If I asked you right now to picture a peaceful scene in your mind’s eye, what would you see?
- A mother snuggling a sleeping infant?
- The muffled hush of freshly fallen snow?
- Something else entirely?
Christmas…the celebration of the birth Jesus Christ, the prince of peace. I wonder how peaceful that birth night was? My realistic mind tends to doubt that it was quite as peaceful as the carols Silent Night or Oh Little Town of Bethlehem might portray. There is rather little that is peaceful in the process of birthing a baby. Maybe the “heavenly peace” came after?
Regardless, the birth of our glorious Prince of Peace did not bring immediate peace. Even with the renowned Pax Romana, the world Jesus was born into was fraught with unrest.
An unrest that has continued most unrelentingly for the ensuing 2000+ years.
We are so far removed from peace in this current world, aren’t we? We are caught in the cycle of sin and its consequences. Death, disease, loss and destruction. War. Brutality. Hatred.
It’s no great stretch to empathize with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men”
And yet, in every breast, at Christmas time there is this gasp…this unexplained thrill of hope.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Ah…the truth of those three syllables. Weary with work; weary with conflict. Our souls yearn for peace. But we are buffeted on all sides with upheaval. On the news, and social media. In relationships. In our own selves. It is wearying.
For believers, Christmas is not the beginning of the story of redemption, and it certainly is not the apex or culmination. The prelude was when redemption was planned in the heart of God even before the creation of the world. The story then begins with the creation of Adam and Eve, whom God placed in a perfect, peaceful world. But quickly the crisis comes as they sin, and set in motion the all encompassing cycle of sin and death.
The continuous downward spiral always juxtaposed against God’s redemption plan.
He will crush your head, you will strike His heel.
Years pass. People(s) chosen. Plans progressing. Rebellion. (partial) Restoration. Pseudo peace. 400 years of silence.
And then, the burst of angelic proclamations….A birth. Peace on earth, good will to men. The Savior.
A thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices.
The Messiah was born. But peace was (and is) still a seeming pipe dream. A proclamation, not a reality.
Peace was bought through the blood of Jesus Christ’s cross-his death. Not through his birth.
And yet, Christmas marks a turning point in the narrative. It’s when the plan starts to ramp up. The story gains momentum, quickly moving forward.
And that’s the thrill of hope.
The looking forward…Jesus’ boyhood and adulthood. Baptism. Ministry. Preaching. Miracles.
Betrayal. Crucifixion. Death. Burial. Resurrection. Exaltation.
Christmas is the yearly reminder that God is not dead, nor does He sleep. That though the wrong seems oft so strong-the wrong shall fail, and right prevail.
There will be peace on earth, good will toward men.
This is the truth that makes even the most skeptical thrill with hope at Christmas time. The story is not done. But, praise God! we know the end of the story.
I love the fact that most of my favorite Christmas carols resonate with these same themes. The themes of promised (but mostly unrealized) peace, and the hope for that peace that is intrinsically tied to the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Glorious light! see the dawn of Salvation:
Angels in white fill the skies with their wondrous song;
Awakening earth with news of His birth;
Join the hymn of the highest heavens!
Long has the world fought the song of the angels.
Heavenly music is drowned by a warring world;
Yet hope burns a light, that shatters the night;
Turn your heart to the call of glory!
There is a day all creation has longed for –
When all of time has been spent and the Lord returns;
His song we’ll repeat as heaven completes;
Promised peace that will fill the nations!
Glory to God in the highest!
Peace to men on earth.
Come and adore Him with wonder –
Christ Lord of Heaven and earth.”
-Keith & Kristyn Getty, Ian Hannah