Thursday, 25 December 2008

‘Peace on earth!’

Christmas Day Message 

‘Peace on earth!’ the heavenly host declare… as they announce the birth of the Saviour.

Really? Peace? On earth?

So, "what's it worth, this peace on earth?" And how long do we have to wait? These questions are asked by our Presbyterian Moderator the right reverend Dr. Graham Redding this year in his Christmas Message to the church… the question comes from the lyrics of a U2 song he likes…

You know the church is changing when the Moderator’s quoting U2.  But bear in mind…this popular rock band… are also… phenomenal Christian theologians…reminding us in their song Peace on Earth that… if we’re not careful we’ll simply take these words for granted every Christmas…  and there will be no peace on earth.

And the Moderator reminds us that, ‘The problem isn’t just… humanity’s failure… to bring about peace on earth. It’s Christianity's complicity… in this failure.’

‘Throughout history, he notes, the Christian church rightly stands accused… of giving divine sanction…

to horrific acts of genocide, violence and oppression.’

‘… directed not merely toward people of other faiths, but towards fellow Christians’ as well...and even sometimes members of our own families.

 So Dr Redding asks: “if the church… can't even get its own house in order… what mandate do we have to talk about peace…’ to the world?

Of course we could rise to the churches defence… and point out that for all its failings…the church’s has been involved in peace making and projects of reconciliation… over the past two thousand years.’


And Ok… so a lot of Christians have been ready to pick up a gun in the name of God and country…on the other hand… many Christians have paid with their lives…
making peace and for protesting against war and violence.  Hey we could say proudly…the books are balanced. [pause]

But the universe isn’t run by an accountant…and our Moderator insists… we should beware of trying to offset …the sins and failures of the church… with a list of Christian virtues and achievements.

The problem with a… ledger-based approach like this is … when we comfort ourselves 

with the churches merits… we risk dodging responsibility for the harm we’ve done together in Christ’s name. And to have any credibility at all …we must confess our corporate sins.

Graham Redding says, ‘if a ledger-based approach had been applied to the original disciples… then… 

the church would never have been born.

Their track record was as patchy as ours. And despite moments of insight and commitment to follow Jesus, their walk with him was equally marked by misunderstanding, misplaced ambition, violent impulses, betrayal, denial and abandonment.’If God were keeping a ledger the early church wouldn’t have stood a chance.

So we need to understand what was really happening ‘when the heavenly host declare peace on earth.  They aren’t suggesting war’s suddenly going to stop… and miraculously… we’re all going to learn to live in peace with one another. Not at all… did you notice their words…actually take the form of a blessing:

"Glory to God in the highest …and on earth peace…to humankind… on whom God’s favour rests."

Favour so great…grace so complete… that the baby born that day… ‘brought our humanity into…a reconciling union… with God.Sin has been forgiven. The endless cycle…of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…has been broken.’So let us never forgetthat the occasion for this blessing is the birth… of the Saviour of the World.

We have a right to speak of peace because ever since the heavenly host were heard on high…the church has insisted… that in Jesus Christ…God’s kingdom has broken in to time and space…our broken and sinful humanityhas been taken up by God.

There is reason to hope in God’s future. And in Jesus life death and resurrection we see that ‘Even death's relentless grip on our world has been prised open and the life-giving energies of God's Kingdom ushered in.’


In Jesus the saviour and through him, we proclaim
all humankind… are truly and greatly blessed.


Yes it’s true that ‘on one level… nothing much appears to have changed. Human affairs are still characterised by conflict…yet on another level…
everything has changed.’


My friends…this is the Good News… for which we… the church.. exist to proclaim … ‘not from a position of moral superiority, but from a position of abundant joy and humble gratitude…’

as the angelic chorus again and again captures our hearts, loosens our tongues… inspires us to song… and shapes our lives:

 Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace

 Today and always… may this ancient blessing… sustain you and give you hope.  Today and always may you give your life to the one whose birth we celebrate today.

This sermon adapted its text from ‘A Christmas message from the Moderator’ by the Right Rev Dr Graham Redding first published on the PCANZ website in December 2008. To read the full text hit