Friday, December 25, 2009

May You Have a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year!

(Photo by Stephen)

"Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." *

It's difficult to think of peace in the midst of the evil and chaos which surrounds the family of man. The familiar words of Luke 2:14 can be easily taken for granted, especially at this time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many think of Jesus as a gentle soul who came to offer a better way for man to live with his fellow man. And yet wars, sorrows and evil atrocities continue and will undoubtedly continue until the return of Christ and the consummation of all things.

So the questions are asked: was Jesus' mission to mankind a failure then? What did He have to say about His mission to us?

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." (Matthew 10:34-36)

Jesus is telling us that the gospel is, by its very nature, divisive in the extreme. In other passages we read in His parables of the division between the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:32,33) and the dividing of the wheat and the chaff (Luke 3:17).

So how are we to understand the Christmas story in light of these statements? The real enmity in view is not man versus man, but the enmity that exists between God and man because of man's sin (James 4:4). The Apostle Paul, speaking of Christ's mission, put it this way:

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1) "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (Colossians 1:19-20)

The peace in view here is the peace that we have with God through the reconciliation of the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. Now as a believer you may ask, "What is my responsibility to the world with all its sorrows?" Paul says,

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

And being ambassadors for Christ, in bringing the gospel we become peacemakers.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Mt. 5:9)

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'” (Isaiah 52:7, cf. Rom. 10:15)

The Christian brings the good news of peace between God the King and His subject man because salvation is to be found in Christ.  This in no way militates against our involvement in politics as citizens of our respective nations, and the pursuit of peace between men through discourse and prayer and other positive activities.

And on the personal, that is, individual level regarding our responsibilities toward others,

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Rom. 12:18)

As 2009 comes to a close and we once again celebrate the birth of our Saviour, let us not be disheartened, either about our relationship with God or about the world's condition. For Christ, speaking through the Apostle Paul tells us,

" not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

* The variant reading of Luke 2:14 in the mss. used by the NIV translators renders this verse:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."