On December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was eating dinner in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts when he received a telegram that his oldest son had been seriously wounded. 18-year-old Charley had left the family to join the union army about 9 months earlier and had been shot through the shoulder during a skirmish near Washington D.C.
As soon as Henry heard the news, he traveled to Washington. The army surgeon delivered the devastating news that the surgery would be serious and could result in paralysis because the injury was so near his son’s spine.
This wasn’t the first family trauma Henry had experienced. Less than two years earlier, Henry woke up from a nap to find his wife’s dress had caught on fire. He used a rug and then his own body to put out the flames for which he received facial burns, but his wife had already suffered severe injuries and she died the next morning. Henry was not even able to attend his wife’s funeral because of the burns to his face.
As Justin Taylor writes, “On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem1 seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observed around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of “peace on earth,” but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook.”2
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!”
Perhaps you would bow your head in despair and say the same this Christmas season. Maybe you don’t have an injured child or you haven’t lost your wife, but 2020 fills you with despair. You may look out at our country that seems torn apart by hate and conclude, “there is no peace on earth.” Maybe there’s a lack of peace within the walls of your house or within your own heart.
What does it mean that God brought peace to earth when the world appears to be in such turmoil?
1. Jesus’ birth was the arrival of peace
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14
As the shepherds watched in amazement, the angels shared the good news of great joy and praised God for the peace that had finally arrived in the birth of the baby, Jesus Christ.
But how can a baby bring peace for sinful men?
2. Jesus’s death made peace with God possible
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
Jesus’ made “peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20) He took our death penalty on the cross so that all who place their faith in Him find eternal peace with God.
But what about those of us who have peace with God by faith and yet still fight anxiety, fear, and worry on a daily basis?
3. Jesus’ presence brings peace in our hearts
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:26-27
Jesus has just finished telling His disciples that He is going away and they cannot come with Him. Understandably, they are troubled and scared—like a child whose parent is about to leave them. And so, Jesus calms their fears and speaks these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He explains that he will return and that while He is gone His presence and His peace will continue to be with them through the Holy Spirit.
In a world that offers personal peace through enlightenment, entertainment, meditation, fitness, and vacations, we know that true peace is not found in possessions or pleasure, but in a person; Jesus. And He says that His presence will continue with His disciples until His return to earth.
4. Jesus’ commission is to herald the message of peace
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)
Jesus has chosen us as messengers of peace. We are commissioned to herald the good news to those living in the kingdom of darkness. Our feet are fitted with readiness to go out and share the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15).
5. Jesus’ church is called to maintain peace
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Eph. 2:13-14
In Ephesians 2, Paul is addressing Gentile believers who were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from God’s people and strangers to the covenants of promise. However, in the body of Christ there is no division based on ethnicity or status. Paul goes on to charge the church at Ephesus to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)
If you are struggling with anxiety this Christmas season and you want your family to experience true peace, remember that:
1. Peace comes from faith (John 14:1)
If you look around the world today without faith in God’s protection, promises and goodness, you will have great fear. You will fear for the safety of your child who just got his driver’s license or just started her first job. You will be anxious about the stock market, the federal government, and your physical health.
True peace comes when you are rooted and grounded in faith. Trusting that God is sovereign and in control.
2. Peace comes from prayer (Philippians 4:6–7)
Prayer isn’t always peaceful—it can be warfare. Sometimes prayer is filled with turmoil and agony, just as it was for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. But as we learn to truly cast our burdens upon Him with hearts of gratitude and dependence, prayer really can produce peace that “surpasses all understanding.”
3. Peace comes from knowing that Jesus is alive and He is coming again (John 14:3)
We can have peace today because Jesus is no longer in the grave. He is alive and coming again to take us home with Him. There is a special peace that comes when we rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection and joyfully anticipate His second coming.
As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow listened to the bells on Christmas day, he bowed his head in despair and said to himself, “there is no peace on earth.” But in the final verse, he found a glimmer of hope in the confidence that Christ is alive and coming again one day to establish His kingdom of peace forever.
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.”