First Mennonite Church
December 21, 2014
Luke 2:1-20 (NKJV)
Receiving Peace and Sharing Goodwill
Today is Christmas Sunday for us as a congregation. Let us therefore listen to the Christmas story as told by Luke. (Read Luke 2:1-20)
Every Christmas season we Christians focus our attention on Jesus and his birth. Jesus’ parents were of humble origin and so was the town where he was born. Bethlehem was not more than a cluster of houses on the Judean countryside. The place of his birth was the backyard shed, for animals possibly, and the clothes he wore were nothing but bands of cloth wrapped around him. The birth of Jesus is the truest expression of God Incarnate. It was God entering the realm of humankind in the most humble way.
Today, Bethlehem is home for more than 175,000 inhabitants. About half of the population of Bethlehem today are Christians and the other half Muslims. But when Jesus was born, Bethlehem was just a small village about six miles south of Jerusalem. There was nothing significant about Bethlehem. It is no wonder why the prophet Micah said:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
Bethlehem was the small village where the Son of God was born.
Today tourists flock to visit the cities where the famous were born. During his life, George Washington once hosted as many as 677 guests in one year, in 1798. Today his mansion gets one million visitors every year. Almost five million people visit Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birth city of Shakespeare in England, every year. Today, despite of the travel difficulties and political instability in Palestine, people still visit the city of Bethlehem.
Two days after Easter Sunday in 2004, after going through various check points and barricades, I arrived in Bethlehem. But because I was supposed to attend a conference in the Chapel of the Nativity a few days later, I skipped going inside it. Instead, I visited Bethlehem Bible College and other places in the city. Unfortunately, the day before I was supposed to attend the conference in Bethlehem, a major Israeli operation took place in Bethlehem and the city was shut down to all visitors for a few days.
Regardless of how far back in history the birth of Jesus is, visitors claim there is still a special feeling to being in such a sacred place. But the location of Jesus’ birth never seemed to have been of high importance, especially during the early days of Christianity. In fact, the more pressing desire in those who were spreading the gospel was that Christ would be born in the hearts of those who heard the message. Their priority was that the light of the gospel would shine in the hearts of their hearers. In the letter to the Galatians Paul wrote: My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now….! (4:19) Paul was crying and pleading with the Galatians to not let go of their freedom in Christ. Paul desired more than anything else that the Christian community in Galatia would allow the Spirit of God to bear fruit in them. Paul desired that the life of Christ would come forth in their daily lives. He desire [desired] that the character of Christ, through the fruit of the Spirit would sprout and flourish visibly in the lives of his beloved Galatian brothers and sisters.
This Christmas, remember that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but rejoice that he has also been born in you. The day you received him in your heart, Christ was born in you and you were born of God (Jn. 1:13) or of the Spirit (Jn. 3: 5, 8). Christ now dwells in you by his Spirit. So therefore, allow the Spirit of the Lord to take hold of your entire life. Paul’s words to the Galatians spell out clearly the process of spiritual growth every Christian should have. Paul wanted Christ to be formed and be born in the Galatian believers but he also urged them to “walk by the Spirit.” He gave the Galatians what the indubitable proofs are when the Spirit dwells in them: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law…. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23, 25).
Let us therefore rejoice that Christ has been born in us. And let us give witness through our character that his Spirit dwells in us.
Since the day of Jesus’ birth, the angelic hosts announced the irruption, the beginning of a new era of God’s work in the world. The birth of Jesus was “good news to all people.” The court of worship, which had been limited to the Jews and the nearby gentile converts, was then opened to everyone, to all tribes, and to all nations. Now everyone can join the angelic worship and give glory to God in the highest. Through Jesus, we now have access before the throne of God (Hebrews 10:19, 20). The curtain has been removed and we now can approach God with confidence. So let us join with the angels in praising and worshipping God. Knowing very well that we are surrounded by all kinds of idolatry: from the worship of self to the worship of things, let us remember the angel’s song. It calls us today to overcome such temptations and to take time out of our busyness to bow before God in worship. Let us develop a routine in which we pause for 2-3 minutes to have communion with God, in the morning and in the evening. Take time to worship the Lord and give him praise. Tell the Lord how much you love him. Give him thanks after you finish a major task in your day.
The angels’ song continued, “And on earth peace; goodwill onto men.” The peace of God had come down to earth. Jesus is the Prince of peace. This indicates that first and foremost, peace is a Person—Jesus. There is no peace if Christ is out of the picture. But also, peace should be our constant prayer. Peace is also the fruit of the Spirit of God in us. When the Prince of peace is born in us and when his Spirit takes hold of us, the obvious fruit of peace is goodwill towards others. Peace and goodwill go hand in hand. Peace and goodwill are the foundation for every healthy relationship whether that is between spouses, family, friends or the church. On the other hand, goodwill toward others is the seed of peace. If there is ill will toward someone, it becomes difficult to have genuine fellowship. Goodwill towards others is the foundation to reconciliation. Goodwill is a most if we want to healthy relationships within the congregation. Goodwill towards others is an essential in bearing one another in love, as Scripture commands us to. Goodwill among us is needed if we want to live in harmony, because goodwill empowers us to listen non-judgmentally, to each other. Goodwill is a pillar of self-control, which is another fruit of the Holy Spirit.
It is my prayer that this Christmas, the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in Jesus Christ would shine in our hearts. I pray that Christ would be born and formed in us. I pray that we can unite our voices and hearts in giving glory to God in the highest. I pray that we all share God’s goodwill towards everyone around us.
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Amen!
 www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/the-mansion/ten-facts-about-the-mansion (Friday, December 18, 2014)