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Thursday, 15 December 2016

Peace on earth: Living as Christ lived

Here is my address from last night's Parish Carol Service at St Stephen Walbrook:

One of my favourite rock bands is U2 whose lead singer and lyricist, Bono, is a big fan of the Psalms. He has written that a lot of the psalms feel to him like the blues. Man shouting at God - "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?" – and some of the songs he has written do the same.

In ‘Peace on Earth’ he writes:

“Heaven on Earth, we need it now / I'm sick of all of this hanging around / Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain / I'm sick of hearing again and again / That there's gonna be peace on Earth …

Hear it every Christmas time / But hope and history won't rhyme /
So, what's it worth? / This peace on Earth”

It was over 2,000 years ago that that glorious song of old was first sung by angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold: "Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven's all-gracious King." So where is it? Why hasn’t it come? These are good questions to ask. Good questions to shout at God, just as occurs in the Psalms and in the blues.

While the Psalms and the blues pose questions, our carols may provide some answers. The carol I’ve just quoted, ‘It came upon a midnight clear,’ acknowledges the lack of peace that we find in the world:

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife / The world has suffered long; / Beneath the angel strain have rolled / Two thousand years of wrong;”

But the problem is then put firmly back in our own court:

“And man, at war with man, hears not / The love-song which they bring; / O hush the noise, ye men of strife / And hear the angels sing.”

The wars we wage throughout our lives drown out the song of the angels and mean that we pay no attention to the peace that the Christ-child came to bring. That is also what we are told in John’s Gospel: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …”

We have to recognize and receive him in order to access the peace that he brings, as another carol, ‘Joy to the World,’ says clearly:

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

So today as we sing carols together, the questions turn back to us. Are we hushing the noise of our strife sufficiently to hear the song of peace which the angels sing? Are we preparing room in our hearts for Christ to be born or are we like the innkeepers who said, “No room.” Are we recognizing and receiving him into our lives in order to become children of God?

You’ll probably have heard the slogan of the Dog’s Trust, ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.’ Perhaps we need to adapt that slogan to say, ‘Christ is for life, not just for Christmas’ because it is only when we live as Christ lived that the peace he brings comes in our own lives and also between those we know. It is when we live as Christ lived that we give time and care to those who are housebound or elderly; that we feed those who are hungry, that we provide shelter for those who are homeless, that we open our homes to those who are refugees and asylum seekers.

It is when we live as Christ lived that he rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of his love. It is when we live as Christ lived that the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace, their King, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.

If we are sick of all of the hanging around - sick of sorrow, sick of the pain, sick of hearing again and again that there's gonna be peace on Earth – then we need to prepare room for Christ to be born in our hearts so that we will live as Christ lived and bring peace on earth – to our lives, our friends and family, our community and world. May it be so for us this Christmas.


U2 - Peace On Earth.

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