Christmas is a season of songs both sacred and secular. Of all of the songs of Christmas there is one that I kept returning to this year and it is at the same time very strange and hauntingly beautiful. I’m sure that you’ve seen it. It is strange because it is a counterpoint duet with rocker David Bowie and crooner Bing Crosby singing Peace on Earth and Little Drummer Boy. It was the last thing that Bing Crosby recorded before his death and one article I read said that Crosby wasn’t even sure who David Bowie was at the time. And yet these two different men who lived in two very different worlds came together at the birth of Christ with a common hope for peace.
I suppose that I was drawn to find that video on YouTube once again because of all the chaos in our world today. I wanted to hear that simple beautiful message of peace because this has been a troubling Advent. We have witnessed the attacks of Paris and San Bernardino. The news barely even covers it but the genocides in Africa are ongoing. Last week three towns in Sweden woke up to leaflets, supposedly from ISIS, declaring that they had three days to convert or die. Also last week North Korea declared that are now “a powerful nuclear state ready to detonate self reliant A bombs and H bombs.” Add that the US just sold over a $1 billion worth of arms to Taiwan that has raised the ire of Communist China, which has the largest military on the planet. So if there was ever a time that the world needed to hear the message of peace it is now, and gratefully the message of peace comes from more than just a couple of singers. It was the song of the angels to the shepherds as they declared the birth of the Messiah. He as the Prince of Peace will bring peace on earth, so welcome Lord Jesus.
But how do we realize true peace and make it more than just a wish or a prayer in a song? First we must understand that the peace that Jesus offers as the Prince of Peace is different from what is commonly understood as peace. Jesus put it this way, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
The peace of the world is seen as an absence of conflict, but the peace of Jesus is a peace of heart and mind in the midst of conflict. That is where true peace begins. The peace that the world offers is a wonderful concept but no one knows how to make it a reality. Do you remember the TV commercial that suggested if we could just give everyone a bottle of Coke that we could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony? Or John Lennon suggested that all we have to do is imagine the right things and peace would come about.
We talked a lot about peace in the last half of last century and even had some great role models but in the end the peace and love movement spiraled into a self absorbed sex and drug culture followed by what has been called “the decade of greed.”
So it is very good news that Jesus offers us a peace that is not as the world gives. One song from last century that did get it right was written by Jill Jackson. She wrote “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” She had been suicidal and wrote the song after she discovered what she called the “life-saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love.”
She discovered the peace of Jesus and with that peace she found the wisdom, as she wrote in her song, that if there is going to be peace on earth it must begin with me. And she also realized that I must first call God my Father before I can call you my brother. Until we are reconciled with our Creator, we will always be at war with our fellow creatures. The forces that drive war, like power and greed and covetousness, are problems of the heart and so the end of war begins by ending the war in our own hearts.
I had an epiphany of this when I was in high school and we lived in Scotland. We lived close to the town of Glasgow, which at the time was famous for what the Scots called hoolagans. These were some very mean and brutal boys some of whom had divided themselves into protestant gangs and catholic gangs. But as I learned more about them I realized that it had nothing to do with religion at all. They were all white kids so they were of the same race. They were all Scots so they were of the same nationality. They were all from the same part of Scotland so there were no regional differences like northerner versus southerner. There was so little to actually divide them from one another that they had to latch on to religion to justify their hate. It was like that Star Trek episode where two guys were at war with each other, both were half white and half black, but they were half black and half white on opposite sides, so the other guy had to die. That is the condition of the human heart and that is why it takes the Prince of Peace to enter it and stop the war.
The peace of Christ comes to us as abide in Him, as we put our trust in Him, as we see ourselves in utter dependence upon Him. Rather then constraining us, this relationship frees us to see God as He truly is and to live life as He intends. We see, as one author called Him, “the good and beautiful God,” from whose love nothing can separate us, and who invites us to walk in His kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
But the peace of Christ is not limited to the individual heart. It begins there but it does not stop there. When Jill Jackson discovered the life-saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love, she raised her sites to see that same peace for the world and so her song matched the song of the angels. The same peace that reaches a person’s heart flows next to the family. A Christian husband who cherishes his wife, and following Jesus’ example, lays down his life for his wife and children, brings a deep peace to his family. The same is true for the Christian wife who lays down her life for her family. And since families are the building blocks of communities and communities make up states and nations, this peace can truly flow to peace on earth.
But again as we see the problems plaguing our world it is easy to lose hope and yet hope is exactly what we need. Let me suggest how we have already had a foretaste of how the peace of God can go beyond the individual heart.
One generation ago, with my father’s generation, our world was on fire with war. The Allied forces were united against the Axis powers that made up of the Germans and Italians in the west and the Japanese in the east. Of course at the time there was no assurance that the Allied forces would be victorious and so there was a possibility that my father’s world, as he knew it, would come to an end. So I have no doubt that when my father entered that war as a young man that he expected to be enemies with those people for the rest of his life.
There is no way at the time that my father could have possibly imagined that just a few years after the war that I and my sister would be born and then just a few years later we would be living in Naples Italy, loving the Italian people and loving their culture. My father had no way of knowing that he would pop up into Germany, buy a Volkswagon station wagon and drive us all over Europe without fear or hesitation. Think about it….from all out war with a nation to vacationing in that same nation in less than one generation!
A few years later we toured Coventry Cathedral. The medieval cathedral was bombed by the Germans and a new cathedral stands in its place, but they have left the ruins of the old cathedral as a grand entrance. It is among those ruins that the ministry of reconciliation began called The Cross of Nails. A priest told me that some of the very German pilots who had bombed the cathedral helped the English built the new one. And some years later the English raised funds to help rebuild a beautiful church in Dresden, named Church of Our Lady, that was bombed by the Allies. Again this all happened in less than a generation!
If you think that it was the wisdom and might of man that ended that war and healed the nations, then you have way more faith in man than I do in God. It is the way of God to bring peace to His world and it is the way of man to keep breaking that peace. But as the old preacher once said, “I read the back of the book and God wins.”
And God winning in the end is where we especially find our hope for peace on earth. From the prophets of the Old Testament to John in the Book of Revelation we are given a vision of peace. It is a vision of nations beating their swords into plowshares and nations healed by God and by the Lamb. The promise is of nations participating in a new heaven and a new earth as the kingdom of God comes in its fullness. It is this kingdom that we can experience now with the peace of Christ and it is this kingdom to come in its fullness for which we now work and pray. Having such a hope does not mean that we have a childish naiveté and ignore how real those dangers are in our world. The peace on earth of which the angels sing is among those with whom God is well pleased. There will be no peace for demonic forces or for men who live under demonic rule As John said in Revelation they will know wrath of the Lamb.
Living under the threat of terrorism today is like living under the threat of the bomb yesterday. We don’t pretend that it’s not there, but we know that God is greater still and we live accordingly. Here is how the famous Anglican C.S. Lewis put it when he wrote in 1948 about living in an atomic age. He said,“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.” It is knowing that the kingdom of God will come in its fullness and that God wins in the end that allows us to live with hope and without fear.
There is something else we can do in the meantime. It occurred to me as I was watching the Crosby/Bowie video for the umpteenth time that the two songs not only went together beautifully musically but they also fit together theologically. What should I be doing while I hope and pray for peace on earth? Like the little drummer boy I can bring to Jesus what I have. I may not have much to give but I can offer Him what I have and I can use it for His glory. It is this humble and simple approach to life that will help us to accomplish what we heard in the Epistle reading. In this present age we are to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, godly and zealous for good deeds. It is this simple approach to life that will have me take an important step towards letting there be peace on earth and letting it begin with me. “Glory be to God on high, and on earth, peace good will toward men.” Amen.