Peace on earth at Christmas time?
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
Peace on earth … that elusive state that the whole world is yearning for, but never obtains. When I read verse 14, I sometimes wonder if the angels made a mistake. Not with the glory to God bit, but with the peace on earth bit.
This Christmas is no exception. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the refugee who drove a truck into a packed Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring 48. It was the same terror technique employed just a few months ago in France. Peace on earth? You’re kidding aren’t you?
One of the most famous examples of peace on earth occurred during one of the most bloodthirsty, horrifying events in modern history. The Christmas truce of 1914 was a unique event…
The Germans placed candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man’s Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, continuing until New Year’s Day in others.
During the time of the truce, men sang carols together, showed photos of their loved ones back home, shared cigarettes and chocolate and even had a couple of impromptu football matches, where reports are that The Scottish beat the Prussians and Hanovans 4-1, while elsewhere the Germans beat the English 3-2… some things never change!
In the middle of the mud, artillery, bullets and corpses, at Christmas time men yearned for peace.
PEACE ON EARTH FOR ALL MEN?
If you look at the passage in Luke, that first Christmas the angels didn’t proclaim peace on earth for all men… They proclaimed peace on earth to those with whom He is well pleased. This proclamation of peace was never intended for all mankind, but for those who love and serve the Lord.
What the angel proclaimed that first Christmas was a message of peace to a world that had known much war. The famous “Pax Romana” (Roman Peace) had been in effect since 27 BC, some 30 years earlier, but the absence of war doesn’t guarantee the presence of peace.
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart for which man yearns more than even for outward peace.”
The angels predicted this peace will come when we give glory to God in the highest. The peace does not come when the arms race ends. Peace will not come with arms limitations treaties. Peace does not come when ISIS or Al Qaeda is destroyed. Peace does not come when a general glow of good will wells up and we all feel magnanimous about our neighbours. The angels give us the precondition for peace—that we give glory to God in the highest. That has nothing to do with whether or not we win the arms race.
“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
And if we don’t know Jesus as Lord and Saviour, were among the wicked. We may not be axe murderers, or thieves, or criminals, but we all sin, we all say things that hurt others, think the worst of people and we all are selfish and want to do things our way. And the more we fight for our rights, the less peace we know!
TRUE PEACE ON EARTH
True peace depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ, that very same baby who grew to become the Prince of Peace, and laid His life down for us.
When these words were spoken to the Shepherds, Life was difficult just as it is today. Taxes were high, unemployment was high, morals were slipping lower, and the military state of Rome occupied the land and was in control. Roman law, Greek philosophy, and even Jewish religion could not meet the needs of men’s hearts.
Peace depends on the same thing now as it did then. When you give your life to Jesus, you give glory to God, and His pleasure rest upon you.
And the very word peace, which in Hebrew is shallom, means much more than a truce in the battles of life. It means well-being, health, prosperity, security, soundness, and completeness. It has to do more with character than circumstances.
So this Christmas, let me highlight the peace the angels were proclaiming, and let me reveal to you how you can get it right now, this very day, whatever happens in the rest of the world.
1. PEACE WITH GOD
The lesson God has for us here is that we need to make peace, first of all, with God. That’s where peace begins. We may be running because we are afraid of God. “Fear not,” the angel says.
Jesus said this…
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
We no longer need to rage against God. We no longer have to worry about going to hell. We don’t have to be separated from God, we can be at peace with Him, we can be one with Him. If you are not at peace with God right now, even if you’ve made a commitment to Christ, you are missing the point. God has dealt with our sin and His grace is sufficient. We can come home. We belong to Him. Whatever we have done, we can come home and be reconciled. We can be at peace with God!
2. PEACE WITH THOSE AROUND US
Have you ever noticed how stressed people are these days. Shopkeepers constantly complain about angry, unreasonable customers, people get angry at the shops, in their homes and on the road. How on earth can Christmas be a time of peace when it is a time of stress, traffic, financial suicide and family tensions?
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
We have so much in our country, but we don’t have true peace. We need peace and reconciliation between the haves and the have-nots in our prosperous nation. How can we begin to be peacemakers with all those who are less fortunate than us? What about other less fortunate countries? We are called to reconciliation in families, between husbands and wives, between parents and children. We are called to effect political reconciliation between right and left, labour and liberal, the minority and the majority, gay and straight.
Peace does not mean we have to agree, but at least we can be agreeable, right?
At Christmas, a time with tremendous financial pressure, with family pressure, with traffic and tension and everybody wanting more for themselves, we can choose to live in peace with others people around us. When we honour, love and serve God, His peace on earth can become a beacon to the rest of the world that’s stressed, rushed, pressured and self centred!
3. PEACE WITHIN
Inner peace doesn’t come from chanting and studying your navel. At Christmas we are reminded that the angels proclaimed peace on earth, and it can be ours this Christmas. But you will never find true inner peace until you find the Prince of Peace!
We need to find the inner peace that comes from being in harmony with ourselves and with God. So many of us are taunted by the various voices in our heads that compete for favour. So many of us are conflicted and confused, divided between what we want, what we see others have or what we think we do or don’t deserve. Most of us spend Christmas reacting to what goes on around us, reacting to the traffic, the car parking, the shopping, the family tension, the snide remark, and so on, rather than offering a measured, godly response.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This Christmas, why not ask Him for that peace, the peace that passes all understanding? The peace to live your life as a shining beacon of peace in a world gone mad. The peace to face any crisis, any heartache, and pain and any fear. The peace that only comes from knowing God intimately.
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Is God well please with you this Christmas? Are you giving glory to God right now?