The Scripture readings for Christmas Eve make the point that the birth of Jesus Christ brings peace. In the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah says of the Christ, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). He then goes on to add, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (9:7).
In the Gospel lesson, the angel announces to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). We are left in no doubt that this Savior brings peace as a multitude of the heavenly host praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).
The theme that Christ has brought peace resounds throughout the New Testament. Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Our Lord expressed the assurance of peace to the disciples when he appeared to them on the evening of Easter (Luke 24:36; John 20:26). Peter told Cornelius and those gathered with him that the word that God had sent to Israel was one of “preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36). Paul wrote to the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).
The apostle Paul says this peace does not only exist with God because of Christ. Jesus is also the source of peace between people. In particular, he is the source of peace between Jew and Gentile as they are united in Christ. He told the Ephesians:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14-17).
Because of this background, it seems quite shocking to hear Jesus say:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39).
Jesus Christ is God’s gift of peace and reconciliation for sinners through this death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. He means peace and forgiveness between those who have received the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit in Baptism (Titus 3:5). Jesus is the peace of knowing that death cannot separate us from God. To die is to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and our Lord will raise our bodies on the Last Day (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). All of this is true for those who are in Christ – those who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Roman 10:9).
Our Lord identifies family as the most basic setting where this occurs. Jesus brings peace to those who receive him in faith. But where family members do not, Jesus Christ becomes the source of strife. He does because the way of Christ and the way of the world are very different. Where the world accepts fornication, living together outside of marriage, and homosexuality, Christ says these are sin. Where the world accepts unbelief or “agnosticism” as normal, Christ says that they are the rejection of him. They bring damnation.
There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus Christ. Either he is your Lord, or the devil is your Lord. We think of family as being the most important connection and relationship in life, but Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). This means that as we deal with family members who reject Christ and embrace sin, we must put the Lord and his will first. We must speak the truth and be willing to back it up with action that confesses this truth (so for example, no, we won’t stay at a household where an unmarried son or daughter is living with a girlfriend or boyfriend). The witness to Jesus Christ and his will is one of love, and so we seek to speak and act in a loving and caring fashion, even when the content is not received as such.
This is a cross that none of us wants to face. Yet our Lord says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). Jesus calls us to take up the cross of hardship and suffering. In fact, if God wills, he says we must do so even if it is costs us our life.
Yet these are not the demands of a tyrant. They are the words of a Lord who has served us. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
The call to take up the cross and follow Jesus comes from the Lord who has already died on the cross for us and risen from the dead. He is the One who has given us peace – peace that has defeated death and gives us eternal life with God. He is our Lord who has risen from the dead. Jesus prepares us for what we will face in the world, and by his Spirit leads us to confess him as Lord in what we say and do.