Monday, December 7, 2015

Hope in the Midst of Mayhem

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

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!"
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."

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is an old Christmas hymn rarely sung anymore, so I was surprised to sing it yesterday at our church. Written by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of the American Civil War, when his son was a member of the Union army, its words reveal a heart struggling with the promised coming of the Prince of Peace and the realities of a violent world.  As I sang the lyrics, I was struck by the relevancy of the song.  The words could have easily been penned in the second decade of the 21st Century.  

In the past month, we have been witnesses to the brutal killings of innocents in Paris, Lebanon, and San Bernardino, and, if we have been paying close attention, in nations around the world.  Unless we bury our heads in the proverbial sand, there is no escaping the fact we live in a world where hate and violence are real and common, and the news of such runs a steady stream along broadband widths.  

So the haunting words of Longfellow—“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!"—resonate with us.  As declared the New York Daily News right after the killings in San Bernardino, “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS,” the headline expressed the feelings of many that God is not fulfilling His promise to bring peace on earth.  Instead of being sought, He is mocked for His perceived powerlessness.  

So as we enter the season celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, we are tempted, as Longfellow was, to wonder if the promise of Christmas is but a mere fantasy in the face of the stark realities of a world increasingly mired in mayhem.  Does, can Jesus make any difference?

The question is legitimate and to answer it we need to remove much of the sentimentality and false narratives that have come to embody our thoughts of Christmas and the life of Jesus in general.  At the time Jesus entered human history, the Roman Empire controlled the known world.  Its rulers tolerated no threat or dissent.  In fact, the birth of Jesus resulted in a Roman genocide of male infants and toddlers because Herod considered the baby Jesus a threat to Roman rule.  The stark reality of the Nativity was it resulted in a bloodbath; yet the heavenly hosts had only recently promised “peace and good will.”  Jesus walked on Roman-controlled territory and His Sermon on the Mount was taught in the context of brutal oppression.  And, of course, Jesus was brutally murdered by the Romans.   

If we thoroughly examine the life and teachings of Jesus, what we come to realize is He wasn’t the “Prince of No Conflict,” but rather the One who brings hope and inner peace in the midst of conflict.  “In this world you will have trouble,” is a clear warning that life in this world will not be easy nor without hardship.  “But take heart! I have overcome the world” is His call for courage in the midst of the world’s mayhem.  No matter what is happening on the outside, there can peace on the inside because Jesus has overcome the sin that binds the world.  You and I have been reconciled to God and no amount of war or violence can separate us from Him!

So, along with Longfellow, we can proclaim, "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men."  Today, though the world is full of uncertainty and violence, know you can still experience peace.  For indeed that is the promise of Christmas:  The Almighty God entered history and is in the process of establishing His Kingdom in the hearts of people.  He has indeed overcome the world and one day His peace will not only reign in our hearts, but throughout all of Creation!  In the meantime, we cling to Him who is our Hope in the midst of the mayhem of this world.

© Jim Musser 2015

No comments: