‘Peace on earth.’ With these words, a chorus of angels announced a new world order, giving meaning to suffering and heralding in the resplendent Kingdom of … Peace.
Peace? Really? It sounds so tame, to a world that has reduced its meaning to a poetic greeting, or a nice wish for the nations—especially handy if you find yourself in a beauty pageant.
But peace is the profound gift from God, ushered in through Jesus and finding its home in our lives. In the days leading up to Christmas, let’s take a fresh look at the revolution of peace.
An angel appears. That’s beyond most of our wildest dreams. But this is just the beginning …
An angel appears in the stealth of night, setting the night ablaze with God’s glory. The shepherds are terrified; they are ordinary people living ordinary lives. The angel has a great announcement: the Messiah has been born.
Suddenly, the angel transforms into a company, who sing together: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:14). A new era is ushered in with the promise of peace.
It’s no accident that the author, Luke, places this story ‘in the days of Caesar Augustus’. Augustus was at the height of his power, styling himself as the ‘son of god’. ‘Poets wrote songs about the new era that had begun and historians told the long story of Rome’s rise to greatness, reaching its climax (obviously) with Augustus himself. Augustus, people said, was the ‘saviour of the world’,’ writes Tom Wright in his commentary Luke for Everyone.
Luke is making an outrageous claim. This is indeed a new era, and the ‘saviour of the world’ has made his triumphant entrance. But in this Kingdom, shepherds, a baby and a feeding trough take centre stage. In this new world, humility rules over power, and a king finds his destiny among the outcasts.
Into a world of oppression, under the powerful rule of Rome, the promise of this Kingdom is peace.
The newborn Jesus is the real Son of God, the Lord who will rule all lords. And one day, Jesus will stand before Pontius Pilate, the representative of Augustus, in a ‘confrontation between the Kingdom of God … and the kingdoms of the world,’ says Wright.
December 20: Luke 2:1-14
Put yourself into this scene: reflect on the extraordinary words pronounced by the angels. Imagine what those words of peace would have meant.
Even as the grand announcement of peace is being made, it’s as if Luke is already looking towards the cross. From his birth, Jesus is destined to suffer.
Decades later, when the confrontation of kingdoms reaches its darkest hour, the King of kings appears to be defeated by the Romans. As he is killed, Jesus cries out in genuine pain: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
By echoing the words of King David (in Psalm 22), Jesus is forever identifying himself with humanity. And binding himself to human suffering. ‘Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my groaning?’ David’s lament continues.
Indeed, ‘Why God?’ is the cry of all our hearts at various times in our journey. But instead of a theological answer, God gives us Jesus: Emmanuel—God with us.
God walks among us, laughs with us, cries with us. He understands, from the inside-out, all the complexity of what it means to be human. Instead of logic, God puts his arm around us in times of pain and suffering and says, ‘I know.’ In Jesus, ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses’ (Hebrews 4:15).
In his heart-cry on the cross, Jesus gives us a real example of how God has given us the Psalms as a way to speak to him. He actually encourages us to ask him, ‘Why?’ God wants us to cry out to him in pain and anger. The mystery is that in doing so, we find hope: ‘But you, Lord, do not be far from me, you are my strength, come quickly to help me,’ David continues (Psalm 22:19). It would be a fragile comfort, if we only had a God who ‘knows how we feel’. But in addition, we have a God who offers a resounding hope beyond our heartache.
December 21: Psalm 22 and Mark 15
Compare these two passages. How does this speak to you of the way God has intertwined himself with the human experience?
‘Why God?’ was part of Jesus’ journey, but it wasn’t the end of his story. All that Jesus came to do, all that he was and is, and everything he accomplished, was revealed in a locked room, before disciples who were gathered together in fear.
‘Jesus came and stood among them,’ says John 20:19 simply.
Here Jesus appears, proclaiming victory over death, and he chose these words: ‘Peace be with you.’
This scene echoes Jesus’ first night on earth. Again, a new kind of kingdom is being proclaimed: the Kingdom of Peace. And again, it is revealed to frightened, ordinary men—shattering all expectations.
This peace is so much more than the absence of conflict. This peace is everything finally made right. Everything lost through sin in the Garden of Eden, is restored again in Jesus.
It is the Year of Jubilee, where ‘all the oppressive social structures which alienated people from one another (and from the earth itself) were to be cast away. All were to live in freedom, harmony, and fullness,’ says Sandra Cronk, in her Quaker essay ‘Peace be with You’. ‘The word which summed up this vision was shalom, peace … a positive vision of a world of mercy, justice, and righteousness where all may live fully, as God intended.’
In Jesus’ resurrection, Jubilee had finally arrived, giving all who follow him the blessing of shalom. Jesus’ resurrection was the first-fruit of the promised resurrection of all things: a complete renewal, both for our own lives, and for the world.
‘… Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God,’ says the first theologian, Paul, triumphantly (Romans 8:19-23).
In our quiet moments, we feel that call towards renewal. When we long for heaven, we are not longing for another reality, but for everything to finally be made right.
Like Jesus, ‘Why God?’ is part of our journey, but it’s not the end of our story. Our fellowship with Jesus’ death and resurrection means that we ‘share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory’ (Romans 8:17).
Even if we don’t see the promised resurrection now, we have an eternal promise that all things will one day be made right.
December 22: Romans 8:18-25
Read this passage in the light of the promised redemption of all creation through Jesus. How does this give you hope for what you ‘do not yet have’ today?
Most of all, peace is a gift freely given.
‘Peace be with you!’ says Jesus to his disciples for a second time. ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit …’ (John 20: 21-22).
This image of Jesus breathing on his disciples is a beautiful picture of intimacy. He is not a far-off God, he is an ever-present help, a comforter and friend. ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God,’ says Paul (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Through Jesus, we have been given peace with God. And the mystery of it, is that there is no striving, no struggling by which we can earn this peace. It is a free gift. It is the gift of freedom.
Jesus calls us away from all our striving, all our anxiety and fear. He gives us another, completely new way to live—in the comfort of a loving God.
This is a gift we are called to multiply. And this is the when glory of God breaks through on earth.
December 23: John 20:19-23
Reflect on this scene again. Have you ever known what it was like to be without God’s peace? Thank him for his deep comfort, and reflect on how you are sent out to share this with the world.
‘Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love,’ said Mahatma Ghandi, a modern father of peaceful resistance. His model was later adopted by Martin Luther King Jnr, who used peace to begin a civil rights revolution. Later still, Nelson Mandela turned around hatred and injustice, using the weapon of peace. These are just a few modern heroes of the Kingdom of Peace, ruled by the revolutionary human and compassionate God, Jesus Christ.
When we treat another person with dignity, choose forgiveness, show love instead of revenge, allow God to comfort us instead of striving on the treadmill of life—that’s when God’s glory begins breaking through on earth.
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:14). So many profound mysteries of God are revealed in these few words: God’s glory come to earth, his peace and reconciliation, a new Kingdom.
And this is how the Christmas story continues to be told: the great story of Jesus ripples out from our human hearts, into all of creation, into the past and the future, and breaks open heaven.
December 24: Luke 2:14-20
On this day before Christmas, reflect on the angel’s words again. Thank God for his revolution of peace, and his great gift of Jesus.
By Ingrid Goodwin (from War Cry, 18 December 2010, p12-13)
Sources: Luke for Everyone by Tom Wright; If I were God, I’d end all the Pain by John Dickson; ‘Peace Be with You’ by Sandra Cronk (http://www.tractassociation.org)