From The Pastor's Desk
One of the themes that is frequently sung about in the Christmas season is that of peace. Many songs of the season focus on this theme. A recent piece entitled “My Grown Up Christmas List,” for example, has a stanza that asks that,
No more lives [be] torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts.
While not specifically a Christmas song, the familiar tune entitled “I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing,” often played at Christmas, expresses the desire for world harmony,
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company.
And there are others, many of them more familiar carols that talk about peace at Christmas. Now the desire for peace is a noble sentiment and it is worthy of our best effort. But how does Christmas address this matter?
For much of the secular world, peace would come if only we could redistribute the wealth of the world. What is needed is for those in power to seize the wealth of the world and equitably spread it around. Another approach would be to legislate the end of all racism, bigotry and prejudice. Or perhaps if we could provide equal education to all, that knowledge could liberate us. Or what if we could end all homelessness and provide suitable housing for all, surely that would bring peace. And there are many other suggestions offered.
The Christmas story does not propose any of these social or economic solutions. Rather the message of peace that it offers is associated with the child whose birth was announced by the angels. After the angel told the shepherds about the arrival of a savior “who is Christ the Lord,” the heavenly hosts sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). There could be “peace” because the one whom Isaiah the prophet had called “the Prince of Peace” had come to deal with the enmity and alienation that existed first between God and people, and then people and people. Jesus came into the world on a mission of peace, but that would involve his bearing the punishment our sin deserved, so that we could be reconciled to God. It is only when peace is made with God that we can make peace with each other. It is for this reason that Christmas must always be connected to Easter, the cradle associated with the cross.
The Christmas carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” gets it right in its lyrics,
Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the new born King,
Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
Joyfulness and hope for humanity follow from this and it is just what the gospel offers at this Christmas season. Jesus has come, and he alone is able to restore us to relationship with God and then with one another. Because of what he has done in his first coming, we live in hope of a second coming when he will finish his work to create a world of righteousness and of peace. Isaiah described it with this language:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
. . . The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
For this reason, advent is not just a time to remember but an invitation to look forward to what will be because Jesus has come and will come again.