At the first Christmas, angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14). But can we really believe this peace on earth is possible?
Less than eighty kilometres from where the angels made their announcement near Bethlehem is Gaza, the scene of horrendous suffering and bloodshed, where many are still held hostage, and where a humanitarian disaster is unfolding. In this context, the promise of peace on earth sticks in the throat. If we spread the lens more broadly, we see continuing war in Ukraine, massive famine in East Africa, and a global refugee crisis. The notion of peace on earth not only seems impossible, but to naively promise it seems offensive.
In Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire declared the “Pax Romana”, the Roman peace. Caesar Augustus had conquered all the warring parties and had brought submission to Rome in the Mediterranean world. But this was a false peace. Violence was still endemic in the Roman world. The Romans brought political peace through blood.
In the New Testament, Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God. That’s how peace would come. Through Jesus’ teachings and miracles, we catch a glimpse of what that peace would mean. But ultimately that peace comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection. His sacrificial death brings us forgiveness from God and his resurrection gives a guarantee of the life to come, eternal peace.
When thinking about the promise of peace on earth, Christians need to avoid two mistakes. The first mistake is thinking that peace on earth will come if we work hard enough; through social action, the pursuit of justice, the eradication of poverty, and the setting up of the right institutions, we can bring complete peace. The second mistake is thinking that peace on earth is only about heaven, we do nothing now, it doesn’t matter what we do on this earth. No, Jesus taught us about the kingdom values which are to be lived out now and which anticipate the fuller and perfect peace which will come when he returns.
At Christmas, we remember God breaking into the world through Jesus to bring us peace. The peace God gives is the direct answer to our most human yearnings: forgiveness from God, relationship, wholeness, flourishing. It reorientates our lives, giving us a sure purpose and an unextinguishable hope.
At St Andrew’s, we make it our aim to share the news of this peace with others. So, what can you do? First, contemplate God’s offer of peace to you. Is this a peace that you’ve accepted? Has God’s peace transformed your life, making you a less anxious person, more joyful and Christ-focussed? Second, share this peace with others. Christmas gives us a wonderful opportunity; people expect to hear about Jesus. Ask your non-believing friends, family, and colleagues, “What do you think is the message of Christmas? Would you like to come to church and hear about how Christmas promises a true and lasting peace?”