During Christmas, “Peace” is prominently displayed, echoing the words of the angels who announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds and then concluded with,
“…peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)
But turn a few pages and read Jesus startling words, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (Luke 12:51 NLT)
So did Jesus come to bring peace on earth, or didn’t he? What seems to be a contradiction becomes clear when we look at a couple of things:
1) The context. In the first, peace is announced “to those with whom God is pleased,” which would exclude those who reject him. In the second, Jesus goes on to explain that even families will be divided because some will believe in him and others will not. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of this at all levels of society!
2) The meaning of “peace.” As with many words, this one has several senses. The kind of peace Jesus did not come to bring was smooth personal relationships between people when some reject him. What he, the Messiah, did come to bring was reconciliation with God and all the blessings (security, harmony, well-being) that would involve for those who submit to his rule and become part of his Kingdom. Will you be part of his Kingdom and enjoy that wonderful peace?
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
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
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
I hate to take the Christmas tree down. It never seems like I’ve enjoyed it enough yet, nor fully explored the wonder that Christmas holds—a loving God becoming man and coming to rescue us from our sin and its consequences.
Michael Card is a singer who goes a long way in capturing the miracle of the Incarnation with words like these:
“Their (the prophets’) wildest dreams had simply not been wild enough.”
“Give up on your wondering. Fall down on your knees!”
And then the life of those who choose to follow Him:
“…who belong to eternity, stranded in time…”
“There is a wonder and wildness to life, and freedom for all who obey…”
As the new year begins, I take the first step into a new chapter of that wild life of freedom, drawing ever nearer to the time when my heavenly Bridegroom will come for me and the whole journey will be oh so worthwhile!
Carolers appear at our gate every evening during this time of year. A few offer beautiful music, either vocal or instrumental. Others beat on a can and shout something indecipherable, always followed by “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” That’s our cue to come out with a treat.
Of all the standard Christmas carols, the two we hear are “Joy to the World” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” And one wonders, as the garbled words emerge from enthusiastic throats, do they understand what they’re singing? Especially when it’s in English, which most of these children wouldn’t understand. (I must say that it’s usually sung a second time in their own language.)
Then I have to ask myself, do I really understand the same song when I sing it? Do I think about it or does my mouth go on autopilot while I’m thinking about what’s for lunch?
Take this line from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:
God and sinners reconciled. Unpacked, these four words contain the whole story:
–A former perfect relationship between God and humankind
–People becoming sinful and separated from God
–God’s provision of the means to restore that relationship.
It was done by God setting aside His divine privilege for the sake of the estranged human race and becoming one of us! Coming down and reaching out to pay the death penalty we deserve and restore us to the place He intended for us when He made us.
What love! This is why we celebrate. Would you turn down such a gift?
If a very close loved one gives you a gift wrapped in a very small package, chances are it’s something very precious. Over 2000 years ago the Creator and Father gave the world His most precious treasure wrapped in a very small package: His Son in the form of a newborn baby. His value was announced by angels and a star and acknowledged by a band of local Jewish shepherds, the lowest of their society—and then by a group of wealthy foreign scholars who had traveled for months just to trace down the newborn “King of the Jews.”
Who was this baby that he commanded such attention by heavenly and earthy powers? What can we say when the Creator of the universe visits his own world semi-incognito in order to rescue them? When the Infinite disguises Himself as a helpless baby? Words fail. That’s the wonder of the Incarnation—the mind-blowing truth that I struggle to grab hold of every Christmas season.
Wrapped up in those strips of cloth was the fulfillment of all mankind’s hopes and dreams for love, joy, peace, purpose, justice, goodness, everlasting life, and more! It was effected by the forgiveness made possible through that baby (now a man—the God-Man) voluntarily taking the punishment we so rightly deserved. This is God’s extravagant gift to humankind, which we celebrate this day.
There are two things you can do with a gift: receive it or reject it. To receive a costly gift implies a relationship with the giver. The Creator and God of the universe extends to us the privilege of an intimate relationship with Him.
Or you can reject the gift. Why do people reject precious gifts? Maybe they don’t want to be tied down by a close relationship with the giver. Maybe they feel it would put them in an uncomfortable position of obligation. Maybe they think they don’t need the gift.
The gift of a relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ is offered to you. Have you accepted it? Can you afford not to?
Christmas is finished and decorations will soon be down. The carols have all been sung. Family reunions have been enjoyed (or tolerated, as the case may be). The gifts have been wrapped, unwrapped, enjoyed for a while, and some of them broken, returned to the store, or forgotten. The partying has produced an expanded waistline and a slim checkbook. The aftermath of Christmas can leave you with a deflated feeling, especially if you live in a cold climate with several more dreary months of winter.
But the best gift of Christmas just keeps getting better.
I’m reminded of the birth of our children. It was such fun anticipating the happy event. We prepared baby clothes, toys, and equipment. We dreamed of what it would be like to hold this baby in our arms. Finally the big day arrived with all its excitement—and then it was over. No, it had just begun. I’d find myself busy in the kitchen and then remember with a surge of joy that I had a new baby sleeping in the other room! He has been a wonderful part of my life to stay, after all the excitement over his birth.
So Jesus, the whole reason for CHRISTmas, is here to stay after all the excitement of the event has died down. The question is, what will we do with Him? Do we put him away on the shelf with the decorations until next December rolls around? Do we trade Him in for something more glitzy? Or do we welcome Him into our lives with love and honor every day—and enjoy Christmas all year long?
Magi from the east were looking for a King.
Jesus showed up as the Son of David in Bethlehem.
Simeon was watching for the Messiah God had promised he’d see before he died.
That Messiah showed up in the Temple in his mother’s arms.
Disciples on a stormy lake were looking for a lifesaver!
The Savior showed up walking on the water and calmed the storm.
Mary Magdalene was distraught over the loss of her beloved Rabbi and Friend.
Jesus whispered her name and turned her tears into incredulous joy.
Two men expressed frustrated hopes on the road to Emmaus.
A Stranger walked with them, explained it all and then revealed His identity.
Seven disciples were returning from a futile fishing trip.
A Man on shore gave them advice and their nets were filled!
“It’s Jesus!” When Jesus shows up, all is well. He is all we need!
Martha had a very special guest—and lots of others, too—and she wanted it all to be just right. (Was she the Martha Stewart of her day?) When she poked her head into the living room to see why her sister wasn’t on duty, Jesus told her to chill. Keep it simple! Relax, come and join us for a while. After all, this is Jesus’ party so enjoy Him.
Could our Christmas be like that? Can we reduce the fuss and bother, keep it simple and enjoy Jesus more?
I smile when I remember a taxi driver who stopped for us several days ago. My nervousness as I waited for my companion to cross the busy street and join me must have been obvious, because the driver chided me, “Don’t worry; be happy!” Yes, thanks, brother! I needed that. And when he deposited us at the church, he said, “Praise the Lord!”
Yes, this is going to be a good Christmas .