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 2:14*
The account of the angels appearing to the shepherds in Luke’s gospel sets the stage for the birth of a King. Luke wants us to understand the significance of this event. An event which occurs in the fields outside of an insignificant place called Bethlehem to lowly shepherds who were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night.
In Luke’s day as it is with ours peace was hard to find. For the common person in Israel now living under authority of the Roman empire and the cruel dictatorship of Herod the great there was little peace. Herod was a brutal man who killed his father-in-law, several of his ten wives, and two of his sons. He ignored the laws of God to suit himself, chose the favor of Rome over his own people and imposed unbearable taxes on the people of Israel. Later he would murder every Jewish baby boy two years or younger to attempt to kill the coming King foretold by the wise-men. Luke tells the story of the arrival of the promised One in this way:
In the fields outside of an insignificant place called Bethlehem shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly a messenger of the Lord, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified! Messenger: Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.** Luke 2:8-12
This is fulfillment of a prophecy by Isaiah hundreds of years before
“Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace”. Isaiah 9:6**
As I read this story in Luke’s gospel this Christmas season I am encouraged by the angels proclamation of peace on earth so long ago. At the same time I am saddened that we find such absence of this promised peace in our 21st century world.
In the poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who had lived through the horrors of the Civil War, the death of his wife and his son, we read these words:
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
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.”
The last four lines capture in a very poignant way where we find our world this Christmas of 2014. We find war instead of peace, evil seems to increase and hate does indeed mock the notion of goodwill to men in so many ways. In her writing “Peace on Earth” Daphne Delay shares these words
“Yet, although more than 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…”
With great compassion, God saw the condition of earth and made provision for change.
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, and be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life” (John 3:16, Amplified).
In other words, Peace. So despite the news and loss, peace is not only available, it is possible.
On that night over 2000 years ago the Prince of Peace the promised One, born in a humble manger arrived and the world was changed. Peace came to our world in the form of a little baby. And despite the lack of peace in our world and those who bring hate is strong we have hope. Hope that in a world where peace is often hard to find we can have the most important kind of peace, peace with God made available through the death of His Son on the Cross.
Colossians 1:20 “ For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”.
Finally we can look to the words found in the last part of Mr. Longfellow’s poem. We can have assurance that peace will finally come to earth. First for those who accept God’s offer of salvation and finally for all the world. Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
May you and your loved ones know the promise of peace in this Christmas season and in the coming year.
” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”*
Take a minute to enjoy “I heard the bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns
*Authorized King James Version
**The Voice Bible
***Daphne Delay-Peace on Earth http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/Devotions/delay-peaceonearth-christmas.aspx
**** English Standard Version