By David Hegg
While the season of Christmas is enjoyed by many, I also recognize that in our pluralistic society, not all celebrate the birth of Christ. The honorable co-existence of divergent worldviews lies at the core of our democratic experiment even though many wish it weren’t so. But despite our diversity, I do hope that we have unity on the central message of Christmas. That message is peace.
Those who follow Christ most often turn to the description of the birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, in the Bible. Here we read an angelic chorus announced to some shepherds that the long-awaited Messiah had been born. They were out in the fields at night to care for the precious and valuable Passover lambs whose birthing season was at hand. The sudden and explosive light with which the angels made their entrance brought immediate fear. But that fear soon was overwhelmed with the joy that the long wait was over! God had kept the promise to send the heavenly rescuer, and it had happened that night. As they listened, the angels ended their concert with that well-known declaration “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men …”
But just what is this thing we call “peace?” The answer must lie in first understanding that, as with all ancient literature, the beginning place of meaning is, “What did the original author intend the original audience to understand from the words used?” In other words, what did peace mean to the shepherds, to Luke, and Luke’s readers?
In our day, peace is usually understood as the cessation of hostility. We think of peace most often in the sense of warring nations ceasing to fight, or other kinds of enemies no longer trying to harm one another. But historically, peace has meant much more. In Luke’s day, peace bore much of its meaning from the Hebrew equivalent “shalom.” For centuries, shalom had carried the basic meaning of well-ordered, aligned, complete, whole. Simply put, shalom existed when life was balanced, complete, at rest.
Perhaps the best way to summarize peace as Luke used it is to say a life is at peace when it is in alignment with the purpose for which that life came into existence in the first place. And we all can identify with that. Our most peaceful days are when those things we are asked to do align well with what we are able to do, when we believe we were “made” for this day. I often speak with men and women who bemoan that they are spending their lives engaged in things that don’t satisfy. And we have all recognized that the happiest people we know are those who do what they love, live with those who love them, and believe they are accomplishing something necessary and important with their lives. They are in alignment with what they were created to be and do. They are living in peace.
When the angels announced the birth of Christ, they were actually declaring that the great brokenness of life could now be healed. Lives that were out of joint, out of sync, out of alignment with their deepest desires could now be put right. And while non-Christians may reject the idea that this peace is available only through faith in Jesus Christ, the fact remains that everyone should long for this kind of peace. And we must all understand that peace — real peace! — does not begin with politicians or soldiers or scholars but in the individual hearts of individual people who come to see that living for self and sinful pleasure will never bring ultimate satisfaction in life. This is so because self-centered living is broken living, and broken living depletes the soul even as it ruins the life and those around it.
Yet, there is hope. Brokenness doesn’t have to permeate our lives. The power of God to heal what He created is the most precious, important tenet of any religion. Despite centuries of trying, no other belief system has brought rescue and reformation to as many individuals as the message of God’s grace extended to the undeserving through Jesus Christ. At His birth the angels announced His mission: to bring peace — alignment — to those whose lives were at cross purposes with the law of God.
The greatest thing about the peace the angels announced is that it is available to all, regardless of what worldview you now hold. Jesus doesn’t discriminate. Here’s the deal: If you come, He’ll take you, dirty or clean, rich or poor, young or old. You bring your pain, and He’ll take it and give you His peace. Now that’s something we all can celebrate. May the joy and peace of Christmas be yours in fullest measure, even if it’s the first time.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.