Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peace on Earth

A number of years ago, my daughter Katie and I decorated some candles as gifts. We cut out a Bethlehem scene out of tissue paper and attached it in layers around the base of some candles, adhering it with paraffin; then Katie wrote "Peace on earth" over the top, in the sky over the city. The candles were well-received by family. This favorable reception of these candles by family members who usually show an intrinsic dislike of all things Christian indicated their misunderstanding that I unfortunately had done nothing to dissipate: that they might have peace on earth, and it would be a good, biblical Christmas thought for them, and they need not attend to any lack in order to receive it.
The problem with the words "peace on earth" alone is that when the phrase is taken out of context, people seem to think that the Bible teaches that they can achieve peace on strings attached, so to speak. There is a little-noticed phrase that goes along with the verse "peace on earth" in the Bible...the entire verse, said by angels heralding the birth of Jesus Christ, is "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14). Well, what does that "men with whom He is pleased" mean? Is it important? It isn't a very long phrase, there aren't any very complicated words in it. Seems like it can't have that big an impact, considering.
Still, the matter of peace rests on that little verse. Can't we really have peace on earth just by waiting long enough, by educating everyone, teaching them to get getting along something that can be learned? When will nations all agree, when will people within those nations all agree on the things that matter most? Even in these modern times, the local portion of the newspaper has regular reports of violent crimes and of legislators in conflict. You'd think with all the time we've had to educate ourselves, we would be doing better at living peacefully.
I remember my growing-up years. Three brothers and two sisters and myself. We were raised by the same two parents, and yet among the six of us existed six different ideas of what mattered most. The thing that mattered most to Vicki might be Vicki, and to Donald might be Donald, and to Allyson might be get the picture...and I know for certain that the things that mattered to myself were definitely matters of my self. Vicki might want her side of the room uninvaded, and Allyson might think that they could share the whole room equally...or maybe Daddy brought home some presents that differed slightly, and someone felt slighted in the receiving of theirs. Maybe one person wanted to play a Mitch Miller record, and another wanted to play Allen Sherman instead. How could they ever reconcile those many ideas of what mattered most?
Of course kids have their own way of achieving that end--whoever was the strongest, or yelled the loudest, or could get Dad or Mom to side with them won. Still, there were hard feelings. I'm not sure there was ever peace except maybe when we were all asleep and couldn't even appreciate it. So surely adults are would think.
Now we all rarely gather as adults, partly because we all have our own opinions and not everyone wants to ponder those of the others. When we do get together, if there's not an argument, then someone has learned to hold their tongue. Does that mean there is peace? I don't suspect there's much peace in the hearts of our family when we all get together. Some carry baggage of unforgiven grudges from childhood, or the pattern that was developed back then is too hard to break by meeting one day every few years, and might not be much worth bothering with. So the thoughts are held silently and relationships are not revised, or healed. Maybe we aren't even really sure why we don't get along, we just don't.
If a family cannot achieve peace who all has similar blood coursing through their veins, similar genetic makeup and upbringing that a person would think might make them compatible, how in the world can whole neighborhoods, communities, cities, counties, states, countries ever hope to get along? There's not a chance for world peace in this existing system, with each person having such individual ideas and priorities!
So what could that verse in the Bible really mean? Will there be peace on earth? Yes, and there already is! But it isn't nationwide; it's certainly not worldwide. There's the occasional household that has peace, because individuals in that house have peace. Peace on earth exists in the hearts of individuals who know Jesus, because He is the Prince of Peace. Well, how is it that people who know Jesus might fit into the description "men with whom He is pleased"? Does the Bible teach that believers in Jesus are the only people who have God's favor, and are therefore acquainted with peace?
Seems like God would be pleased with anyone who doesn't murder, or hate, who gives to good charities, and who is generally nice. What more does He want? How can a person please God? Since all this has to do with the Bible concept of peace on earth, it is appropriate that we look to the Bible for how a person pleases God, and what does not please God. I think the answer would surprise most people: "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) That pretty much clarifies the only way that true peace can occur: It doesn't occur in the hearts of those who do good just because they want to be good. It occurs in the hearts of those who know that God exists and that He will reward those who seek Him--those who have faith in His Son. His Son Jesus...the Prince of Peace.

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