I love Christmas. I get nostalgic and excited for delicious food and treats. I enjoy the nativity scenes and other decorations. I'm a sucker for a good Christmas carol and love to sing along.
But in all the happiness and fun with family and friends have you ever stopped to think about some of the things we say or sing at Christmas?
What is going on with those Christmas songs talking about 'peace on earth', or the Christmas cards with 'Peace on Earth and good will to all men'? We can be so happy during the holidays that it's easy to miss these bold claims.
Is 'peace' wishful thinking?
'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests' is a phrase straight from the mouths of angelsâsent to tell shepherds about the birth of Jesus. Peace on earth is seen as the mission of Jesusâwhich is why Jesus is called the 'Prince of Peace'âa truly incredible and needed task.
But look at the world: there is war everywhere.
There have been many wars since Jesus' birth and a lot of conflict continues today. There have been 55 different armed conflicts with casualties this year. There are wars taking place on a large scale: nation vs nation; and there are internal or civil wars within countries. There are unpredictable wars with terrorism. The battle for peace gets even closer to home with violent crimes committed within your neighbourhood, and domestic violence within homes.
We can put a good face on at Christmas; but the reality is we still live in a world full of hate and war. Where is peace?
Is all this happy noise about peace at Christmas actually covering up a failure? Did Jesus fail to live up to this great goal of bringing peace? Was Jesus a failure? Did he try to bring peace but couldn't pull it off?
Just another guru
Some might say Jesus was just trying to teach people to be peaceful like Ghandi or the Dalai Lama. These gurus have plenty of teachings encouraging people to feel peaceful and to be peaceful. Is Jesus just like them?
It is true that Jesus did have incredible teaching. He did teach people to love God, their neighbour, and even their enemies. But did he offer anything more than that?
Anyone can tell people to be peaceful. But it is something different to actually bring people peace.
Jesus did come to bring peace; but peace of a different kind. While we focus on the wars with other people the most serious war is between humankind and God. Without Jesus bringing peace, all people are at war with God!
As the maker of everything God deserves the obedience and respect of his creations but instead people love themselves to the exclusion of others: selfishly being angry, envious, and greedy, leading to violence, abuse, theft, gluttony. To treat God's creatures in this way shows contempt for God himself who deserves our honour and respect.
But how do you stop a war against God? Humankind needs a mediator to coordinate peace. Someone to see reconciliation made. This is what Jesus came to do.
Peace between God and humankind was made possible when Jesus received the just punishment we all deserve for turning our backs on God. Because Jesus lived a perfect life he was able to stand in our place to receive the penalty we deserved. When Jesus came back to life it proved he had conquered death and brought perfect peace. Because of Jesus we can know God and be acceptable before him.
What about peace with others?
True peace with God leads us to seek peace with others. The story of Tarore's book is a great example of peace with God leads to peace with others.
Tarore was the daughter of a New Zealand Maori chief who treasured her copy of the Gospel of Luke. Tarore was killed by another tribe during a violent raid, and her precious book was stolen.
After some time had passed Tarore's murderer came to understand the message of peace described by her precious book. Her murderer approached Tarore's father in repentance. Tarore's father had a good reason to seek utu (revenge) but chose to offer forgiveness instead. Jesus' message of peace had touched his heart also.
This Christmas, as you hear 'Peace on Earth', think of how Jesus truly is the Prince of Peaceâbringing us peace with God and with each other.
Andrew Sinclair is a Kiwi living in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sophia and their son Guy. He is studying theology at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
Andrew Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/andrew-sinclair.html