The Prince of Peace
When Jesus is born, the angels sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours’
Jesus was born to bring peace: peace to all people and peace to all things.
He was born so that we could be at peace with God, at peace with each other and at peace with creation.
There is an icon (called 'Let all living things praise him') which I discovered in the Maly Voznesensky shop round the corner, which has at its centre the nativity of Jesus Christ. Mary is there, holding Jesus. The ox and ass are there. Joseph is on one side, looking – as usual – a bit thoughtful. It is all a little bit too much for him! The angels gaze on from above. The wise men are on the left. The shepherds are praising God on the right.
But this is different to other nativity icons, because in the foreground we see all different kinds of beasts – camels, lions, elephants, bears, foxes, dolphins, kangaroos, horses, zebras, giraffes, owls, seals, walruses, gazelle, storks and other birds, squirrels, rabbits, goats and sheep – to name just some. And they are all looking to Jesus. And he holds out his hands and he blesses them.
Jesus was born to bring peace to God’s creation
There are times when we know that we need peace.
There is conflict between nationsAs a UK citizen living as a subject of the Russian Federation – we pray here every week for Her Majesty the Queen and for President Putin - I am daily aware of one of those conflicts.
And we see walls being built, and brother separated from brother and sister from sister in the tragic conflict between this nation and the Ukraine
And it is not just between nationsIn the UK we are currently tearing ourselves apart over Brexit
Globally, we face an ecological catastrophe, as we mercilessly exploit this planet
And personally there are the battles which separate us from those closest to us: the fights fuelled by pride or jealousy or greed or lust or unforgiveness
So how can this child bring peace?
At the first Christmas the eternal God, the one who created this universe with a word, who calls matter out of non-matter, who draws light out of darkness and life out of specks of dirt, becomes a human baby.
God strips himself of power and becomes completely vulnerable. He lies helpless in a manger.
Why? Why would you choose to give up your power?
Why would you choose to make yourself vulnerable to those who have rejected you?
Why would you throw yourself on the mercy of those who have already ignored or used or hated you?
And the answer is very simple. It is summed up in one word: Love.
It is the love of God which reaches out to us, so that you and me – who were his enemy – might be drawn to him, might be reconciled to him.
He longs for us to be at one with him, friends with him, intimate with him, in communion with him.
And in order to draw us to him, in order invite us, he does the opposite of what we would expect.He empties himself of power and of status and becomes a human baby.
And in his love he does not command us to come to him. He invites us to come. He invites us to receive his love, and to kneel before him to receive him as our God.
That is what the wise men do.
They kneel before Jesus.
I wonder if they felt foolish when they did that.
It is one thing to bow before a royal baby in a glorious palace, where many senior people are watching on.
But this was not a palace. This was an ordinary home. There was nobody to impress, nobody to offend if they did not do it. There was probably only a rather bemused Mary and Joseph.
But the wise men do kneel before the baby Jesus.
For whatever reason, they have become convinced that this child is the embodiment of the presence and rule of God on earth. They recognise his authority. And they bow before him.
But in kneeling before God who has become a human baby, they are also – and it may have taken them many years to realise this – recognising that there is a new way of exercising power.
If I am exercising power, in a human way, as this world understands it, then I will stand over you and compel you to do what I want – by either rewarding you for doing what I want you to do, or punishing you if you do not do what I want you to do.
But if I am exercising power in a God way, in a Christmas way, then I will, for the sake of real reconciliation, strip myself of power and make myself vulnerable before you – and especially when you are the one who has ignored me, despised me, rejected me or hated me.
I pray that, especially in those nations which pride themselves on having a Christian heritage, God will give to our leaders – whether in politics, in media, in business or the arts - the wisdom to exercise power in this Christ like way.
I pray that, for the sake of reconciliation and peace, they may know when they need to take the first step and make themselves vulnerable before those who revile, despise and hate them.
And I pray that God will give them the grace and the courage and the inner peace to do it.
It is the hard path, the costly path.
When the Son of God became a little baby, Herod attempted to have him put to death. Mary and Joseph were completely dependent on God for protection.
And of course, this was the path that led to the crucifixion.
But it was also the path that led to the resurrection and to glory.
We pray for our leaders, but more than that, I pray for you and for me. I pray that God may give us the grace to bow before the prince of peace and to follow the way of the prince of peace: so that we will look again at those who have offended us, at those who have insulted us, at those to whom we are not speaking, at those who consider us their enemies, and at those who we consider to be our enemies, and I pray that we will – for the sake of reconciliation, for the sake of peace - be prepared to take the first step and to make ourselves vulnerable before them.
It could be as simple as saying sorry – even if we don’t think it was our fault; of giving a gift; of going out of your way to do good to them.
In the end, peace can only come – to us and to this creation - when like all things in this icon, we look to Jesus, and we receive his blessing. I know that some of us are with Joseph: it is a bit too much and we need time to stop and think and take it all in. But I would urge you this holy night to come with the wise men and the shepherds to come to the one who in his love for us took the first step to reach out to us and who made himself so vulnerable by becoming a human baby. And I would urge you to kneel before him.
Because when you come and you come and you come and I come, we will find that we – who had been enemies of God, and who may well have been enemies of each other – have been brought together, as we kneel together, in the presence of the Prince of Peace.