My reflections from last year; still relevant this year.
In despair I bowed my head on Friday, “There is no peace on Earth,” I said.
My heart was sick on Friday as the reports filled the airwaves with an account of brutal violence. I struggled to go on with the plans of a day that was to be filled with festive preparations for Christmas. However, my three precious children were thankfully unaware of what transpired in the lives of other children only a few years older in another small town and so their expectations of Christmas songs, snowball fights, and a fire in our wood-burning fireplace needed to be met. As I enjoyed holiday activities with my children, I grieved for all the families involved in the tragedy. But grief was not all I felt; despair began to flood my heart.
The more I tried to rekindle joy in my heart that day through the experience of the “magic” of Christmas with my children, the more I suffered an onslaught of painful despair. The source of this feeling of hopelessness was the forced acknowledgment that the fun of Christmas, the excitement of gifts, the tales of Santa, and even the demonstrations of giving and loving we see this time of year cannot bring peace in this world filled with hate.
Do you feel that despair as “It’s a Wonderful Life” shows on one channel and the senseless violence in Connecticut on another? For whom do these verses from a Christmas hymn not resonate?
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.”
On horrendous days like last Friday, we are forced to come face-to-face with the strength of hate that mocks the superficial songs of reindeer and pleasant dreams of sugar plums. We are taunted by the unavoidable threat of evil that says “Perhaps not your loved ones today, but why not them tomorrow?” As we lament the loss of life, Connecticut also causes us to examine our beliefs and to ask, “Is there truly hope of peace to be found in this dark world?”
The despair we feel flows from the answer that we must realize by facing the stark truth of this world, “There is no peace by us on earth.” History reiterates this as no government, social program, education, or earthly leader has ever brought true peace. Our experience proves this too. And as painful as it may be to let it go, let’s also stop pretending that snow and carols and chestnuts roasting could actually bring about peace.
As we face this unwelcome anguish, we have three choices: (1) Cover our ears and return to our naïve songs, pretending that the depth of hate we all encountered does not really exist. (2) Cower in despair-fueled fear. (3) Search for a message of true hope that comes not from us.
Unfortunately the first option is how many will soon return to living. For those that were afflicted by this or by another heart-breaking event, the second choice pulls strongly on one’s soul to lose all hope. But for those that truly long for peace – listen for the word of truth that comes from above.
To those that will listen, the message of true peace is declared as light into the darkness of this world, as God speaks this message not from a distant, far-off place, but in the world through the birth of his Word made flesh – Jesus.
“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…[O]n earth peace among those with whom [God] is pleased” (Luke 2:14)!
Jesus did not enter a pristine and happy world, unfamiliar to us. No, he entered a world that was weeping – like today. As a young child he would have heard of the cries and lamentation because of evil (Matthew 2:16-18). As a man, he was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). And the loudest cry of despair was uttered by Him upon the cross as Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world and faced the wrath of God. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
On that Friday night 33 years after the first Christmas, Jesus died. At this time in history, those verses from the Christmas hymn again sound familiar, for the right seemed to fail, and the wrong appeared to have prevailed.If this was the entire message of God, now is the time to truly bow your heads in everlasting despair.
But friends, lift your heads and listen up! For as the Christmas hymn reminds us, God was not done speaking on Friday.
“Yet 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.”
On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, when despair was still in the air, a message of hope was proclaimed by God Himself. Listen to Jesus’ message as the apostle John records it: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you”” (John 20:19).
God took the greatest moment of despair, of hopelessness, of darkness, of silence and brought hope out of it through the resurrection of Jesus.
The peace on earth promised by the angels is delivered by Jesus. A personal peace can be known. Not in a sweet and sugary way, like Christmas cookies and milk in front of a fire on a cold winter night. As nice as that is, the peace does not last. But Jesus brought lasting peace from the inside-out. Peace with God and through that peace, peace with one another. The earth is yet to experience that peace fully but through the message of Jesus given, real peace can be found now.
Friends, do not bow your heads in despair, but look to Jesus from whom true peace comes. Pain and hurt and death will come but Jesus speaks into these all these, words of hope. “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” (John 14:27).
Friday declares despair, but God’s message stands in direct opposition. Peace and hope are available through his Son, Jesus.
Today, raise your heads and listen to this message of hope. This is the only true message able to dispel the despair that attacks our hearts. And continue to look up no matter how dark the day, for one day the Word will return and then peace will come to all earth.
Please join with me in praying for those affected by the tragedy and declaring the hope that “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Come Lord Jesus!