Summary: God offers us peace with him, with each other and peace from worry.
It was dark and cold and the small group of men huddled around their fire to keep warm. In the social strata of the day, you’d have to say they were near the bottom rung. But still, despite their lack of education and social status they were aware of much more than the intelligentsia might have thought. Theirs was a nation under foreign control. The occupying forces were there on what’s now called a police action or a peacekeeping exercise. But they knew that there’d never really be peace while enemy soldiers were positioned in the capital. And they knew that if it ever came to war again, they were the sort who get placed in the front line. They were the expendable ones, the unimportant ones, the ones the officers send out first to test the strength of the opposition forces.
How they longed for peace. How they longed for the time when their country could return to peaceful days! If only the prophecies of Isaiah could come true. Hadn’t they heard the scribes read those verses from Isaiah, "The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored." Well, that day seemed a long way off as they sat out on the hills that night talking about the Roman soldiers making their presence felt all over the countryside.
But as they sat there talking, suddenly their conversation was interrupted. A blinding light appeared above them, the hills were flooded with light and a gleaming angel stood before them. For a moment there wasn’t a sound. The men were too terrified to even breathe. Then the angel spoke: "Don’t be afraid; I’m here to bring you good news. This isn’t something to be scared of. This is something that will bring you joy, in fact it’s news of great joy for all people. There’s a baby down in Bethlehem who’s just been born, who’s the promised Messiah, the promised King. He’s the one promised by God through the prophet Isaiah, who’ll bring an end to wars, who’ll establish his kingdom forever." Then as he finished speaking, suddenly it went from amazing to mind-blowing. Suddenly the sky was filled with angels singing praises to God and proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth. Those insignificant shepherds out on the hills must have listened and watched in utter amazement not only that the prophecies of Isaiah and others were being fulfilled, but that they were the ones to hear it first.
And what was it the angels sang? "On earth peace among those whom God favors!" Could this mean the end of Roman occupation? You can imagine their hopes rising as they saw this miraculous sight and heard those words of hope. An end to war, a return to self-determination, an end to fear. If only it were true.
We too listen to those words and long for peace on earth; peace in our time. Yet we look around the world and all we see after 2000 years of waiting is a continuation of war after war after war. In the survey that the group from Deakin Uni did a couple of weeks ago, one of the questions was "Do you have any concerns or needs for which we could pray?" And do you know what was the most common answer to that question? I’m sure you’d have no trouble guessing. It was for world peace. For a cessation of war and terrorism. What was it about Sept 11 that caused such distress in America, or about the Bali bombing that caused such distress here in Australia? It was the thought that we could no longer rely on having peace here in our own country. That we no longer feel secure.
So we ask ourselves "what’s happened to ’peace on earth?’" What was this peace that Jesus was supposed to be bringing?
Clearly it wasn’t an end to wars and terrorism. Not in this world at least. In fact Jesus warned that there’d be wars and rumours of wars, and that they’d go on for ages before the end of the world came. Certainly God has promised that when Christ returns and takes us to be with him we’ll have true peace. There’ll be no more wars then, no more suffering and pain. But we want to know "what about now?" Is there peace for us now?
Can those who are followers of Jesus Christ expect to find peace in their lives? Well on one level we’d have to answer no. Jesus said "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" The fact that we’ve decided to follow Jesus and others don’t want to have anything to do with him means that inevitably we’re going to encounter trouble in this world. Those who are opposed to Christ’s rule will be opposed to those who follow Christ.