And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
"Peace." Doesn't it feel good to just say that word? Peace. It's kind of a good feeling there. What is "peace?" I wanted to know what peace was so, of course, I looked it up in the dictionary. In the Oxford American Dictionary, the first three definitions are this: "1. a state of freedom from war, cessation of war. 2. a treaty ending a war, signed the peace. 3. freedom from civil disorder..." That's what peace is, according to the dictionary.
Close to my home, I often meet an interesting vehicle on the road. It is an old Volkswagen bus with little flowers painted on it. The driver is a young man who looks like a flashback of the 60's. He wears a headband. Every time we meet him on the road, he waves a friendly vee or "peace sign." He reminds me about when I was six years old riding in the back of my parent's Ford XL, watching all the hippies and their minibuses heading to Woodstock. That was always fun. You know how kids do with truckers? That's what we did with hippies. "Can they do it back" They did it!" It's the peace sign. That's what we think of peace.
Absence of war. That's what our modern culture says. Peace in the home simply means that we're not scratching each other's eyes out.
Is this what the Hebrew shepherds understood the angels to be saying? To better understand the words of the angels to these Jewish men, we need to delve into Jewish culture. Here, peace was not brought about by slogans like "Peace, Baby." You could see that man in the van mouth these words. "Peace, Baby." Peace came about in the form of the true Peace Baby. The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ! This peace is "Shalom." That is the title of this sermon written in Hebrew in your bulletins. Just remember to read it from right to left.
Turn with me to the book of Numbers where we may begin to understand more of what this Christmas story is all about. We can begin to understand better what the shepherds heard that night when the angels told them, "Peace on earth." Numbers chapter 15. The first five books of the Scriptures are what the Jews call the "Torah." Let me hear you say Torah. The word that you just said strikes deeply into the heart of every Jew. Torah was not just five books of the Bible, Torah was life! It was life to them. Now to understand the world of Jesus, they understood that God was a lover in search of a bride. Do you remember a few weeks ago we had a sermon about "The Bridegroom comes?" (Leftovers for the King) Here's another example. They're looking for the Bridegroom to come. God is a lover looking for His love. And God loves His people so much that He gives them the Way, the Teachings. Here's how to live to get maximum joy, maximum peace, to get everything there is out of life. They even referred to Torah as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Did you know that? So, what is Jesus saying when He claims to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life? What did the Hebrews understand when He said that? That He is claiming to be Torah fulfilled. He is the Word of God. John 1:14, The Word was made flesh!
Numbers 15:37-39 (NIV). The Lord said to Moses, or "Yahweh said to Moshe." speak to the Israelites and say to them, "Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. In other words, "wear tassels as a constant reminder not to go after other lovers."
Now, if you want to drive somebody crazy, tell them to put tassels on the corners of a circular garment. This gave the Rabbis much to discuss.
"I want you to put tassels on the corners of your garments." The two Hebrew words here are absolutely fascinating. The first word is spelled TZITZIT. Here it the South, we'd say, "T-zit-zit." Actually it is "seetzee." This is the word for tassel. Next is the word for corners: "kanaf." "I want you to put seetzee on the kanaf of your garment." So a good, Torah observant Jew would wear a prayer shawl. This prayer shawl has written on the neck piece in Hebrew; "Baruch atah adonoi, elohenu, melech ha olam ashe kidshanu b'mistzvotav ve-tsevanu layitatef b'tzitzit." English translation: "Blessed are you, the Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in tassels." That's just what we read about in Numbers. It was customary to recite this before placing the prayer shawl around your shoulders. If these words were actually written on your prayer shawl, like this one, it was customary to kiss the first and last letter of this blessing before putting it on, representing, once again, your love affair with God. (Place prayer shawl around shoulders.) Today in Chattanooga, you may even see a Jew wearing a prayer shawl on his way to the synagogue. They will wear these prayer shawls, indicating many different things. In Jesus' day, you would see them being worn all the time. He was good about dealing with examples in our culture and the culture which He was in. This was no different when He was on this earth. He dealt with the culture of the Jews. The Jews were good about standing upon the Laws of God, making them more grandiose than they were to begin with. That's not always bad. But they added so much symbolism to this prayer shawl that it's absolutely fascinating.
You may not be able to see this well. On this TZITZIT are five knots, and they stand for the five books of the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Every string, every twisting of the knot had symbolic meaning. For example, The first two sets of windings, seven plus eight equal fifteen. The third set of windings is eleven. Together, they come to twenty- six.
Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value much like Roman numerals. The number twenty-six is equal to the Hebrew letters YOD HAY VAV HAY, the name of God.
Now the final thirteen wrappings equals the Hebrew letters that make up the word "one." So, whenever you took the threads into your hands, you are reminded of the phrase; "Hear O Israel, the Lord is one."
Also, the number value of the word TZITZIT is 600. In each tassel there are eight threads plus five knots. Thus, whenever you look at the corner threads, you see 600 plus eight plus five, which equals 613, which is the number of Jewish commandments found in the Torah. Remember, God said, "I want you to put tassels on the corners of your garments so that you will remember Me and My Law. So they had 613 constantly in their hand. They remembered God and His Laws.
Oh, there is so much more, but you get the picture. This garment was a constant reminder of God.
In fact, (You remember I said there are five knots?) between the five knots are four spaces, which once again represents the four Hebrew letters for the name of God: YOD HAY VAV HAY. These letters form the name of God which is printed in Hebrew letters found in your bulletin, the bigger letters. We would pronounce this as Yahweh but these four letters are actually unpronounceable. Your Bible translates this word as Lord. Any time in you come across capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D, that's an attempt to translate Yod Hay VAV Hay. Four unpronounceable letters they didn't even want to pronounce the Holy name of God. This is the name that God gave to Moses at the burning bush. You remember, when Moses said, "Well, who are you?" God replied, "I am who I am." Moses was perplexed, "But what am I to tell the people?" "Tell them that the Lord, Yod Hay VAV Hay, sent you. In fact, some scholars say that when God told Moses His name He simply breathed or blew. They believe that Jod Hay Vav Hay resembled the sound of breathing. Yod Hay Vav Hay.
This brings up an interesting point. It's so nice when a baby is born. What is it that is so important for a baby to do first thing or that baby will die? It's got to breathe. Or, say the name of God. What is the thing that happens when a person dies? He can no longer take a breath. Or, is it when he can no longer speak the name of God? The name of God, sounding like this should be a reminder to every one of us that every breath that we take is God-given. Yod Hay Vav Hay. What a constant reminder of God's presence! When Adam was created, did not live until God breathed His own name into Adam's body.
These knots and spaces on these tassels... When you wear one of these things I noticed they always touch your hands. They always seem to be in your way. But they are there as a constant reminders to the Jewish person that God is always there. They are reminders of God's love, of God's word, God's commandments and God's Holy name. So when you were tempted to go after other lovers, those idols, or what ever else you wanted to go after, you would have this feeling in your hands that, "No, I belong to God." There is much wedding symbolism that goes into one of these prayer shawls. We'll touch on more on that next year in our sermon series on Ruth and Boaz.
When you would go to the Synagogue to pray, you would place the prayer shawl over your head like this and you would wrap you fingers in the knots of the TZITZIT. This was called your "prayer closet." When Jesus said, "Enter into your closet to pray," He was not talking about where stored the brooms and the vacuum cleaner (Matthew 6), He was talking about a private place, your own prayer tent. In fact, his began in the wilderness where God had a sanctuary, a prayer tent and six million Jews could not go inside, there was not room, so each one of them had their own sanctuary to enter, a place for them to pray, a place for them to chant the words of the Torah, a place for them sing to God privately in the midst of six million people.
Today, we have our own prayer closet. Did you know that? You carry it with your wherever you go. You know how we teach our children to pray, "Fold your hands and close your eyes." And you enter into privacy with God.
Do you remember in I Samuel 24 where King Saul is pursuing David and David sneaks up on Saul in a cave and cuts off the corner of his garment? Since Saul, as King of Israel, would have been a Torah observant Jew, what did he have on the corner of his garment? Tzitzit. A tassel. So, when David snuck up on Saul and cut off the corner of his garment he cut off his tassels. And suddenly, the story made sense to me. Why was David so guilt-ridden for cutting off the corner of Saul's garment? Because, symbolically David had killed the Lord's anointed. Remember, Torah is life, and he had cut off Torah from Saul. He had cut off the symbolic relationship that God had with Saul. Saul had effectively been excommunicated, and David asked, "What right do I have to excommunicate anybody?" And so he is filled with guilt. Now as Saul is walking around, the tassel no longer falls to his hand and he is reminded constantly that he is not right with God.
In Jesus day, when the Rabbi got up to read Scripture, he would take the scroll and parade it through the synagogue. As he did this, something interesting happened that we would probably call irreverent. The place broke out into a kind of bedlam. People would be coming to the Rabbi, running at the Rabbi, jumping at the Rabbi, trying to touch and kiss the Torah, another symbol of their love relationship with the Bridegroom, who loved them so much that He gave them Torah. Hebrew boys and girls, by the age of ten or twelve would have the Old Testament memorized. Yes, you read that right! Genesis to Malachi memorized. I'm kind of proud when I just read it. They memorized it because they didn't have a copy of the Torah at home. They went to the synagogue and heard and learned the Torah there. They memorized everything the Rabbi said. In a synagogue today, you might see twelve year old boys coming up to the Rabbi saying, "Please, please let me read today. Let me read from the Scripture. I want to read the Hebrew publicly." Begging the Rabbi, "Let me handle Torah."
It's hard for us to fathom how much Scripture meant to the Jews in Jesus' day. It's too bad that they did not fall in love with the Word when it was made flesh, Jesus Christ.
After the reading of Scriptures, the Rabbi would extend his arm in blessing. Another translation of the word, Kanaf, is "wings." Do you see where this idea comes from. So in the same way that God has wings where we can take refuge, your prayer shawl had wings. So this would be your last sight in the synagogue every Shabbatt, every Sabbath. The priest with his wings extended in blessing. In Malachi 4:2 it says that the Sun of righteousness will arise with healing in His wings. We sang that for our opening hymn. "He is risen with healing in His wings." This is where it comes from. So a belief developed that when the Messiah would come, He could be known by having healing in His wings, Tzitzit.
Turn to Luke 8. Here we find a fascinating story, a story of an interrupted journey. Jesus is on His way to heal Jairus' daughter. Something interesting happens on the way, and interruption.
Luke 8:42-48 (NIV). ...As Jesus was on His way, the crowds almost crushed Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
"Who touched Me?" Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you."
But Jesus said, "Someone touched Me; I know that power has gone out from Me."
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed. Then He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."
What does Jesus mean when he says "your faith has healed you. Go in peace?" What was it she touched? I have often pictured the crowd being so pushy that all she reach was the edge of His garment. You know, she couldn't touch His hands, or His shoulders, or His head. All she could reach was the edge of His cloak. But that is not the case! The border of His garment was what she desired to touch! She knew what Malachi had said about the Messiah having healing in His wings. She believed that Jesus was the Messiah! That was the faith that healed her. That is why Jesus is suddenly interested in who touched Him because He knew that someone in this crowd actually acknowledged Him as the Messiah! The Son of Righteousness! "Somebody really believes I Am who I Am."
So the next words that Jesus says are not insignificant. When He says "Go in peace," I always used to assume that was kind of like when we say, "have as nice day." No! He is talking about the exact same peace that the angels wished upon the shepherds that very night that Jesus became God With Us. Shalom! This if far more than the absence of conflict.
Many of us have a "someday faith." "Someday, I'll go to Heaven." This is a faith without power. We don't see too many Christian environmental movements because we have a theology that says, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through." We end up caring little for this world because we're leaving it some day. That carry's over into how we treat each other. We see somebody starving, "Well, you know, that's just this world. We've got a better world coming. One day they will be helped. One day they will be filled. It's a one-day kind of faith. "Some day this will happen." But I have news for us. This world is our home. We're not just a passing through. Just because your house is dirty and in need of repair doesn't mean that it is not your home. We were created on this earth. This was meant to be our home. We just messed it up. It needs repair. It needs cleaning. When we go to Heaven it is only for a thousand year vacation. The last part of the last book of the Bible talks about a new Heaven and a new Earth and I saw the New Jerusalem coming down. (Revelation 21:2) This is our home and will be again, only next time it will never get dirty again, though, because we're sick of living in a dirty house. We've seen what it does to us. We've seen, even more importantly, what it does to our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. And we're going to live in this world in real peace, never to be dirty again.
Did you notice that when Jesus teaches us to pray, He says, "Your will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven." (Matthew 6:10) "Your will be done right here in earth as it is in heaven." What Jesus is saying is that there is a place, Heaven, where God's will makes things the way they are meant to be. When His will is done in my life, I am in harmony with Heaven. I don't have to wait until I go up because Jesus came down! He showed us how to live in peace, in shalom. Many people's presentation of the Gospel is, "Do you want to go to Heaven?" But Jesus says, "Do you want to know how to bring Heaven down into your heart." For many, the Gospel is us going up. But the Bible is a story from the beginning to the end of a God who wants to come down.
The beautiful message of the shalom of God is that God is looking for a people that He can come down to and dwell in the midst of. The Bible starts out with an almighty Creator coming down looking for people to be with. "Adam, Eve, where are you? Why are you wearing camouflage? I wanted to be with you." Exodus talks about God asking for a tabernacle to be built, not for Him to dwell in, but so He could dwell in the midst of His people. The New Testament Church is called the body of Christ. He is supposed to be in our midst, in our very being. People are supposed to look at us and see Jesus here on earth through our lives, lived with Him in our hearts.
The Christmas story is another example of God coming down. It's not just enough to be here, He becomes one of us as close as He can possibly be.
Are there places in you that are not whole? Do you crave for that peace that passes understanding to invade your life? You don't have to wait because Jesus is here! Invite Him to live in you. You can dwell in Shalom, in the peace of God, now. You can find spiritual healing in His wings. He wants you to touch Him with a faith that says "I want You to live in my heart and to restore my life to what it was meant to be, now!"
The Shalom offered to the shepherds on that wonderful night, on that very first Christmas, can be ours this Christmas. You don't even have to wait. It can be your today. It's ours for the taking. I can't think of a better Christmas gift.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Sources: Rob Bell Sermon at Youth Specialties Convention 2002 israelcraft.com hopeofisrael.net Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White Theological Word Book of the Old Testament
Hymn of Praise: #122, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Scripture: Luke 2:13,14 Hymn of Response: #136, Good Christians, Now Rejoice
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last updated 12/22/2002 by Bob Beckett.