Finding Peace this Christmas
During the Christmas season, it is common to see the word, “Peace,” prominently displayed in decorations and Christmas light displays, and sung in traditional carols. It might be easy to allow this five-letter word to simply blend in among many common expressions during the blur of Christmas activities. Yet, it is helpful to pause for moment to reflect on its significance.
Following the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, angels appeared to lowly shepherds caring for their sheep in the countryside, announcing to them the birth of the Messiah. The heavenly host proclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
Overwhelmed by the news, the shepherds did just as the angels said and went to see the child for themselves. They told others and praised God for all they’d seen and heard. Though not recorded for us, I wonder if they ever reflected on the part of the angelic message that proclaimed peace on earth? Their lives would not become any easier as they went about despised by society and living under the oppression of Rome. Did they wonder when the Conquering King would make things right?
Today, the chaos in our world continues. Numerous wars rage this Christmas, including in the very land of Jesus’ birth. Economic and political instability are rampant. Many of us may face chaos in our own families as financial or health crises or worse have visited our homes. Where is the peace that was promised?
The 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow could well identify. It was common for the stately old churches of his day to ring their bells on Christmas Day. As Longfellow heard them ringing that Christmas morning in 1863, he expressed his thoughts through a poem, titled, Christmas Bells, which also became a popular Christmas carol:
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!
Two years prior, Longfellow’s wife, Fannie, had tragically been killed in an accident in the home when her dress caught fire. He tried to save her, but her burns were severe and she died the next morning. Longfellow grew a beard to cover the scars he suffered from trying to save her. Now a widower with five children, Longfellow did his best to carry on.
Then, his oldest child, Charley, enlisted with the Union army in the American Civil War. Though he fought valiantly, Charley was severely injured and doctors feared he may face paralysis. Amidst these thoughts and fears of all that was taking place in the nation and within his own family, Longfellow continued writing:
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!”
We can identify with Longfellow’s pain and confusion. When will things be made right? It’s helpful to remember that the Bible takes a long view, an eternal view, of events. And, while we anticipate peace on earth, the proclamation of peace had much deeper significance. The little baby announced by the angels would bring peace between men and God.
Because of our sin, our breaking of God’s holy standard, we are forever separated from God. But that’s where Christ steps in, coming as a babe to live the life we could never live, free from sin. He died the death we couldn’t die, taking our place on the Cross, paying the full penalty for our sins. Then, He arose from the grave on the third day. And, because He lives, we who put our trust in Him can too.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
We can know true and lasting peace and look forward with hope to the day when He puts all things right. No matter your circumstances or difficulties this Christmas, look to Jesus. Put your hope in Him and receive His peace.
It appears Longfellow embraced this truth as he wrote the last stanza of his memorable poem:
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!”
Upper Photo credit: Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash
Lower Photo credit: University of Washington, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons