Peace on Earth

I knew it was a risk. I meant it as an opportunity to express uplifting hope, and some saw it that way.  Others didn’t.

My social media question was, “What do you hope happens in 2022?” Responses included Jesus coming and COVID going. Some want peace for our sharply divided country. Others were content to bicker over politics and COVID mitigation measures, which illustrates why people want peace.  I looked away for a minute and when I came back, the admin had mercifully disabled the commenting.  I deleted the post. Sigh. “Can we all get along?” (Rodney King, 1992).

Among the many reasons America has no peace is this: we no longer have a common source for understanding what’s real, right, and true. We live in an age characterized by, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). When a disillusioned country paints that picture long enough, it looks like Haiti. Division, corruption, hostages, violence, lawlessness. The beautiful, decent, God-fearing Haitian people don’t want that for their country any more than we want it for ours.  They need a peace their country cannot provide. So do we.

Jesus is the only hope for the abiding peace that you need. He warned of the ruler of the world coming, then promised to send His Spirit. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). That peace is His very presence with you.

One way to answer my social media question is the lyric penned by Linda Thompson, recorded by Amy Grant.  “No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts.  Everyone would have a friend and right would always win and love would never end” (Grown-up Christmas List). Of course that won’t happen until Jesus comes back, but all is not lost. Trust the Prince of Peace and live by His abiding presence. Then you’ll have your own peace on earth.

Lifetime Joy

Perhaps your earliest recollection of Christmas joy is like mine. But the seedling thoughts of a child blossom into a mature, lifetime joy that survives what life brings – if you really get it.

When I was a child, Christmas was about lights and decorations, a break from school, visits to family, sweets to eat, and gifts on the big day. Those were only glimpses of joy. Charlie Brown’s question was mine. “What is Christmas all about?” Linus offers the answer. “The angel said unto them, fear not. I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, KJV).

Childish thrills give way to this deep truth: those good tidings deliver a great joy to people desperate for it. The context of Christmas this year includes no-holds-barred politics, the latest variants of COVID, Chinese and Russian saber rattling, and inflationary pressures. On a personal level, someone in your life is hurting, and someone is gone. Can joy be found in the midst of desperation?

An ancient people were desperate, occupied by foreign powers for hundreds of years. Their prophets told of a coming Messiah, yet the world in solemn stillness lay waiting. Then Mary received a messenger. She would bear the One the prophets foretold! Joy is found! “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-47,49).

When Turkish author Senem Ekener lived in the U.S., Christmas time in the city and busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style were a new and joyful experience. But it was the story of Christ’s birth that humbled her, and led her to believe. “An indescribable amount of joy filled my heart and soul,” she writes, “as I fully embraced the gift of salvation undeservedly given to me.” She resonates with Mary’s humility and the joy she found. “God incarnate revealed Himself to humankind through a young woman. This is my joy of the Lord.” Joy is attractive, isn’t it?

Jesus’s intent is that “My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). God’s grace expressed in the Savior is the gift of lifetime joy in a fallen world that offers no such gift. That’s why we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” Do you get it? That is no childish wonder or fleeting feeling. It is an abiding joy that is for a lifetime and eternity because it is the joy of the Lord. O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! Celebrate your Christmas joy!

She Knew!

In 1984, while developing a Christmas program for his church, Mark Lowery jotted down a poem. Seven years later Buddy Greene wrote a tune, and they recorded “Mary Did You Know” for the first time.

That poem emerged as Lowery pondered Mary’s role in the historic moment that fulfilled prophecies and revealed mysteries. In a conversation with his mother (also a musician) she said, “If anyone knew for sure that Jesus was virgin born – Mary knew!” That led Lowery to jot down questions he’d like to ask Mary about what she knew. The popular song came from those questions.

Lowery emphasizes that the purely rhetorical questions are intended to express wonder and amazement, which are surely warranted.  “I didn’t mean to be profound, just pondering the mysteries of God Incarnate,” he says, “of God with us, Immanuel! He had to become one of us to take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Lowery imagines exclaiming to Mary, “Can you believe who is in your lap!”

Lowery as a 26-year-old may not have meant to be profound, but the lyrics certainly are. They talk about the miracles of walking on water, healing the blind, calming the storm, and raising the dead. But those are not nearly as profound as “when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.” Just who is this baby, this Jesus?

The lyrics unpack that question. “Your baby boy is Lord of all creation,” who “would one day rule the nations.” The final crescendo arrives, “Did you know that your baby boy is Heaven’s perfect Lamb? That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I Am!” That is the very name of God claimed by Jesus Himself (John 8:58).

During his earthly ministry when Jesus spoke about entering the kingdom of God, his astonished disciples asked, “Who can be saved?”  Jesus said, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). That is what the angel Gabriel told Mary when he explained what was happening (Luke 1:37).  That’s all Mary needed to know. That’s what you need to know. God with us. Amazing!

Follow the Star

They missed the opportunity of a lifetime. A little curiosity would have led them to witness a miracle. Instead, they are characters in the Christmas story who are not part of a nativity scene. They didn’t follow the star.

The magi from the east saw a star and followed it to Jerusalem (Mat. 2).  They inquired about the birth of a king. Herod connected their request to prophecies about the coming Messiah. The scribes reported that 700 years prior, a prophet wrote that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). So the magi struck off toward Bethlehem. Alone.

The scribes couldn’t be bothered to find out for themselves if something wonderful was happening. Their prophet told of a “child born to us” whose name would be “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6). The star signaled that defining event of all human history. The light beckoned their attention, but they met the moment with disinterest.

You make the same mistake if you ignore the light given to you. You see it in classic Christmas movies. “It’s a Wonderful Life” appeals to your yearning for goodness, selflessness, and love to prevail, and for greed, fear, and meaninglessness to be vanquished.  In “White Christmas,” you yearn for truth to overcome misunderstanding.  The beauty, music, and warmth in the final scene with snow falling behind the Christmas tree is a contrast with the cold horror of war in the beginning scene. Why does the human heart yearn for beauty, goodness, love, acceptance, peace, and restoration? Those yearnings are the stars that lead the curious and guide the wise to truth.

In The Unknown God, Alister McGrath writes about these stirring spiritual yearnings. “In the end, only God can satisfy – precisely because we are made to relate to God, and luxuriate in His presence. Until we do so, our hearts will remain restless, and we must live with the pain of this desire and longing.”

Your heart’s deep yearning is your star, pointing you to the One who satisfies. Meet the moment and follow the star to the Light of mankind (John 1:4).