Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Was the Song Wrong?

In this last blog posting before Christmas, I take this means to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas!

In his comments after my previous posting, Chris Thompson emphasized Jesus as the Prince of Peace. I like that emphasis, and my greatest desire is that the people of the world will come to know Jesus and to know him truly as the Prince of Peace.

The birth of Jesus was accompanied with prophecies of peace. The familiar words the angels sang proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14, NRSV). With that as my text, more than fifty years ago one of my first Christmas sermons was titled “Was the Song Wrong?”

There was no peace on earth then, and there certainly is not today. I felt then, and still feel, somewhat like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote the following words during the Civil War:
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."
But Longfellow went on to write then, and I want to go on to affirm now:
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."
We may want to cry out like the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord, how long do we have to wait for peace?” And if we listen carefully, we may hear the Lord saying that if we want peace, we have to join with others who have the same longing and work for peace. We must recognize that peace, like war, must be waged. (According to the Baptist Peacemakers of North America at this URL address, this is one of twelve things every Christian should know about peace.)

And as we work for peace, let me share two of my favorite peace quotes:
"If you want peace, work for justice." (Pope Paul VI)
"There is no way to peace, peace is the way." (A. J. Muste)

The song was not wrong. It pointed to the way on which we should walk and the struggle in which we should engage.


  1. Most of the time, when Baptists talk about peace, it is the individual's "peace like a river" we mean. However, especially at Christmas, as we peer into the prophets, seeking understanding of the Messiah, we are confronted by a very systematic view of peace. Consider, for instance, the great poetry of Micah 4, especially the words of verse 4, "but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken." (NRSV)

    We know that there will be peace when every man sits under his own fig tree. At Christmas we are reminded that the Lord of hosts has spoken it. We just want a second opinion on that part about "Pick up your cross and follow me!"

  2. The entire line of thought has a decided leaning toward the Hebrew prophets; CT's prince of peace and the connection with LS's emphasis upon waging peace by waging justice echo the dramatic words of prophets spoken in times when there was clearly no such reality. And, CD's reminder of why gives me pause to reflect upon our current day.

    It's interesting that "speaking peace when there is no peace" can be taken in a couple ways in the Bible: 1. as a bold and defiant proclamation of God's presence in the midst of a social order that has gone awry (as, say Second Isaiah); 2. as evidence of the work of false prophets (as, say, in Jeremiah) who fail to deal with reality.

    The prophets teach both, don't they? And to proclaim one without the other is inaccurate and misleading. If we attribute to Jesus the sobriquet "prince of peace," we must do so recognizing that the age he died trying to usher in has still not fully come, if at all. And, it won't be realized any more completely without great cost. Such is at the core of Christian social ethics, its seems.

  3. I don't know as the world has ever been at peace (at least not for long) since Eden. Maybe in Solomon's time - but he taxed the people harshly. Even with the advent of Christ we do not see peace, and his words seemed infrequently peaceful. And he was militant when he sought to reopen a house of prayer for the nations. The LORD is a warrior, the LORD is his name.

    But what the angel proclaimed was different - "peace among those whom he favors".

    Seeking peace per se seems irrelavent. Quoting George Harrison's mantra: "All we are saying is give peace a chance. Hare Krishna, hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Krishna." - religion. It doesn't accomplish much.

    JPII and Wadsworth seem much more practical - pursue justice (especially as Zachariah son of Berekiah put it), and goodwill. These are achievable.

    So, as we celebrate the nativity of the Prince of Peace, may we find God's favor in pursuing goodwill to mankind, and knowing him - even if there is little peace on earth.