It seems to mock the harsh reality of the world as we know it.
As we’ve always known it, from the very beginning.
In this season of hope, we’ll hear and see the words again and again – this joyously triumphant declaration sent from heaven itself.
First spoken by angels to frightened shepherds in the middle of a night suddenly ablaze with the glory of God, they reach the deepest yearnings of man’s highest aspiration.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Peace on earth?
Were the angels being intentionally ironic?
Were their words a wish, a hope or a prophecy?
In the midst of the Civil War, Longfellow wrote in his Christmas hymn, “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.’”
For Americans, 2014 has been an almost daily reminder of the strength of hate and the turbulence of war. Strife has been written in the headlines and announced at the top of the hour so often it has numbed us to the horror of its carnage.
Violence has become a grim expectancy.
Time and again throughout history the song has been mocked.
Woodrow Wilson’s “War to End All Wars” and his League of Nations were supposed to bring peace on earth. A generation later, the United Nations was intended to do the same.
The twentieth century was the bloodiest in history. The twenty-first has been gruesomely persistent. Wars engulf much of the world. In Iraq and Afghanistan, in Syria and Somalia; in Nigeria and in Pakistan, men are fueled by a mindless hostility that is snuffing out the lives of thousands every year.
Peace has been the elusive dream of humankind – and the tragic illusion of idealistic dreamers.
This is not to say we should not pursue peace, work for it and pray for it. Christians of all people should want to see peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
But Christmas reminds us that we must put peace in a much larger context.
When the choir of heaven’s angels heralded their vision it was to celebrate the Savior’s birth: “a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2: 11, KJV).
Peace apart from Jesus is impossible.
The announcement was delivered to those with whom God “is well-pleased.” Peace can come only to men and women “of good will, of His favor” (The Amplified Bible).
For all man’s good intentions and earnest endeavors, peace on this earth will always prove to be a fragile and transient thing.
The angels added the promise because the arrival of Jesus Christ was the confirmation that someday peace would come to earth and when it did it would be lasting because he would bring it.
The Jews call it Shalom.
This is much more than the absence of conflict. It includes the security and wellness of the whole community. Isaiah names the coming Messiah “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, KJV). The Message aptly describes him as “The Prince of Wholeness.” True peace, in the biblical sense, includes that meaning.
Only this Prince can bring that kind of peace.
For the follower of Jesus, peace need not be limited to a future millennium.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus promised his disciples on the night he was betrayed, “my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27, KJV). This would not be like the peace sought, negotiated or simulated by this disturbed world. It would go deeper, rise higher and stay longer than the world’s illusions.
When the great British statesman William Gladstone was asked how he maintained serenity in the midst of global turmoil, he said that a verse placed at the foot of his bed reminded him, every morning and every night, of the true source of peace:
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3, KJV).
It was the prophet Isaiah who foretold of the day when The Prince of Peace would judge among the nations of the earth. He saw a day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4, KJV).
Instead, the peoples of the world would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (verse 4, KJV).
The weapons of war will be melded into the instruments of peaceful renewal. Cultivation and harvest will replace destruction and violence. The celebration of life will replace the specter of death. The joy of a new day shall forever still the mournful cries of “Rachel weeping for her children” lost in battle.
And “of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:7, KJV).
Men will study war no more.
This is not some idealistic fantasy dependent on fallen man’s fond hopes, fruitless follies and broken treaties.
This is the eternal promise of God himself.
To know Christ is to know peace.
Not only peace in our hearts and minds but someday peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
May God bless you and your family.