Where Can I Find Peace on Earth?
What is the one thing our world needs most? Surely the fulfilment of the wonderful promise made by the angels when they spoke to the shepherds on the fields around Bethlehem. "Peace on earth". Peace in the Middle East, Peace in Bosnia, Peace in Rwanda, Peace on earth. The one thing this world needs most. But the declaration they made is actually very specific, and contains a clue as to how this peace will be realised. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."
Peace is not assured to all, but only to those who please God, on those who recognise Him, who trust Him, who obey Him, who worship Him. I was in Bethlehem a few days ago and the issue of peace is very much on their hearts. The people who live there and the surrounding villages are suffering a great deal. The land on which they depend is still being taken away from them. They cannot travel to Jerusalem just a few miles away to work, to hospital or to worship without permission. There are many military checkpoints and the atmosphere is still very tense. Peace between Palestinians and Israeli's is still only a dream because it is not yet founded on justice. Little has changed since the day Jesus was born. Only the colour of the soldiers uniforms and the shape of their weapons.
When ever I travel to Israel I remember an ancient story which offers a glimmer of hope not only to the children of Abraham, but also to us in our own search for peace. Its a story about a man who had two sons. One was rich and the other poor. The rich son had no children while the poor son was blessed with many sons and daughters. In time the father fell ill. He was sure he would not live the week, so on Saturday he called his sons to his side and gave each of them half of the land as their inheritance. Then he died. Before sundown the sons buried their father with respect as custom required. That night the rich son could not sleep. He said to himself, "What my father did was not just, I am rich, my brother is poor. I have bread enough to spare, while my brother's children eat one day and trust God for the next. I must move the landmark which my father has set in the middle of the land so that my brother will have the greater share. Ah - but he must not see me. If he sees me he will be shamed. I must arise early in the morning before it is dawn and move the landmark." With this he fell asleep and his sleep was secure and peaceful.
Meanwhile, the poor brother also could not sleep. As he lay restless on his bed he said to himself, "What my father did was not just. Here I am surrounded by the joy of my many sons and many daughters, while my brother daily faces the shame of having no sons to carry on his name and no daughters to comfort him in his old age. He should have the land of our fathers. Perhaps this will in part compensate him for his indescribable poverty. Ah-but if I give it to him he will be shamed. I must awake early in the morning before it is dawn and move the landmark which our father has set." With this he went to sleep and his sleep was secure and peaceful. On the first day of the week-very early in the morning, a long time before it was day, the two brothers met at the ancient land marker. They fell with tears into each others arms. And on that spot was built the city of Jerusalem, or was it Bethlehem, or was it Wentworth? I can't seem to remember and it doesn't really matter any way because it could be anywhere.
It all depends on how we spell peace. If we spell it "piece" then there will never be enough pieces to satisfy our greed or insecurity. If by "peace" we mean that feeling we bring out at Christmas along with the tree and decorations and put away in the cupboard on the twelfth night, then its not the kind of peace the Angels were promising. If by "peace" we mean the cessation of fighting between Serbs and Croats, or Hutus and Tuts's, or Arabs and Israelis, an imposed settlement, a re-drawing of the boundaries, then it is not the peace declared by the Angels. This peace is 3 dimensional. Peace with God, leads to peace in our hearts, which results in peace in our relationships. This "Peace" comes only through reconciliation. Reconciliation, first and foremost with our God. It was to make that reconciliation possible that Jesus was born that first Christmas. To forgive our sin. To help us find our way home. To fill our lives with meaning and purpose that no thing, and no one else can ever satisfy. The angels declared peace on earth and Jesus came to accomplish it. It is but for you and I to experience it. The wise men sought Jesus and when they found him they worshipped Him. Wise people still do.
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