the gift of grace to others, while celebrating the grace God has shown you. Who do you need to make peace with this Christmas? You may be thinking, “I could never forgive that person. The memories are too painful & the hurt is too deep. I just can’t let it go.” That is why Jesus came as our Savior. Only when you know you are fully forgiven yourself will you be able to forgive those who hurt you the most. Only as you are filled with the love of Jesus will you be able to let your hurts go & move on with your life.