Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Peace of Christmas

On that first Christmas night, the angels declared, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" They were declaring God's desire for harmonious relationships between men and nations. Peace also describes friendliness, freedom from attack, order, and a sense of rest and contentment. Yet, despite the meaning and purpose, a countless number of people lack peace in their lives.

Many see and hear the sights and sounds of Christmas, and in despair they say, "There's no peace on earth." And it's not just this particular year. For centuries, people have struggled with the notion of peace on earth. During the American Civil War, one of America's best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the lyrics of 'I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.' The carol was originally a poem, "Christmas Bells," containing seven stanzas. Two stanzas were omitted, which contained references to the American Civil War, thus giving us the carol in its present form. The poem gave birth to the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and the remaining five stanzas were slightly rearranged in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905), who also gave us the memorable tune. In 2008 Casting Crowns gave us their version. When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865; and, his poem reflected the prior years of the war's despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace. With heartfelt candor, he wrote, "For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good will to men." His honesty pricks my heart.

In 1861 Fanny Longfellow, Henry’s wife died as a result of being badly burned in a fire. The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me." Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow's journal. Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas, but lived. So, contrary to popular belief, the occasion of writing that much loved Christmas carol was not due to Charles' death. But it does show us that tragedy and despair know no boundaries! 

The news headlines are very discouraging! The reality of war and hate among nations is too close to home. And it is sometimes hard to know what to say to those enduring this season without their loved ones for the first time. Yet despite all this, there is still a message ringing through the air: Peace on Earth.

The Scriptures are clear: "For it pleased the Father that in Him [Jesus] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on Earth or things in heaven, having made Peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:19-20). The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son came for this purpose. The Bible says, "For He Himself is our Peace. He has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one [body], and has broken down (destroyed and abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us" (Ephesians 2:14). The Bible teaches us that because entered the world and because of the fact that all have sinned there is no peace. No peace in the world and no peace with God because He is holy and I am a sinner. But Jesus Christ died on that cross, took on Himself the punishment for my sin, in order that I might be made right with God and be at peace with Him! Listen to what Romans 4:24-5:1 says about this: It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Himself said, "Peace I leave with you, My Peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). There is no peace in this world without the peace that the Lord Jesus gives! So many go through life with turmoil in their hearts and they try so many things to calm their nerves or help them forget about the past pain and grief. But the Lord Jesus can give you a peace that passes all understanding. He can calm the storm in your life!

Yet, although a century has passed since Henry W. Longfellow struggled writing the lyrics to his now-famous song, we understand every word. Like so many this time of year, his heart hurt with the despair, hatred, and horrors of war his eyes saw daily. However, regardless of these things there was something unseen which nudged his writing: "And the bells are ringing... Peace On Earth...Like a choir, they're singing... Peace On Earth... In my heart I hear them... Peace On Earth..." Do you hear them in your heart today?

Longfellow was right. Tragedies constantly bombard our doorsteps, yet there is a reverberation ringing through the air. If we listen with our hearts, and not judge with our eyes or our minds, we can hear it too. "Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor does he sleep... Peace on earth, Peace on earth... The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on Earth, goodwill to men."

With great compassion, God saw the condition of earth and made provision for change. "For God so the world that He gave His only begotten (unique) Son, that who so ever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, and be lost) but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). In other words, have Peace! So despite the news and loss, peace is not only available, it is possible. When we think about peace, it’s important to remember that Satan and God have been at war since the beginning of time. As Christians we have switched sides in the Great War and joined God’s forces. If you’re a Christian you are no longer at war with God. He has given us His peace. Unfortunately, peace with God means we are now at war with Satan and all his forces. So our peace is not complete, yet. It won’t be complete until Satan is defeated and removed from the earth or we go home to be in heaven. But I think there’s something more to the peace God offers than just an end of war and conflict. It involves more than just the lack of commotion and difficulties. It promises something else than the absence of fear. Jesus didn’t come to earth to take our problems away. He came to stand with us in the midst of our problems so we would find that he, himself, is our peace, to know Him is to know Peace! 

The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’ or ‘good tidings.’ The angel that came to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2:10) He came to announce the gospel, the good news that Jesus had come into the world. The good news doesn’t end with the Christmas story. Jesus taught us how to know God and how to serve him, he showed us how to love each other, and then he gave his own life as a sacrifice for our sins so we could live with him someday in heaven. But the good news doesn’t end with Easter, either. Jesus is living in heaven right now, watching over us. For the Christian, the Holy Spirit lives within us to help us know God better and to experience his love. God has a plan for your life, and He has a plan for the whole world. In the end, everything will work out according to His plan, and He will be victorious. That’s good news!

So this Christmas when you think about Peace on Earth, thank God for sending his Son to be our Peace – now and forever. You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you (Isaiah 26:3). Longfellow's Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, "God is not dead, nor does He sleep." The message that the Living God is a God of Peace is proclaimed in the close of the carol: "Of peace on Earth, good will to men." If you do not have this peace in your heart or are not at peace with God please talk to us today and May the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all" (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

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