Just over two thousand years ago, a baby was born.
This baby promised to bring peace to a broken, violent world.
You probably know the story. A king sought to kill this baby, and in the process murdered thousands of other innocent children. This baby’s family fled.
Years passed. This baby grew into a man, a man who taught. Healed. Forgave. More often than not, though, his words divided. Incited riots. Caused many to plot his death.
Many of his followers misunderstood his mission. They thought he came to free them from oppressive Roman rule, not from sin.
Ultimately, he was executed brutally. The friend who had betrayed him hung himself. His followers scattered.
Where was this promised peace?
This man rose from the dead. Went back to heaven victorious, to sit at the right hand of God. On Earth, though, things spiraled downward for those who believed in him. His message spread all over the world, but those who carried it were imprisoned, persecuted, crucified, hanged. Burned at the stake. Disembowled.
Finally, his teachings were made the official religion of a powerful empire. Things got better for his followers, but only those who believed certain doctrines. Those who espoused heretical beliefs like salvation by grace and baptism by immersion? Hunted down.
Wars were fought in his name. Against his name. Inquisitions. Atrocities. Genocide.
An entire race was enslaved, then freed, then still oppressed by a country founded on freedom for all. They were granted equal rights, then ruthlessly shot by police in cold blood.
An entire religion was rounded up, worked to death, gassed.
Catholic against Protestant. Hutu against Tutsi. Sunni against Shiite. Arab against Jew. ISIS against pretty much everyone.
Openly racist, misogynist candidates won elections on platforms of hate throughout the ostensibly civilized Western world.
Aleppo. Rwanda. Belfast. Ground Zero. Mogadishu. The list goes on.
Where is this promised peace?
I believe that one day, this man over whom so many wars have been fought will return, not as a crying, helpless baby in a barn but as a king in his glory. He’ll put an end to war, to death, to sin. There will be peace on Earth.
But could it be that we, like the Jews who he lived among over two millennia ago, have misunderstood his mission?
They looked for someone to free their country. He came to free their hearts.
Perhaps we, too, have been looking for a Messiah to right this world’s wrongs. To end wars. To eliminate suffering. To advance some holy political agenda. To make our lives better. Less stress. Fewer tears. Fewer spilled lattes. A personal Messiah who lets us sit on his lap and tell him what we want for Christmas.
It’s brutally obvious, though, that this sort of Messiah never came. The world is a mess. Our lives are still broken and full of pain.
Could it be, though, that the peace he promised to bring is already here, in the midst of the maelstrom we call Earth? In the midst of divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment, loneliness?
Perhaps real peace doesn’t come once everything is made perfect. Once everything is the way we’ve planned. Once we’ve fashioned a Savior in our own image.
The Prince of Peace puts it this way, in the Gospel of John: “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”
The angels who announced the birth of the Prince of Peace are often misquoted. They didn’t proclaim some utopian age of peace. They did promise peace to those who believed in the newborn Savior. Not the peace the world gives, but a peace that can’t be shaken, come whatever may.
This peace doesn’t come by trying to avoid difficulties. Peace comes in how we respond when the difficulties inevitably arrive.
The Prince of Peace himself gave up everything to become a crying baby. The Light, who took all our darkness upon himself, lived a tumultuous life. Died a violent death. His thirty-three years on Earth were hardly a portrait of peace.
Yet, he was at peace. With his Father. With his mission.
Peace comes by trusting in a God who didn’t stand idly by as we ate the forbidden fruit. As we wrote this Earth’s story, a story of war, of death, of hate, of pain.
Peace comes by trusting in a God who entered our story. Who rewrote it. Who gave it an ending far better than anything we can imagine. Who, while we are here on this Earth, has promised us a peace that passes all understanding. We can’t even wrap our feeble, finite minds around it. But it’s real. It’s here.
It’s not a magic wand; it’s a journey. I trust God, yet I still doubt, worry, fear. I try to find peace in so many lesser things. All the while, the Prince of Peace graciously invites me, and you, to be co-writers in his story. In our new story. A story of peace in the middle of the storm.
This is the peace we’ve been promised.