Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 2:1-20

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

The world is an uncertain place. It was true for Isaiah. It was true for Mary and Joseph. It is true for us today. In Isaiah’s day Assyria, Egypt, and the growing power of Babylon were clashing over dominance in the Middle East. Israel and Judah were two small kingdoms amidst power-hungry kings who believed they were gods. For Mary and Joseph the Roman emperor was the sovereign ruler and self-proclaimed god. Judah was an occupied territory, with Roman legions always there to put down uprisings and remind the people who was in charge.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

These were Isaiah’s words of hope to Judah as world powers battled around them for dominion, and they wondered if they would survive.

Mary proclaimed in her Magnificat:

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham [and Sarah] and to [their] descendants forever” (Luke 1:51-55).

Things may seems dim for the people of God; worldly forces may try to hamper our relationship with God and may even threaten our existence, but God has last the word:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14).

And God’s last word was what no one expected. The worldly powers had dictated that everyone must be registered, so Joseph and Mary made their way to Bethlehem. In Bethlehem the inn, which was probably one room around a fire pit in the middle of the floor, was full. It would not be a very private place for a woman about to give birth. But the innkeeper let them stay in the cave behind the inn–the stable–where Mary would have the privacy she needed to give birth to the Messiah: God’s Son.

In a tiny province of the huge Roman empire, in a small town, in a manger, God came to us. Immanuel was born in a stable and placed in a manger. Angels appeared to shepherds who were the first to worship the Messiah God had sent to bring light into this dark world.

For the last four weeks we have been waiting. We have waited in expectant hope for our Messiah to come. Today he has come! He is born! Joy to the world! Today our world is not as dark as it was yesterday. Today our hope is here: the Prince of Peace is in our midst. How does that change us? How does that give us the grace and strength to change the world? Our Messiah has come, and we, the Church, are his body in this world. How shall we proclaim his peace? How shall we live his peace? How shall we work for his peace in this world that needs the Messiah’s peace so desperately?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.