It’s Christmastime, so we’re singing these days about “peace on earth,” joining our voices with the angels who appeared to the shepherds.
But let’s face it: 2017 has been a hard year for “peace on earth.” We’ve seen wars and rumors of wars. We’ve watched earthquakes flatten towns, hurricanes destroy islands, fires consume neighborhoods, and floodwaters engulf a city. Last month brought news of a mass killing that took more than half of the people gathered for worship at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The bad news is everywhere. Terrorist attacks. Nuclear threats. Corruption in Washington. Racial tensions. Sexual assault and harassment and predation coming to light in Hollywood, in Washington, D.C., and (Lord have mercy!) in the church of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to look at the state of our world and say, “Peace on earth sounds so far away.”
For some, personal peace has been ruptured by a health crisis, or the loss of a loved one, or the slow and steady breaking down of a relationship. Life has left you disoriented and confused. Peace on earth, the all-encompassing “shalom” of God’s kingdom sounds wonderful, but it’s like a dream that’s too good to be true, something far from the nightmare of your world right now.
Far be it from me to minimize any of the tragedies and evils and sufferings I’ve just mentioned. They’re all real. They’re all painful. We cannot sweep them under the rug or try to drown out the sounds of suffering by turning up Nat King Cole on the radio.
We cannot smother the evil of the world with holiday sentimentality. But neither can we deal with evil by saying, “Here’s why God is allowing all this to happen,” as if God’s ways are always obvious and clear, as if we can read his mind. No. God can read our minds; we can’t read his. And if you have a ready-made, easy-to-understand explanation for why God doesn’t prevent a maniac from slaughtering half a church, please keep it to yourself. Let’s not offer pious platitudes and empty religious phrases or out-of-context Bible verses to explain away suffering. That only makes it worse.
We don’t have an answer that satisfies all the questions we could ask. But we do have songs, and the songs point us to a Savior.
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Feel the words of that Christmas song. Lean into the tragedy of your own sin and shoulder some of the burdens of others’ suffering.
Hate is strong, yes. It mocks the angels’ song. Satan and his minions can laugh at the angels giving a bunch of shepherds the concert of the ages.
But not for long. And not forever.
Because, even if we don’t know all the reasons why God allows evil to continue for a season, we believe the end is sure. The gospel story is no fairy tale. But—glory to God—it has a happy ending.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
The reason we hope for the grand finale at the end of history is because the little Baby born in Bethlehem, flanked by animals and laid in a splintery manger, grew up to become the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. He knew suffering, not from a distance but up close. He didn’t give us an answer to satisfy all our questions. He gave us himself to satisfy all our hurts, to take away our sins, to wipe away our tears, to strip away our sorrows.
The angels sang “glory to God in the highest” because they were stunned by the beauty of the incarnation. But even they couldn’t have imagined what would happen next, how that little Boy in Bethlehem would grow up in Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, familiar with wood, and in just three decades time, would crawl up a hill outside Jerusalem to be hung on a tree.
The Son of God wasn’t just born to live; he was born to die. And the God of life willingly died a rebel’s death. Why? For the glory of God and for peace on earth. To save sinners like you and me.
Christmas leads to the cross, and the redemption accomplished for us at the cross is so great that the apostle Peter says even the angels long to look at our salvation because it’s too marvelous to comprehend.
The Christian knows more of the glory of God and the peace he brings than even the angels do. Our sins and sorrows and sufferings are covered by the blood of Jesus. Sentimentality won’t solve our sin problem; only salvation will do that. And only Jesus, the Savior who knows what it’s like to be scarred, can heal our hurts and wounds.
So, next time you hear Gloria in excelsis deo, remember what led the angels to sing, and then join your weary voice to their refrain.