You’ve probably heard the popular Christmas song that starts like this: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…” The song makes no mention of Christmas, but it is most often sung this time of year when our minds are looking for peace, our hearts our longing for peace, and our bodies are aching for peace. This is when we remember the angels proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all…” (Luke 2:14).
While you may have heard sung by Vince Gill (among many others), it was actually written in 1955 by Jill Jackson, who said she wrote it after finding the “life-saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love.” She was apparently suicidal before she wrote the song, and before God’s peace broke through to her. The song is powerful because it leads us to long for the true peace that God brings, and it also personalizes that peace. The song reminds us what is readily apparent: the only way we can have peace in our world is to start with peace in our selves.
But the problem is we’re constantly at war, both within and without. If I’m supposed to be a peace-maker, what good will I be doing if my personal anxiety is off the charts? If I’m supposed to “let it begin with me,” I better get my own act together (suddenly I’m anxious about messing up this whole peace-making gig). Maybe exercise will help, or a long walk in the woods, or a little something to take the edge off. Maybe prayer, meditation, or talking it out. Maybe helping others, or just tuning it all out. Maybe then I’ll be at peace enough with myself to have a shot at bringing peace to at least one other person? But then the kids are at each other’s throats again, and I’m flying off the handle again, and we’re back to square one.
I wonder if the shepherds in the Christmas story thought about this kind of thing. After all, times may change, but people are still people. Shepherds in those days were considered filthy, thieving, low-lifes, which would probably lead to a mindset of me-against-the-world. Not exactly “Kumbaya” around the campfire while the sheep peacefully doze off. Maybe the shepherds could relate to the war within and without. Maybe they were dying for peace too.
And suddenly the sky exploded with terrifying light. A mysterious creature from another world appeared without warning, with the glory of God all around him, proclaiming joy, glory and peace. I’m guessing the sheep either died on the spot from fright, or fled for their lives, but the shepherds had more important matters now. The angels declared the good news of joy and peace: a gift from heaven to earth, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11).
Notice that the shepherds didn’t respond by singing “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” No, first they received the word of peace that was given to them by God. They received it, and they believed it. They didn’t need to sing “Let there be peace on earth” because it was already here, in the form of Baby Jesus. And they didn’t need to sing “and let it begin with me” but rather: “and it has begun with Him!” They received it, they believed it, and they ran and saw the Prince of Peace with their own eyes. Whether they were looking for it or not, they became recipients and messengers of peace from that day forward: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:20)
The peace that they longed for, and that we all long for, had finally come, and he came as a baby. God’s plan for peace on earth is not to instantly wipe out all war and anxiety (if he did that, we’d all be instantly gone!). God’s plan for peace on earth is to enter into our sin and mess (messier than even a stable) and take it upon himself, ultimately on the cross. When we receive his gift of forgiveness by faith, we have eternal peace with God, and then we too can become agents of God’s peace. God’s plan for peace on earth began with Jesus, so we can have peace with God, peace with others, and even peace within ourselves. That’s how peace on earth is happening even now.
I don’t know about you, but I can already feel my anxiety calming, knowing that peace on earth doesn’t depend all on me. If you belong to the Prince of Peace, you too can receive and make peace on earth, because it has begun with Jesus.