Peace On A Troubled Earth

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. (Luke 2:8-14)

Peace is a fitting topic for the Advent season, because the angels’ Christmas announcement was, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace....” But this is often the least peaceful time of year, even for a Christian. As Christmas approaches our thoughts can turn to loved ones who are distant or departed, and that can make it difficult to find “peace on earth.” Surely God knew this would be the case, so what did His angels mean by “peace on earth,” exactly?

Most of us know the Hebrew word for peace is shalom, of course. In Greek, it’s eirene. In both languages of the Bible the meaning of peace is much more than a simple feeling of tranquility, or the absence of war. Theologians say the Biblical ideas of shalom and eirene can be defined as wholeness, or completeness. Also honor. Integrity. Community. Righteousness and justice, maintaining healthy relationships, living out the golden rule, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

But is all of that what the angels meant by “peace on earth”?

On that first Christmas Eve, Israel and most of the western world groaned under brutal Roman oppression. Between twenty and thirty percent of the people in Europe and around the Mediterranean were enslaved. Public entertainment involved fights to the death in coliseums. The government had people beaten, stripped naked and nailed to crosses where they were left to die of exposure, asphyxiation and dehydration. Forty years after Jesus was himself nailed to a cross, all of Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans, and the Jewish people were enslaved and scattered throughout the world. The so-called Pax Romana was nothing but peace by the sword.

So much for wholeness and completeness and integrity and honor and righteousness and community and the golden rule and loving your neighbor as yourself. So much for peace by any earthly definition, really. Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have trouble,” and he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

But still, on that first Christmas Eve, the angels did say, “Peace on earth.”

It’s understandable that so many unbelievers think the angels got it wrong. But you know, words have meaning, and we really need to stop and think about the words these angels used.

Did they say the world was at peace?

No.

Did they promise the earth would be at peace?

No.

Their exact words were, “Peace on earth,” and they were angels after all, so we can assume they said exactly what they meant. When they appeared to those shepherds saying, “Peace on the earth,” they meant peace had arrived on the earth, right then, right there, and the shepherd could find peace if they wanted to, lying in a manger.

To fully understand this, we must ask, “Who and what is Jesus Christ?” People compare him to Confucius or Buddha or Muhammad, as if he was a wise teacher, a religious leader, or a holy prophet, but none of that is accurate. Consider what Jesus said about himself:

Jesus didn’t say “I know the way.” He said, “I am the way.”

Jesus didn’t say “I’ll tell you the truth.” He said, “I am the truth.”

Jesus didn’t say “I’ll teach you how to live.” He said, “I am the life.”

So when the angels appeared to the shepherds saying, “Peace on earth,” they didn’t mean Jesus had arrived to teach us about peace, or to lead us into peace. When they said, “Peace on earth,” they meant Jesus has arrived. Period. “Peace on earth” was just another way of saying, “Jesus is on earth,” because Jesus Christ is Peace.

You can find this all throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, Micah said the Messiah would be our peace (5:5). Isaiah called him the “Prince of Peace” in a scripture we hear put to glorious music every Christmas in Handel’s Messiah (9:6). And writing about Jesus in Ephesians, Paul said “He himself is our peace.” (2:14)

This means when we talk about the ideas of shalom and eirene, we’re really talking about Jesus, and that adds a whole new dimension to Jesus’ own teaching on the subject of peace. For example, in the Gospel of John, on the night of his arrest, when Jesus tells the apostles how they can have peace he doesn’t give them a philosophy to follow, or a religion to practice, or a ten step process, or any kind of a to-do list at all.

Instead, Jesus simply says “Abide in me,” or “Remain in me,” and then he says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace” (16:33).

Jesus doesn’t offer a kind of peace, or a way to peace. Jesus Christ is peace, period. So it makes perfect sense that authentic peace is only found in Jesus. The way to be at peace is very simple. Abide in Jesus. Remain in Jesus. In Jesus you’ll have peace.

Maybe for you that doesn’t sound so simple. Maybe talk of being “in” Jesus sounds too vague and mystical for you. Fair enough. If you’re the practical kind, try thinking about it this way: you may not understand how it’s possible to be in Jesus Christ, but you do understand how a person can be in love, right? Well, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is deeply in love with you, so the way to be at peace is to simply love him back. Be in love with Jesus, and you will be at peace.

Being at peace really is that easy, and that hard. It’s hard, because you can search the whole wide world and you won’t find peace on your own. It’s easy, because peace a free gift. Jesus said so himself, many times. He said, “God loved the world so much he gave his only son, so that anyone who believes in him would have eternal life.” And since Jesus Christ is peace, “God gave his only son” is just another way of saying God gave peace. It’s a gift. All you have to do—all you can do, if you want to be at peace—is accept the gift of peace.

Even Christians can forget this sometimes. Even Christians sometimes need to be reminded that you can’t be at peace by figuring things out. You can’t be at peace by being good. You can’t buy peace with money. The pastors at your church can’t give you peace, and you won’t find peace in your friends or family. And this is very important: you might be alone in life; you might be sick; you might have no money and no job, but whatever kind of problem you’re facing today, the solution to your problems will not give you lasting peace. After these problems will always come more problems, because we don’t live on a peaceful earth, so while a solution to your problems might be wonderful, what you need even more is the kind of peace that makes it possible to face your problems peacefully. You need peace with God, just like the familiar Christmas carol promises:

Hark! The herald angels sing.
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild;
God and sinners reconciled.”

This carol stands the test of time because it get things right. “Peace on earth” is about God and sinners reconciled, not about a peaceful earth. To the world, hanging on a cross is the opposite of peace on earth, but peace between God and us is only possible because Jesus Christ became that peace by hanging on a cross in place of you and me.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” What irony! You can pay a horrible cost in blood, sweat and tears for worldly peace, but it can vanish in an instant. Or you can simply accept the peace Jesus wants to give, and it will last forever.

Jesus went on to say, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” Because Jesus Christ is peace, he gives a different kind of peace, a peace that is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present and eternal, a peace on earth that’s anything but earthly, as we find in yet another wise old Christmas carol everybody knows,

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright
‘round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

No matter what kind of challenge, pain or suffering you face today, you can have heavenly peace on earth right here, right now. It’s a Christmas gift for everyone. Just fall in love with Jesus.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:50 AM  

5 comments:

Glynn said... December 24, 2010 at 8:30 AM  

Beautiful post, sir.

And Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Anonymous said... December 24, 2010 at 8:34 AM  

Thank You. Refreshing truth in a lying and chaotic world.

Rehoboth said... December 24, 2010 at 9:28 AM  

Amen.

Kay Day said... December 24, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

This is wonderful.
Merry Christmas, Athol!

Shaunie Friday--Up the Sunbeam said... December 24, 2010 at 12:28 PM  

I think of these things so often at this time of year, Athol. People think it means peace between people, peace between countries, the elusive thing they call peace of mind. Some of those things can come, but only as a result of the peace with God that is found in the abiding in the One who IS peace as you have so eloquently described. Thank you for this--always excited for something new from you and this was a special treat! Merry Christmas!!

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