Peace–Present and Promised
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Lk. 2:13–14).
The place and events touch Christians and Jewish people and, in a way, bind the two in a yet-to-be-realized quest for peace. Bethlehem and the adjacent shepherds’ fields saw and heard the stunning announcement: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11).
For those Jewish keepers of the sheep, it was as the Scripture had said it would be:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Mic. 5:2).
For Christians, little Bethlehem became the symbolic embodiment of the peace promised in the Messiah and, for 2,000 years, endured as a home and haven for Christian Arabs.
At this time of year, although expressed in differing commemorations, Jews and Christians share a season of celebration. For Jewry, it is the occasion to commemorate the nation’s deliverance from the tyranny of the infamous archetype of the Antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes. That deliverance brought peace once again to the ravished nation. For Christians, it is the season to celebrate the birth of the Christ and the peace He brings to believers the world over.
Today, if you survey the scene from a purely human point of view, the words expressed in the familiar Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” might seem more appropriate than the inspiring words of Scripture or ancient history:
For hate is strong,
and mocks the song
Of peace on earth,
goodwill to men.
Bethlehem is no longer a quiet little town with arms extended to an endless stream of buses filled with Christian pilgrims from around the world. It is a Muslim enclave that has become a war zone and has caused the majority of Christian Arabs to flee their homes and businesses. For many bitter months, Jerusalem and the Holy Land have been under siege and brutal attack by forces bent on the destruction of the State of Israel and its people. As has been the case so often in the past, the blood of innocent Jewish people has flowed in the streets of Israeli villages and major population centers. And though the dream of peace is not dead, it seems more an unattainable longing than a reality.
Leaders of the Western world pursue frustrating and futile efforts in a quest for peace that is never fully achieved. Agreements, solemnly signed and duly photographed for public consumption, seem made solely to be broken. Appeasement and concessions to tyrants, terrorists, and other such emissaries of the dregs of humanity only encourage more mayhem, death, and devastation. Yes, from a strictly human, horizontal perspective, “hate is strong” and appears to mock our cheerful songs of the season hailing peace, deliverance, and goodwill. But, thankfully, this is not the final chapter. It is, in fact, an obvious prelude to better days and the entrance of real and lasting peace.
The theme that should dominate the season is not despair and cynicism. What we are witnessing in ever intensifying ways only verifies what God has warned us of all along. Fallen man, left to his own devices, is completely incapable of creating and maintaining orderly societies devoid of greed, hatred, and a lust for power at the expense of the innocent. No, such an appraisal of the obvious should not cause us to abandon hope. Rather, it should cause us once again to turn our eyes toward Bethlehem and listen carefully to what reverberated from the heavens that night.
An angelic herald announced that what was occurring in David’s city brought “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Lk. 2:10); and then he gave the reason why:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk. 2:11). With the coming of this Savior and Lord,
Jehovah would accomplish a second phase of His Great Design:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Lk. 1:33).
A Savior and a King. That was and is the essence of Bethlehem. It is why we keep looking back and singing our songs of joy, peace, and expectation. We do well to note that there was no announcement concerning the timing of the total fulfillment of these promises. That information rests in higher hands than ours. What we do possess, by faith in the Messiah, is the presence of perfect inner peace that is the harbinger of the final peace to be achieved when He returns to mount His throne.