On Monday evening of this week, there were two violent attacks in different cities. In Berlin, a truck was driven into a crowd, killing a dozen people and injuring many more. At this point, police are still investigating and looking for a motive. In Zurich, a man walked into a prayer meeting and started shooting. Three people were injured. The shooter fled on foot and his body was later found under a bridge not far from the incident. These are sad events at any time, but especially during the Christmas season.
What does it mean to have peace on earth? Often, we focus on the peace that Christmas brings between God and man. After all, Jesus was born to save us from our sins. As a result, the war between God and us is over – we have peace with God. We can even have peace within ourselves.
But peace on earth? Is that still possible? The incident in Berlin happened at a Christmas market, something linked to the Christian culture in Germany. The shooting in Zurich happened at a Mosque, a Muslim house of worship.
The poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, suffered great personal tragedy during the American Civil War. His son joined the fighting and was severely wounded. The doctors felt that his son might be paralyzed for the rest of his life. On Christmas Day, 1863, Longfellow sat down to write a poem.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
His heart was heavy as he thought about the Christmas message of peace and goodwill. It all seemed so far away to him.
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
To him, the sound of the bells was simply mocking the promises of Christmas – the promise of ‘peace on earth, goodwill to men.” The poem would later become a well-known Christmas carol and includes his final thoughts:
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.”
Longfellow knew that there was a lack of peace. He knew the pain and suffering that comes from conflict. Yet, in the end, he chose to trust in the promise of God. Much of what we see around us mocks the promise and spirit of Christmas: the hope of peace. God is not finished with this world. In the midst of darkness, we trust that God is at work to bring about justice and peace. Christ has come into the world to redeem it. It’s still messy and he is still working. This Christmas, let us give thanks that Christ has come.