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Call Him By His Name: The Promise Of The Angels

John 16:25-33

As Jesus gathered with His disciples on the night before He died, I’m convinced that He looked back across the period of His life to the night when He was born beneath a starlit sky. And I believe it was that looking back that inspired these words addressed to His disciples and, consequently, addressed to us, words which speak of the reason why He came. “The hour is coming – indeed, it has come – when you will be scattered, every man to his home and will leave Me alone. And yet, I am not alone, for the Father is with Me. I have said this to you that in Me, you may have peace. In the world, you have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the Glory.

Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever stopped to think about this? Christmas contradicts the way the world thinks. The first Christmas was marked by the promise of the angels. “And suddenly, there was, with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, goodwill toward men.’” And that promise of the angels was confirmed later on by the One we call the Prince of Peace when just before His death and resurrection, He said to all the world, “Be of good cheer for I,” yes, I, “have overcome the world.”

That’s not the way the world thinks. The world would say, with David Roberts, who indicated that if he had been able to anticipate the first Christmas would have cried out, “Gentle Son of God, don’t come here. This is no place for You. This is no place for One with high thoughts of God or high regard for people. This is no place for One who cares nothing for money or power or prestige. Don’t come here. This world will only break Your heart and, ultimately, destroy You. It is no place for You. Do not come. You don’t belong here.” That’s the way the world thinks. But Christmas says, “No.” Christmas says that it is the gentle Son of God who is the only One who really does belong here. Christmas says that it is the rest of us who are the misfits, the outcasts, the ones with the distorted view of what people were meant to be. We are the ones who do not really belong here. Christmas is our continually repeated reminder that the way of Jesus Christ is the only way for this world and her people.

Let me be very specific at this point. People in the world today say, “The world’s a mess. Too far gone. Nothing can be done to save it. What’s the use?” Christmas contradicts that.

Christmas says, “God is still in control of this world.”

History confirms that. Take for example the year 1809. It was a very bleak year. A bleak year all over the world. Napoleon was marching from one victory to another. The shadow of the little dictator fell not only across the European continent but far beyond it. Statesmen were frightened. War rumbled in various points throughout the world. Peace was just a mirage. Hunger and poverty and plague ravaged one society after another. And hopelessness hung like a heavy pall over the lives of people in the world. 1809 was a very dark year.

And people then, just as people are doing now, people then were giving up hope. But what they failed to see was that at that very moment, God was still at work in the world. God was sending babies into the world as usual, yes. But oh, what special babies they were that year, 1809. Do you know in 1809, that’s the year that Cyrus McCormick was born on a farm in West Virginia? He went on to invent the harvester and made it possible for America’s Great Plains to become the world’s breadbasket. In 1809, William Gladstone was born of Scottish parents. Later on, he would become the driving force behind the great British Empire that spread across the face of the Earth and opened the door of civilization and freedom to so many hundreds and millions of people. In 1809, that was the year that Alfred Lord Tennyson was born, and Frédéric Chopin, and Felix Mendelssohn, men whose poetry and music brought so much joy to the world. And perhaps most importantly of all, in the year 1809, in a little log cabin in the wilderness of Kentucky, a child was born, a child whose parents named him Abraham Lincoln. 1809 was a very dark year. And people were giving up hope. But God was still in control. God was busy sending babies into the world, babies who would one day help to diminish that sense of hopelessness. Do you get the point? God has not abdicated His throne. Christmas tells us that God is still in charge.

Yes. Our world is divided into hostile camps. Yes. Fear and distrust mark the relationships among the nations. Yes. On again, off again, hot and cold wars haunt our waking and our sleeping hours. Yes. People all about us seem to be paralyzed by a sense of hopelessness, but I am not one of them, nor should you be, for the promise comes to us through the pages of the Scripture that one day, the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. The promise comes to us from the pages of the Scriptures that one day the nations of this world shall study war no more. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. That day will come. Make no mistake about that. That day will come. It is promised by the angels. And it is confirmed to us by the One we call the Prince of Peace.
You know, there are some words that just sound beautiful. Just the sound of them. Words like dawn, whisper, melody, shalom. Shalom. Isn’t that a beautiful word? Just the sound of it. Shalom. And its meaning, so much more beautiful. It means peace. It’s a word that belonged originally to the Jews, but Jesus took it and enlarged it to encompass a whole world and used it again and again in His teachings. And whether we are willing to admit it or not, whether we are willing to see it or not, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is engaged in spreading His shalom through the world.

And because He said, “I have overcome the world,” His peace will prevail. And that means that our hope is not to be found in stockpiles of armaments, be they nuclear or otherwise. It’s not to be found in a soaring Dow Jones or plunging interest rates. It’s not to be found in the enslavement of people, Communist style or Khomeini style. The hope of our world is to be found in Jesus Christ. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And one day, He shall put nations and empires under His feet. And of the increase of His government and of peace, there shall be no end. Triumphant Prince of Peace. That’s the promise of the angels. That’s what Christmas tells us, that God is still in control, and that one day, peace on Earth, goodwill toward men will no longer be just Christmas card greetings. Rather, they will be Christmas reality.

But then, notice this. People in the world today say, “The only power that really works in our world is the power of money or military might or prestige. That’s the only way you get ahead in life.” Christmas contradicts that.

Christmas says that God’s power is different, and God’s power shall prevail.

Have you ever paused to ponder the way God’s power works? God never gives us a frontal assault. He never pressures us or coerces us with His power. He never bashes down the door of our hearts. He simply knocks. He is content to reveal Himself in a silent incarnation, and He is content for the world to know Him only through a spreading, penetrating influence. That’s the way God works.
And that’s what so charms us about Christmas, isn’t it? And I mean, no matter how we may surround it with clatter and glitter, somehow, Christmas is a time when our hearts are held in hush. And that’s because of the gentleness, the humility, the lowliness of a God who dares to come to us with a little baby cradled in His arms. That’s the way God works.

We like things that are showy. God depends upon the lowly. We like things with a lot of push and whoosh. God uses the weak to confound the strong. We are always in a blazing, big hurry. God starts with a baby. That’s the way God works. He holds the Earth and the planets and the stars in perfect place with magnetic strength, and it never makes a sound. He pulls the tides from the deeps of the sea with awesome force and never makes a sound. He sends mountains of snow and causes the grass to grow and does it all without a sound. That’s the way God is. He let Himself be edged right out of an inn in Bethlehem, and He let Himself be edged right out of the world on a cross, but that will not stop Him. He keeps on coming back. He keeps coming back to us as a child at Christmas, in the soft, simmering beauty of the season. And He comes back to us time and time again saying to us, “My power is the real power in the world.”

Do you catch what I’m trying to say? I want you to wrap your hearts around this idea that the real power in life is to be found more in a manger than it is in the White House. It is to be found more in a cross that it is in a crown, more in choirs of angels than in armies of soldiers, more in love than it is in force, more in giving than it is in receiving. The world will say to you, “The way to be successful, the way to be happy is to get all that you can get while you can get it and however you can get it.” Christmas says, “No.” Christmas says, “The real power in life is to be found in those things a little band of shepherds talked about so long ago.” For in the story of the Christ who comes at Christmas is nothing less than the last and greatest hope for the human race. That event, and that event alone, is significant in the history of our world.

Last year, because of the almost unbelievable generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Charles A.G. Atkins of New York City, my family and I were able to travel to the Middle East. Because Charles and Marty Atkins are such a great young Christian couple, they wanted our journey to be more than a sightseeing tour. They wanted it to be a spiritual pilgrimage. And they made the arrangements accordingly. And that meant that last year, on Christmas Eve, we were in Bethlehem.

It was one of those experiences in life which etches itself upon one’s memory forever. It was a profoundly moving time. But it was also a time filled with terrible irony. You see, Christmas Eve last year, Bethlehem was like an armed camp. The PLO had threatened a terrorist incident there. And there were heavily armed Israeli soldiers everywhere. The city was blockaded. And as we made our way into the little town of Bethlehem, all of us were thoroughly searched by an Israeli soldier as other soldiers trained their machine guns upon us. And to think that we had come there to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

And once inside the little town in Manger Square, there, we were besieged by people trying to take advantage of the occasion to make as much money as they could, however they could. It was almost as if their hunger for dollars had driven them mad. And to think that we were there to remember One whose birth to peasant parents, to a place in an animal’s feeding trough and whose adult life was marked by the fact that He never had any place to lay His head. And we were surrounded with drunken, fighting, carousing young people, sadly, most of them Americans. Young people who were determined to transform a time of such loveliness into a time of utter ugliness. And to think that we were there to pray to One who said, “I have come to seek and to save the lost.”

Thank God we slipped away from Manger Square with a number of others and went out to the Shepherds’ Fields. No more guns there. No more hawkers. No more ugliness. Just beauty. Just beautiful people, men and women and children from every part of the Earth. Different colors, different languages, different dress, different nationalities, but all there. And there, on rocky hillsides where so long ago shepherds heard the angels sing; there, as the night began to squeeze the last light out of the day, and as the stars then began to pierce the gathering darkness; there, together, we sang our carols in five different languages, and we read the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke. And we prayed together, and we wept together, and we loved together, and we felt as one. And there, on a rocky hillside, I heard again the promise of angels. The day will come when, yes, there shall be peace on this Earth and goodwill among men. That promise will be confirmed, for the Prince of Peace said, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

So call Him by His Name, Wonderful Counselor, yes. Mighty God, yes. Everlasting Father, yes. But also, yes, also Triumphant Prince of Peace.

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me. In the Name of One we call the Prince of Peace. Amen.

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