St. Nicholas Church, Silton, Dorset

   St Nicholas Church
   Silton, Dorset
   SP8 5PR

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Peace on earth and mercy mild

An abridged version of the Christmas Day sermon at St Nicholas’ Church

Where is the peace Christ came to bring?  We come to church this Christmas morning to hear the word of the angels: “Peace on earth and good will toward men.”  We sing “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!” but where is this Prince of Peace?  Must we say that he has failed?  Must we say that even in the land of his birth he has spectacularly failed to bring peace?


No, my friends.  Peace has eluded the Holy Land, the land of the Holy One, because the people who live there have closed their ears to the Holy One who said: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  It’s not just a Christian commandment. We know that Jesus said it but he was quoting from the Old Testament: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying… you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:1, 18).  Muslims, too, know this commandment.  They believe Moses and Jesus to be prophets of God and that the Holy Koran was sent to confirm their message. So, all of us – Jews, Christians and Muslims alike – have heard the voice of the one true God who said: Love your neighbour as yourself.


One day, Jesus quoted this verse to a clever lawyer, who then asked him: “And who is my neighbour?” In response, Jesus told him the parable of the good Samaritan, a story about a foreigner, an enemy of Israel, who came to the aid of an Israelite who had been mugged and left for dead on the road after a priest and a Levite had walked past on the other side.  Accordingly, your neighbour turns out to be someone you even think of as your enemy.  Samaria today is part of the Palestinian territory we know as the West Bank: if this parable was retold today it might tell of an Orthodox Jew and a soldier of the IDF who walked past on the other side, and a Palestinian who came to the aid of the wounded and bleeding Israeli.


Love your neighbour as yourself.  Love your neighbour – even someone you think of as your enemy – as yourself.  And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is even more explicit: “Do not resist an evildoer… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  These are the things that make for peace.  So, this New Year let us pursue all that makes for peace.  Let us continue to pray earnestly for healing and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, that Israel and the whole Arab world may live together in peace, in the name of the Christ-child and the God who said: Love your neighbour as yourself.


The Revd Canon Tim Heaton



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