December 19, 2014 - Peace on Earth

December 19, 2014 - Peace on Earth
Stephanie Malcolm

Matthew 11:2-15

 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.

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."

John the Baptist had been preaching the coming of Christ for years. Now that the Messiah had come, John was in jail. You can imagine him thinking, “This was not how this was supposed to go. Jesus is supposed to restore Israel with me by his side.” The Messiah had come, but not how John had expected. John was in prison and suffering. His hope dashed. Didn’t Jesus care? Jesus’ response to this is, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Like John, many of us enter the season of Advent confused and depressed. The joy of the holidays is lost on us. How can we celebrate when we are suffering? We are sick and broken, grieving and hurt. Doesn’t Jesus care? The messiah is coming and Christmas is soon. What difference does that make to our suffering?

Often, we as a culture skip right to the joy of Christmas and forget the pain of Advent. We ignore those in our midst who are suffering and refuse to give them the space to grieve. Christmas celebrations remind us of happier times. Of loved ones who are gone. Of health we once had. We forget that the coming of Christ at Christmas signals the eventual death of Christ on our behalf on Good Friday. We focus instead on the fun and the presents.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day after the death of his wife, the start of the American Civil War, and the news that his son had been crippled in combat. He struggled for many years to find the meaning in Christmas and celebrating, till years later the words to this poem came to his mind. He was reminded that despite his suffering God was still with him.

Advent not only points to the first coming of Christ at Christmas, but reminds us of the second coming. It reminds us that Christ defeated death on the cross and that he will come again to make all things right. Christ’s coming injects hope in death and brings purpose to suffering. Advent prepares us to celebrate. We bring our loss to the cross and are reminded, just like Jesus reminded John, that all is being made right and will be made right.

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, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

-I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow