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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Peace on Earth Good Will To Men



 

Peace on Earth Good will to Men

 

 

Many of us never tire hearing the Christmas story about the night that Jesus Christ was born.  Each Christmastime we love singing carols about that holy night!  The night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem with the shepherds nearby in the fields watching over their sheep.  

 

The Bible tells about that night.  “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tiding of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in Bethlehem (the city of David) a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”.  (Luke 2:9-11) 

 

And then a multitude of bright angels joined in filling the skies above the stunned shepherds and flying around the heavens rejoicing and praising God and singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14)  What an amazing sight it must have been for those shepherds to see! 

 

The angels brought good news to the shepherds starting with the first angel announcing God’s gift of a Savior and then following with the multitude of angels appearing and announcing the gift of peace and good will toward people.  It would seem that these two gifts arrived together.  Along with this gift of the Savior comes the added gift of peace and good will.  It is all part of the package.    But if that is true then why is it that when we turn on the world news we usually hear reports of murders and warring nations and terrorist attacks?  Where is this promised peace that people were to receive?

 

We do have peace and good will in our world today and the generous Spirit of Christ can be seen and felt in people everywhere.  But then we also find rifts and arguments and opposing groups warring against one another everywhere we look. The devil would like to destroy love and family and community and everywhere we go we find that he is doing a pretty good job at that.    

 

We find husband against wife and children against parents and liberal against conservative.  One side fighting to overcome the injustice of the other side by striking another blow.  And the other side striking back.  And as long as each side is tangled in blow and counterblow, aggression and defense and name calling and more bad will, each side will be drawn back into fresh wrongs.  God calls us to stop playing this dangerous game and forgive.  He forgives us so He wants us to pass on that forgiveness.  Only forgiveness frees us all from the injustice of others. 

 

We read in the Bible that God is a God of justice and judgment.  Because of that we instinctively feel that we must do something in order for this judging God to accept us.  We have been told that there is no free lunch.  That you get what you pay for.  We think about the God of judgment when we think about the people who have tried to harm us.

 

 But then God is also a God of grace and love and forgiveness.  When God sent us his Son everything was turned upside down!  Now we receive undeserved grace as a God given gift instead of receiving what we earn and what we morally deserve.  Our salvation does not depend on our performance but on His performance.  We don’t need to “do” anything; all we need to do is follow.  

 

By giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins, the heavenly Father offers to forgive our sins and makes peace with us.  And because God through Christ has forgiven and made peace with us, He asks us to forgive and extend that peace to those who have wronged us. Because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us, we are to forgive the inexcusable in others.  We are God’s children and we are to forgive because our heavenly Father forgives and because He commands us to forgive.  (Matthew 6:12) 

 

Forgiveness is not easy so it needs to be taught and constantly practiced.  What a gift we Christians can give to the world when we uphold God’s grace and forgiveness!  Whenever Christians have obeyed God’s command to forgive and have countered hatred with kindness, amazing things have happened.  It would seem that God is able to work miracles behind the scenes when we go about forgiving our enemies.

 

The Christian message of forgiveness played a major role in South Africa’s peaceful revolution!  When Nelson Mandela was freed from a dismal prison after twenty-six years he held no bitterness toward those who had imprisoned him.  Instead he spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation.  And Bishop Desmond Tutu also insisted the process of reconciliation in South Africa begin with forgiveness.  The Civil Rights movement came about in the United States partially because Martin Luther King insisted that his followers come against violence with non-violence and meet hatred with forgiveness. 

 

In some circumstances extending forgiveness can be extremely difficult.  If someone murdered my child I cannot imagine forgiving that person.  But many people have forgiven in those circumstances.  And God never asks us to do anything that is impossible.  He will give us His strength at the time of need to help us do what He asks.

 

Just as God commanded Adam and Eve not to touch or eat the fruit of one of the trees in the garden, God also commands us not to have an unforgiving spirit towards those who would try to harm us.  Eating the forbidden fruit was dangerous (deadly) for Adam and Eve and Scripture says that refusing to forgive another is dangerous and deadly for us. 

 

We are commanded to let go of the ill will we harbor toward our enemy and do what we can to correct the problems and then let God take care of it.  As we walk through life there are dangerous places we will pass by that our heavenly Father forbids us to visit and refusing to forgive another person is one of those places  The strongest argument for forgiveness is the alternative, a permanent state of unforgiveness.   

 

Forgiving does not mean that the one who forgives agrees that the offense committed against him/herself is justified.  It made the news when Pope John Paul went to the prison and met with the man being held there who tried to murder him.  The pope forgave this man and prayed for him and blessed him.  But the pope did not ask that this man be released from prison.

 

So then, what is forgiveness?   Forgiveness means that the one forgiving does not wish for revenge, does not hold bad will against the other.  The one forgiving stops seeing the person as the “bad” person the “monster” perhaps and sees him as the person God intended him or her to be – or perhaps a needy hurting person.  The one forgiving tries to see the one he is forgiving through grace filled eyes.  And he prays for this person that God will help and bless this person.  To hate the sin but not the sinner.  Scripture tells us to pray for our enemies. (Luke 6:28) .

 

On that first Christmas night when the angels joyfully sang about the gift being given to humans of God’s peace and good will, they didn’t tell us how this gift would be given out.  But I suspect that we (you and I) have been enlisted to be part of the act.  God always seems to include us in His work, so why would this be any different.  Yes, we are the ones who have been chosen to help deliver God’s peace and be ambassadors of His good will!  We are to forgive and forget.  To love and bless .  And to turn the other cheek.  Let’s get busy doing what we are called to do. 

 

 

Some of the ideas here were taken from Phillip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”   

 

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