Saint Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of New York, The New Confessor – GOD IS WITH US! Sermon at Christmas Vespers.
God is with us, understand, O ye nations, and submit yourselves: for God is with us!
These words were sung triumphantly and joyfully at the very beginning of the service on the Eve of Nativity. They were pronounced many centuries before the Nativity of Christ by the great Prophet Isaiah. At that time, the whole world was sunk in the darkness of idolatry. Only in the small Jewish nation in the small country of Palestine was there a flicker of the true knowledge of God, but all the other millions of people were pagan. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the Prophet Isaiah saw far into the future through this darkness of idolatry, and what was to take place a long time later to him was already accomplished, and he says, “God is with us, understand, O ye nations”.
Many centuries went by until this wonder of wonders that the Prophet Isaiah foretold came to pass, and the ‘great mystery of piety’ took place. God appeared in the flesh and deigned to lie in a manger. And the Church takes us on the wings of faith and hope to Bethlehem and announces, “Christ is born, give ye glory! Christ cometh from heaven, meet ye Him! Christ is on earth, be ye exalted!”
We heard the touching Gospel account of how the simple shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields of Bethlehem were found worthy to behold a heavenly vision and heard the good tidings brought by the messenger from heaven that the Savior of the world was born. They heard the angelic hymn “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” And of course they remembered this for the rest of their lives, and they could wholeheartedly agree with the poet who said, “Heavenly sounds can in no way compare with the mundane songs of the earth”.
The holy angels sang about peace. And He Who came to the earth and lay in the manger is called ‘Mighty God, Ruler, Prince of Peace’. However, it is often said now that even if Christ did bring peace to the world, this peace did not last, because after His Nativity people still kept fighting amongst themselves just as before, and there were still wars and especially, worst of all, internal strife.
One cannot blame Christianity for not fulfilling its promise and delivering peace to the world. When it comes to outward peace, we have to remember that the Savior specifically said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace to the world – I brought not peace but a sword” (Mt. 10:34). These are His exact words in the Holy Gospel. Yet this does not contradict what the holy angels were proclaiming, because there are different kinds of peace.
These days we hear a lot of talk about peace – peace for the whole world, peaceful dialog, and so on. People wax eloquent and write volumes on this subject. The powers that talk most about peace in fact are the ones who oppose it in the first place. Although they emphasize peace above all, there is so much falsehood and deceit in their speeches. All these false peacemakers want to combine principles which are totally incompatible with each other. Fire cannot be combined with water. Something cannot be black and white at the same time. Good and evil can never be united. We see with much sorrow that this falsehood is taking over more and more. At every step, the so-called ‘free world’ shamelessly concedes to its open and blatant onslaught.
Just remember that the Lord never promised this kind of external peace. On the contrary, He said outright, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Mt. 24:6). He talked about internal strife, and that people would ultimately die from fright and fearful anticipation of what will happen to the world. At the same time, the Lord talked with His disciples at the Last Supper exactly about what the angels were singing on the night of His Nativity. The Lord said, “Peace I leave with you,” and He added, “not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:29). The peace of Christ is not at all like the peace the false peacemakers make a fuss about. The peace of Christ is above all peace that a man has with God and with his conscience. This peace is full of truth and love, and not falsehood and deceit. And this is the peace that Christ the Savior truly brought to the earth, and His true and faithful followers know exactly what this peace is. St. Seraphim of Sarov was saying to one of his visitors, “My Joy, attain peace, and not only will you save yourself, but thousands around you will be saved.”
Mankind has longed for this true peace, because it does not see peace in all those false claims. Isn’t it obvious in our daily life now? The world is going further and further away from peace. And indeed, long ago, the Lord said through his prophet that the false peacemakers are deceiving their listeners. They say, “Peace, peace”, and there is no peace. The Lord went on to say through His prophet, “for the unrighteous, there is no peace”. And this is the way it is going to be with mankind, because it keeps giving itself more and more over to unrighteousness.
However, let our hearts not be troubled. The Lord gives His peace to everyone who seeks His peace and to everyone who submits to Him. As soon as a person starts leading a good Christian life, the peace of Christ immediately reigns in his soul.
May the Lord, the Prince of Peace, grant everyone who is faithful to Him His blessed peace. Amen.
Originally published in Russian in: Propovedi i poucheniya Vysokopreosvyashchenneyshego mitropolita Filareta Pervoiyerarkha Russkoy Zarubezhnoy Tserkvi, Vol. I, New York 1981, pp. 65-67.