We’re quickly approaching the Christmas season. It’s a busy time for many as we make preparations for big meals, visits with family, and shopping for just the right gift to give to our friends and families. One of the greatest joys this time of year is making that special dish or desert or purchasing that specific gift and watching the reaction of our loved ones as they enjoy them.
According to the National Retail Federation, consumers like you and I here in the U.S. spent $655.8 billion last year on holiday sales alone; an average of $935.58 each. This figure even excludes high ticket price gifts such as automobiles as well as charitable giving. Whether out of joy or obligation, Americans invest an amazing amount of time and money this time of the year into the lives of others!
At Christmas, we remember one of the greatest gifts ever given to us, Jesus. This gift cost our Heavenly Father more than any of us could ever pay for any gift. He handed His only Son over to us to be used, beaten, and brutally murdered; quite the high price! These days, we all know just how pricey some of these Christmas gifts are getting, yet none of them can still compare to this. However, you can imagine God’s excitement as everyday He is rewarded by sitting beside His risen Son and watching people receive and unpack this great gift with unspeakable joy all across the earth. Even Jesus considered the cross a joy for this reason.
This morning, we’re beginning a new message series entitled, “Unwrapped” where we are going to unwrap some of the greatest Christmas gifts that God freely offers us. All too often, we unwrap a part of God’s gift of salvation and see the “get out of hell” and “forgiveness of sin” features and are satisfied enough there. However, God’s desire is that we spend our lifetime fully exploring all of the benefits of this gift of salvation!
Most of us have had that same experience where someone opens up our gift, smiles, then tosses it aside not realizing exactly what it is. You’re excitement bubble is popped and you wonder why they didn’t see the value on that gift. It’s like that little girl who just saw another baby doll for her collection, but she missed the fact that this doll eats, drinks, pees, poops, talks, was custom designed to look like her, and responds to 75 voice commands. That wasn’t another $5 Family Dollar baby doll, that was a $200 high-tech, real-life doll!
God encourages us to check out all of the many features of His gift of salvation, not just the obvious ones. He doesn’t want us to miss out on anything that He has given us!
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
God was the first one to ever say that famous infomercial catch-phrase, “but wait, there’s more!”
This morning, we’re going to unwrap God’s gift of peace. Every Christmas in every church, we quote about this peace, but we often neglect it and fail to fully realize what we’ve truly been given. We read:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus not only gives us the gift of peace, but He, Himself is the Prince of Peace. He sent His disciples out to go throughout the towns and villages and He said this:
5b “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
9 “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.
Peace was so precious to Jesus that when He sent His disciples out to go throughout the towns and villages, He chose to give peace only to homes deserving it. The disciples were to freely heal the sick, raise the dead, and to drive out demons. Jesus told them to freely give life back to the dead, but peace was to be given to only those deserving of it. Wow!
Peace is one of those gifts that you don’t truly value until you lack it, then, you become desperate for it. It isn’t until you are awaiting that call with test results from your doctor or receiving that bill that you know you can’t afford that we know the value of peace. It isn’t until our job comes to an unexpected end with no income or someone we love decides to take offense at us that we truly realize the peace which has been stolen from us. Most of us here this morning have never experience war firsthand, but I can’t imagine being one of the millions who are sitting in their homes right now around the world knowing that at any moment their lives could come to an abrupt and horrific end.
The angels sang and praised at the proclamation of the birth of Jesus:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When Jesus was ready to give up His life and was being heralded as King entering Jerusalem, He remembered the high cost of peace and said:
If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
The peace that Jesus gives us as a gift to unwrap is unbelievable and truly amazing! Jesus said:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In the same conversation with His disciples, Jesus reminds them of everything that is about to happen and reassures them:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus is offering to us not only at Christmas, but in every season, peace. This peace that Jesus gives us is nothing like the peace that the world offers us. We experience peace in this world only because of the lack of conflict or troubles. The peace that Jesus gives us is a peace that, well like His word says:
the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This peace that Jesus gives us cannot be stolen away by anyone or anything. It is a peace we possess even in the midst of conflict and trouble. It is a peace that Jesus actively uses to guard our hearts and minds. It is a peace that comes by trusting that God is going to work all things out for us. It is a peace that trusts that we, as well as our circumstances, are ultimately in His hands. It is a peace that serves as a navigation tool to guide us through all seasons of life; especially the turbulent ones. It is a peace which keeps us from making rash decisions in the midst of emotional turmoil. It truly is a peace that absolutely transcends all understanding.
Not only does God want us to unwrap His gift of pace, but He wants us to freely give it away to others. Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. That’s why He gave us the colt .45 🙂 Just kidding! Jesus did say in the sermon on the mount that:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
How do we become peacemakers? Especially as we gather together for Christmas with friends and families, this can be an awesome skill to possess. In some of our families, it is an indispensable part of gathering together! Well, this happens on two fronts. The first is right within our own lives.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Most of us are aware of what will cause conflict. We know others around us well enough to know which buttons to push to set them off. We know which conversations to avoid and which topics to bring up. We know how to irritate and offend them and how to engage and encourage them.
I know that I can tell all of my new hunting stories with my one brother-in-law where that same conversation would turn the stomach of my other brother-in-law. I know that I can geek out with one person about Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Star Trek for hours, but I also realize that this same conversation would irritate another person to no end. I can pray with one person and go on and on about what God has been doing in my life with one person, but I know that my faith is a highly sensitive subject for others.
I truly do care about all these people the same and genuinely love them, but I intentionally share different parts of my life with each of them. It’s not because I’m ashamed of any part of my life, it is because I desire to honor others with my life. This isn’t hypocrisy, it is the art of peacemaking. It is allowing the living word of God to live through my life:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Now we can fully control our own lives and the choices we make. Within our own lives, we can understand how we can be peacemakers. However, it isn’t quite as easy on the second front. Being a peacemaker isn’t so clear cut when it comes to the conflict of others. How can we be peacemakers when conflict erupts between others and not with us?
Well, sometimes the answer is simply to stay out of it and let them cool off or resolve the conflict on their own.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.
However, if the conflict continues to escalate or is ongoing to the point where everyone is uncomfortable by the situation, it starts to become necessary to confront it head on. No one ever really wants to deal with conflict, but sometimes it is the best option for everyone.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Often when Jesus was confronted, especially when he was intentionally provoked, He would ask questions in return. These questions shouldn’t be designed as weapons against anyone, but rather designed as tools to get right down to the true heart of the conflict. The most common tool we can use to dig in and bring insight and understanding are questions.
Why do you believe that they think that about you?
When did you first notice this about them?
What do they do that makes you feel that way?
How could they do or say that differently?
The goal of being a peacemaker isn’t to prove one side right and the other wrong, that is the job of a judge. Peacemakers work in the ministry of reconciliation. It is to help two opponents to see things from each other’s perspectives. It isn’t to operate in the realm of absolute rights and wrongs, but rather function to bring insight and understanding to both sides and to find win-win scenarios.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
If reconciliation was all about proving one right and the other wrong, we would all be in pretty bad shape! God would always be right and we would forever be wrong heading straight for Hell. Praise be to God, reconciliation is about righting wrongs and bringing others together in light of those rights and wrongs.
Most often, the achievement of a peacemaker is to simply have two parties move forward in life agreeing to disagree, but able to be civil with one another. As a peacemaker commissioned by Jesus, however, forgiveness and restoration are our ultimate goals.
The ministry of reconciliation isn’t just for those with certain giftings in the church, rather, it is a ministry that Jesus has given to all of us. Jesus made everything right and wants us to let everyone know that everything He could hold against us has been forgiven. He wants to restore that relationship back with them. If the perfect God of all of the universe is able to reconcile His broken relationship with sinful and wretched people like you and I, then why can’t two broken people also have their relationships restored?
How awesome would it be to receive and to give someone the gift of God’s peace this Christmas? How awesome would it be to be God’s peacemaker and reconcile a broken relationship for Christmas this year?
This year, let’s unwrap the incredible gift of God’s peace!