By David Hegg
As you read this, it is either Christmas Day, in which case you should probably be with your family singing carols, drinking eggnog, or cleaning up the mess of wrapping paper and boxes in the living room. Or, you may be reading this the day after Christmas or even later, in which case, I hope it helps your post-Christmas blues. And lastly, you may be reading this just before using it to wrap up the table scraps from your holiday table, and that’s OK, too!
Here’s the deal. When the angel announced Jesus’ birth he shouted, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace to men of good will” or something like, that depending on how you translate the feminine singular genitive that can mean good pleasure or a few other synonymous things.
Ever since that day I suppose we have been hoping and praying for peace on Earth, peace in the neighborhood, and peace in the family. But here’s the problem: However you slice the Greek text, the declaration from heaven is that peace on Earth depends on us human beings being people “of good will.”
So, what does that mean? What makes someone a person “of good will?”
I’ll take a stab at it. A person of “good will” has the best interests of others in mind and not only their own self-interest. They have caged up their pride, greed and selfish lusts in order to keep these predatory desires from causing conflict with their spouses, children and neighbors. You know these folks. They are compassionate, honest, integrous and trustworthy. They’re the ones you need on your team, in your office, and living next door. They are reasonable, go out of their way to help others, and have gained the maturity necessary to flush away minor grievances, overlook personal insults and put their energy into living peaceably with those around them.
And when things are bad, they’re the ones who seek doable solutions that will benefit as many as possible and not just themselves. And of course, they’re the ones we wish walked the halls of Congress and state legislatures everywhere, regardless of their party affiliation.
If I’m right, then those of “bad will” are equally evident. They are selfish, out for No. 1 only, are easily upset and set off, and have no trouble creating conflict to get their way. In fact, they thrive on conflict, enjoy blasting away at others who get in their way, and just generally create chaos as a way of life. And, all the while, they insist they’re in the right.
From my vantage point in the cheap seats, it seems to me the “bad will” people are getting all the attention, all the media time, and certainly all the publicity. It appears we’ve sent a bunch of them to D.C., while some more are making their voices heard through the media. As an avid news reader and watcher, I’m pretty sure our nation’s views on a whole host of issues are now being formed, molded and shaped by those who shout the loudest, describe the worst scenarios, and tailor the stats and scenes to create more and more division. In other words, they’re not engaged in the very difficult yet serious work of making peace.
That’s the bottom line. Peace doesn’t just happen. Peace has to be made, and then it has to be maintained. And the facts haven’t changed since that night in the fields outside Bethlehem. Peace on Earth will depend on good hearts producing good intentions that culminate energy and resources being spent in the hard, hard work of bringing about agreement and peace.
And there’s one more thing I have to say. History has proven that religion plays a huge part in creating and sustaining “good will” in the hearts and minds of humans. God and good go together simply because humanity only pursues good when we recognize that God defines what is good and his authority restrains what is bad through adherence to natural and revealed law.
So, let us do that which makes for peace, for mindful collaboration and cooperation. Let us define what is good and what is bad, not by our own imperfect desires but by what aligns and brings glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among men and women of good will.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.