I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to address the terrible murders in Newtown, Connecticut. First, I didn’t quite know what to say. Grief and sorrow are difficult emotions for which to find words. Second, lots of people were already saying lots of things in the days following. Some of them good and helpful, some ignorant and misguided. I had already addressed a few of the bigger issues at work in a post after the Colorado theater shooting. So why am I choosing to write about it anyway? Because it’s Christmas, and there are certain things we must not lose sight of through our tears.
The murder of children is an abomination in the eyes of God. This is true right now in the wake of 20 little ones having their lives ripped from them. It was true nearly two millennia ago in a little town of Bethlehem when a jealous and wicked king slaughtered untold numbers of children in his rage against a baby named Jesus.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under…” –Matthew 2:16
And yet what did the angels proclaim to the shepherds at the birth of this baby king? They sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” They proclaimed glory and peace. The glory of heaven would bring peace upon the earth.
Now we can look at this in light of the rebellious murders that followed and spiritualize this peace as simply being an inner peace. This is the peace that the Christ would bring into the hearts of all those who would look to Him for their salvation. There is some truth to this. For the Christian there is an inner peace that transcends the turbulent circumstances around us. The Scriptures describe this as a peace that passes all understanding. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus brought us both peace with God (where there was once enmity) and the peace of God (where once there had been conflicts, double-mindedness, uncertainty, etc.) But is that as far as it goes? As the gospel of peace moves throughout the nations, will it be one of inward peace only, or will this peace flow like a river that has flooded its banks?
I know the dangers of talking about peace in a more earthy, tangible way. You have the peace lovers of the 70’s who thought peace could be obtained through humanity without distinctions or restrictions. You have the social gospel peace of today which proclaims that peace is obtainable through much the same way but in more spiritual and moral terms. The former says, “Make love not war.” The latter preaches, “Make love not doctrine.” But we have to come to grips with the reality of what Christ came to do as the God who took on flesh. If we do not recognize the peace that comes through the gospel of peace, then we will not have the right instrument to diagnose the problem of evil like we saw in a classroom of first graders.
If the gospel as proclaimed by Holy Scripture comes with power, and it’s effectual result is one of peace, and that peace has been said to come upon the earth, then what does it look like? Is world peace possible? Of course it is! It’s not only possible, it has been promised. And Christmas is the inauguration of what had been promised from the moment war and strife and suffering entered this world through sin. God and sinner would be reconciled. Creation would be restored. Peace would be our inheritance.
True to form, the world in rebellion against God also longs for peace. They try to take guns from the hands of angry men but they can’t take the hate from within their hearts. They can take the knife from the hand but they can’t take the fangs from the viper or the claw from the tiger. Is artificial safety really a realization of peace on earth? The warfare of sin goes much deeper than that. The peace that Christ in his kingly rule is bringing upon the earth is one in which brothers dwell together in unity and the wolf lies down with the lamb. The child that now cannot even play outside his own home will one day play beside the viper’s pit.
This is where God is taking all of history. This is why Christ came into the world. And this peace is flowing into our hearts and homes and counties and nations through the Church as it proclaims and lives out the good news. So what are we to make of a nation that murders 3000 children a day in the womb or 20 children in one day in a first grade classroom? It is a problem of rebellion and unbelief. The heart that has been hardened by sin must be killed by the gospel and reborn. The nation that has been darkened by idolatry must be brought into the light by the gospel.
We don’t gain peace by laying down our arms but by laying down our lives. We don’t lay down our lives until our hearts have been subdued and conquered by the King of Glory, the Prince of Peace. As the Church makes disciples through the water and the Word the peace of God will flow forth. Everything else is just a temporary cease fire. Everlasting peace will come in its fullness when all the world bows down to King Jesus.