"Peace I leave with you. ... Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
- John 14:27
With our country at war, and before Christmas 2007 slides completely into the past, perhaps it's time to voice the question on many of our lips: If Jesus is the "Prince of Peace," why are there more conflicts in the world today than when He was born?
When is the peace the angels promised - and the Old Testament prophets foretold - supposed to arrive?
More than once in a lifetime of Christmases I've felt more like singing Henry W. Longfellow's carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," than all the songs about "heavenly peace," especially this verse:
"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."
Pastor Fred Gladstone of Darien, Ga., had similar thoughts:
"If on earth, peace,' was the angelic announcement at the time of Christ's birth, where is that peace today? The Prince of Peace has come, but the world has continued to be a place of strife, violence, wars and rumors of wars' (Matthew 24:6) ever since."
Gladstone's answer to his own question is simple and direct: "Ah, but peace was dependent upon the earth's' receiving the Messiah whom God had sent. Because of widespread rejection of the Prince of Peace, the fact of peace - and the prophet's promise that Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore' (Isaiah 2:4), will have to wait."
Wait until when, Fred, Isaiah, God? With old wars ratcheting up all kinds of notches and new ones threatening any day, some of us are kind of discouraged. After all, it's been 2,000 years.
God answers this question with another, also simple and direct: "When, man, when?"
Like earthly peace treaties, whose parties often work for years to reach conditions agreeable to both sides, God's peace plan is not unilateral, either.
Expecting God to fulfill his part of the promise while we renege on ours is not the way it works.
Today Israel, the United States, and other vulnerable countries refuse to disarm because the threat of attack by our enemies is too great. With history as our guide, "beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks" (Isaiah 2:4) is folly until our enemies convert their weapons into gardening tools, too.
But meanwhile, Gladstone concludes, "Personal peace is still available." Though it's easy to become discouraged while thinking of world peace, when we study all the "peace" verses in the Bible we begin to grasp the meaning of that other peace, "not as the world gives you," which Jesus talked about in one of his last conversations with his disciples.
As he prepared them for his impending death, he concluded: "These things I have spoken to you that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
The first Sunday in January each year is Epiphany Sunday, traditionally the "12th Day of Christmas" or when we remember the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. Literally, the word Epiphany means, "when the light comes," making it easy for us to understand the day's connection to those "Wise Men" who followed a "lighted" star to find Jesus.
Perhaps in these troubled times we can also understand the connection to that moment when the real meaning of peace, and the one who supplies it, "dawns" on us.
Longfellow had his "epiphany" in the final verse of his hymn:
"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 - more correctly translated - to men of good will."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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