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By Brian Keepers
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. – Ephesians 2:14
Today is Christmas!
Every year at this time we hear Scripture passages and sing beloved Christmas carols about “peace on earth and good will to men.” We light candles and sing “silent night, holy night, all is calm and all is bright.” And it’s beautiful, perhaps even nostalgic for so many of us.
But does it really make any difference? You look at the world and you see all the unrest, violence, pain and division. Is peace really possible?
We can pray for it—peace for our own divided hearts, our relationships, our nation and world. We can yearn for it. But after a while, you can’t help but wonder: Is anyone listening? Or as one peace advocate put it, it can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall, and if you’re lucky, you might make a tiny crack. The walls that divide us are so strong.
But God refuses to have a world with so many walls, so many divisions.
So what does God do? God comes to be with us among all the walls. God calls a people to be his covenant people—a light to the nations. Sometimes they live into this calling; much of the time they don’t. But God’s intent is to pull the world back together, break down the walls, restore shalom.
Isaiah prophesies about it. He talks about a child who will be a light in the darkness. A Messiah, a Savior, who will come to draw people back to God, usher in God’s shalom, God’s peace for all people, for all the nations.
- He has a name. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…Jesus, which means “God saves.”
- And he has a face. The scrunched up, ruddy face of an infant–so helpless and vulnerable, born into straw and poverty to a teenage mom and her fiancé.
- And he is bringing another kingdom. The one about which Isaiah speaks—in the line of David, Israel’s greatest king—a kingdom of peace where righteousness and justice embrace.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth called this the “impossible possibility”—a God who is able to do what we, in our own striving and effort, cannot do. This child who would grow into a man, fully God and fully human, and who would lay down his life in a sacrifice of love. Only to burst forth from the tomb three days later and be crowned Lord of all. The impossible possibility. And now the world can really be different.
The movie Joyeux Noel (2005) tells the true story of the famous “Christmas Eve Truce” of 1914. Kaiser Wilhelm II had sent thousands of Christmas trees to the front lines in order to boost the morale of the German troops. After the trees were set up over their trenches, in sight of the enemies’ lines, a German soldier begins to sing the Christmas hymn Stille Nacht (“Silent Night”).
His strong tenor voice pierces the cold, wintry night as enemy armies sit in their trenches gripping their rifles. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
Soon the French and Scottish troops, huddled in their separate barracks, begin to sing along in their own languages. Then something remarkable happens. Slowly, soldiers from all sides climb out of their trenches, without their weapons. They engage each other in conversation, exchange gifts, and then participate in Christmas Eve mass together.
In the movie, a fictional character is added—a world-class soprano to sing along with the great tenor. It is the beauty of their singing—and the beauty of the gospel that is the content of their song—that breaks through the political dividing walls of hostility, and unites these sworn enemies in joy and tears.
And so today we sing: “Hail the Heaven born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.”
And also this: “Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.”
In this child born in Bethlehem, a kingdom of peace has come. A kingdom of peace that is not yet here in its completion. So the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us to join the triune God in this ministry of peace and reconciliation.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God. Let it begin with each of us. Let it begin within our own hearts. What is impossible for us is now made possible with God. “The task of the church,” writes Lesslie Newbigin, “[is] to keep constantly alight in men’s [and women’s] hearts the flame of hope and faith in the possibility of a different kind of world.”
God of Peace,
give us courage
to bear witness to the impossible possibility of a different kind of world—
to a way of peace that is not only how the world can be
but how it shall be
when Christ returns
and the glory of the Lord floods the whole earth!
Even so, come Lord Jesus! Amen.
Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.