Summary: We know that we are living in troubling times; the economy is tight, jobs are scarce, corruption and crime is all around us. The world is not a safe place. Where is Peace. Longfellow wrote about peace, or rather, the lack of peace.
Today we start a new sermon series called "The Carols of Christmas," where we will look at a few of the favorite carols and consider their Biblical message for today. Today we are looking at peace. We lit the Advent Candle of Peace this morning and you heard David read a few verses concerning peace. Henry W. Longfellow wrote about peace as we had sung this morning:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day, Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet, The words repeat, Of peace on earth, good-will to men! (1)
We heard the bell choir this morning play familiar carols. But what about peace? Longfellow had an issue about peace or rather the lack of peace:
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.”
Today we’re going to looking at those words: “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
Just what is peace? It is not simply an inner disposition or the absence of war, but evokes a whole social order of well-being and prosperity, security and harmony. We will consider that peace we each have with God so that we can experience the peace of God. We are going to see that Jesus is peace. Let’s look to a very familiar passage:
Luke 2:13–14 (NKJV) 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, goodwill toward men!”
The cruel miseries caused by the Civil War greatly distressed the beloved American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. With heaviness of spirit he put his thoughts into words to create this fine carol. Since he was the most influential American poet of his day, Longfellow brought fresh courage and renewed faith to many of his countrymen who read this poem. In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Longfellow's personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire. Then in 1863, during the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union Army. Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in late November, 1863, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia), during the Mine Run Campaign. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished. Longfellow hated the Civil War and he received news of his son being wounded in early December. While tended to his sons wounds and seeing many other wounded soldiers from other battles, Longfellow asked friends and his God, “Where is peace in all this?” Then picking up pen and paper he attempted to answer that question. It was perhaps the inspiration on hearing the bells on that Christmas day 1863 that he wrote this poem. It was first published in February 1865 and music was added in 1872 by an Englishman named John Baptiste Calkin. Two verses are not included in our hymnals, those verses having obvious reference to the Civil War. Here is one of them:
Then from each black, accursed mouth, The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound, The carols drowned, Of peace on earth, goodwill to men! (2)
There are a great number of things that work against peace in our world today. We know that we are living in troubling times; the economy is tight, jobs are scarce, corruption and crime is all around us. The world is not a safe place with wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and hunger. Drugs and alcohol destroy families and lives. Hate seems to be the rule of the day. Where is peace?
These things are nothing new. 2,000 years ago the nation of Israel was an occupied land. The Romans ruled that world with an iron fist, showing little mercy to all. There was no security, nothing was certain; there was no peace in the land.
Then Jesus came. The first recipients of that joyous news were poor shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem. In general shepherds were dishonest and unclean according to the standards of the law. They represent the outcasts and sinners for whom Jesus came. Such outcasts were the first recipients of the good news. (3) Let’s look closely at what the Angels to those shepherds:
Luke 2:10–11 (NKJV) 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The first word I want to look at is “Joy.” Throughout Luke “joy” (chara) is often associated with salvation. (4) Second, the phrase: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” We understand the term savior. In Matthew we read: