I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth goodwill to men.

Every year during the holiday season I hear from those who wish Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s didn’t exist on the calendar. It’s usually not because they thing giving thanks is wrong, or that they don’t believe in the miracle of the Christ-child being born in Bethlehem. No, it’s usually because of their own sadness, loneliness, or hurt.

Seeing others looking happy at holiday events, hearing upbeat Christmas music on the radio, being unable to escape the commercialism and decorations and images of joy – all that can make your own heart bleed if that’s not where you are right now. There are many for whom Christmas is anything but merry.

Perhaps that’s you. Perhaps the family gatherings you anticipate are certain to be filled with more conflict, anger, or trauma than joy. Or perhaps you have no family gatherings to anticipate at all. Perhaps you’re facing your first Christmas without someone you loved. Perhaps memories of Christmases past bring up feelings of fear, shame, or regret. Or perhaps the season only serves to remind you of what feels like a total lack of loving people in your life.

This year there’s much to NOT be joyful about. Terrorism – around the world, and on our own soil (here in the United States) is alive, well, and too often seems to be winning. Divisions seem irreparable in politics and religion. Economies – nationally and in our own bank accounts – seem broken and deteriorating. Irresistibly persistent health crises attack our bodies or those we care about.

And we want to despair with the song writer, “There is no peace on earth!”

Our minds know the story of Christmas. We go to church and sing the advent songs. We put up the Christmas tree – or not. If we have family we wrestle with gift-buying and event-planning. We vow to say Merry Christmas even if others refuse to respond in kind.

But somewhere in our hearts the promised peace seems even smaller than last year. The hate and busyness and struggle and hurt that fills the world and our lives seems to only increase and to relegate our moments of peace to ever smaller fragments of time.

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said,
For hate is strong that mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men.

The First Christmas

The first Christmas was anything but “peace on earth” – at least outwardly. The Jewish people were under complete subjection to the Romans, and “terrorism” was an every-day occurrence. Many of the babies born in Bethlehem around the time Jesus was were about to be slaughtered. Mary and Joseph were away from home at the most important moment of their lives, vulnerable, without money or family or a midwife to help with the birth of their first child. (And you women know how difficult first births almost always are.)

So when the angels came and announced “peace on earth,” would any of those who heard been able to take it in and really believe it? That message would have been just as foreign and hard to believe then as it is now.

“Peace on Earth” didn’t mean the shepherds would immediately have a warm home and plenty of money from selling their wool. It didn’t mean Mary would have a pain-free delivery in the most comfortable “hospital” available. It didn’t mean Joseph would be spared the ridicule of parenting a child he didn’t father. It didn’t mean the Jewish people would be victorious over their oppressors and live without fear.

The birth of Jesus was God invasion into enemy territory, and all the armies of darkness conspired to resist Him. It was a time of war, and not of peace.

And that’s what makes the message of Peace on Earth so real, so meaningful, and so overwhelmingly necessary for our world even today.

Peace for Today

We need the message of the angels more today than ever.

Because you see, “peace on earth” doesn’t change out outward circumstances, not at first. The peace we are promised doesn’t result in an absence of storms, not yet.

The “peace on earth” begins not with an absence of war, but in our own hearts.

Jesus connected His promise of peace with an acknowledgment that the world is – and will remain for now – anything but peaceful.

  • “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
  • “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Trouble is expected. You and those you love will get sick. You won’t have enough money to give your loved ones the gifts you wish you could. Jobs will be lost. Relatives will hurt you. You will struggle with your own stuff – bad memories, addictions, or fear. You’ll be disappointed in business, in love, and in life.

But you can still have peace.

Your pastor will let you down. Your church will split. Your government leaders will exhibit corruption and greed. Your neighborhood will be affected by poverty or violence. Your city’s economy will tank.

But you can still have peace.

Your world will be torn apart by terrorism, violence, and the worst kinds of evil. Natural disasters and war will kill thousands, millions. The environment will groan as human beings contaminate what God created as beautiful. Every “human” advance will be countered by some new disease or terror or threat.

But you can still have peace.

The peace the angels promised begins in your own heart. That’s the peace that Jesus brings.

And that promise of peace also reminds us that “God’s got this.” Jesus has overcome this world, and the time is not far off when evil will be over and God’s peace will reign supreme not only in His heaven, but right here on this Earth. There is an end to and this trouble.

So take heart! THAT is the message of the Bells on Christmas Day.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men.

Your Turn: What does “Peace on Earth” mean to you? What trouble do you need peace from this Christmas? Leave a comment below. 

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  • “Peace on Earth” does not mean freedom from trouble. It means peace in the midst of trouble! Tweet that.

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