Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood before [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them; they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Look, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. . .”
Suddenly a vast army of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among people with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:8-13
Peace or Persecution
The Messiah, the promised Saviour, had come into the world. Here was good news for everyone (Luke 2:10). But was the declaration of “Peace on Earth” for everyone, or only for people and communities with whom God was, or is, pleased?
Possibly only a few months after the wondrous heavenly chorus sang of peace on earth, Mary and Joseph, with the infant Jesus, had to run for their lives when Herod issued a murderous edict to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16). Many years later, as an adult, Jesus faced much opposition from Jewish leaders and was unjustly tortured and crucified because of his sayings and teaching. We know for sure that God was pleased with Jesus (Matt. 3:17); but did Jesus experience peace on earth?
The New Testament contains many accounts where godly people were persecuted for their faith. Early Christians were terrorised and persecuted simply for being Christians. In fact, throughout its history, the church has experienced persecution and strife, and seemingly very little peace. Even today [26.12.11] I have woken up to the news that several churches in Nigeria were bombed this Christmas Day and many people have been killed. Where is the peace on earth for people with whom God is pleased?
Jesus’ First and Second Advent
Jesus came to the world to be its Saviour. He came to bring restoration and wholeness to a world groaning with corruption and decay due to the consequences of sin (Rom. 8:20-25).
During his first advent, Jesus dealt with the sin problem by paying the price of sin with his crucifixion, thus redeeming humanity and the earth. Because of Jesus, there is now a real possibility for shalom – wholeness, healing and peace – but complete and universal peace will only happen when Jesus returns for his second advent. At that time we will see this restoration fully realised. The peace the heavenly host sang about was a prophetic promise which looks forward to a future fulfilment.
Agents of Peace
During his first advent, Jesus showed us how to live. Jesus’ earthly life was characterised by extraordinary humility and self-sacrifice: from when Jesus willingly left the glory and power of heaven to enter the world through Mary’s womb and birth canal, to one of the most humiliating and disgusting of deaths imaginable. All this to redeem his creation and his people.
During his first advent, Jesus also taught us how to live. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus taught us that Kingdom values and the Kingdom way of living are very different, even opposite, to the world’s values and way of living. On the whole, however, the church has been very slow in understanding and applying Jesus’ example of humility and his counter-cultural teachings.
As New Covenant people we have a part in bringing peace, restoration, and healing where we can, while we wait expectantly for Jesus’ second coming. We must not be complacent in the face of injustice and suffering when we can help. Nor can we be idle while people are cold, sick, and hungry. We can live as Jesus showed us and taught us, and be his kingdom agents here and now. For followers of Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom has already arrived. The kingdom of God is now within us, or among us. (See Luke 17:20-21 cf. Matt. 21:43.)
Shalom! This was part of the song that the angels sang. “Peace – shalom – on earth.” This peace was prophetic, but already, by Jesus’ first coming, the prophecy has begun to be fulfilled. Will you join in with the angelic chorus and take a part in seeing the prophecy for peace fulfilled further while we wait for, and anticipate, Jesus’ second coming?
Come Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20b.
I thought it was apt to include the lyrics of this Christmas carol:
It came upon a midnight clear
It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold
Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven’s all gracious king
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing
Still through the opened skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats over a weary world
Above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing
And ever over its noisy sounds the blessed angels sing
Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long
Beneath that angels’ songs have rolled two thousand years of wrong
And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they sing
Now hush the noise, O men of strife, and hear the angels sing
And now the days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old
When with the ever circling years will come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth will own the Prince of Peace their King
And the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing