The Unbroken Song of Peace on Earth

The Unbroken Song of Peace on Earth

ROCKWALL, TX (Nov. 19, 2023) From Thanksgiving to Christmas can seem like one long holiday, which for some folks isn’t long enough. In the eyes of a child, the passing months of the calendar all lead to the 25th of December.

With childlike anticipation, I recently began counting down the days to a long-hoped-for event: my first trip to Israel. As a gift last Christmas, our travel-wise son offered to take his untraveled parents there sometime this year.

On the first Friday of October, after our reservations were booked for mid-November, I unearthed my passport and then opened the website link to view our hotel in Jerusalem. Visions of olive trees danced in my head as I went to sleep that night. Then I woke up Saturday morning, like the rest of the world, to Israel at war.

Most of us grieve the sorrows of war from a safe and comfortable distance. It was not so for the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose son was wounded in a Civil War battle. On Christmas Day of 1863 he penned the lines that became a carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Longfellow’s lyrics speak of the sad contrast between the brokenness in our world and the message proclaimed by angels at Jesus’ birth, “on earth peace among those with whom [God] is pleased” (Luke 2:14*). Here are two stanzas of his poem:

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.”

The prophet Isaiah, in his long chapter describing the Messiah, included the title, “Prince of Peace.” But 700 years or so passed before the child was born and the son was given (Isaiah 9:6). The long-awaited event finally arrived on God’s timetable, and the birth of Christ eventually reset the world’s calendars according to “Anno Domini” (“in the year of the Lord”).

Concerning the peace that Jesus brings to mankind, the apostle Paul appealed to both his people, the Jews, and the Gentiles of every nation (all of us): “[Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, … reconciling us both to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14, 16).

The road to peace and harmony between the nations is continually blocked and broken by sin. Yet the peace that comes through Christ is the unbroken road for “whoever believes in him” from every tribe and nation (John 3:16).

Meanwhile, Christmas 2023 will likely be subdued in Jerusalem and Bethlehem without the crush of holiday visitors. And, in Gaza, where any hot meal would now be a feast, much disquiet.

The passport I can’t seem to put away mocks me with each passing day, along with the airline app on my phone that still counts down to my yet uncancelled flight (“14 Days Until Check-in” as I write).

Next year likely will not bring an end to hatred and war, and it may hold even greater threats. But it will lead us once again to Christmas and ever closer to the day of the Lord, when the Prince of Peace will return as the “King of kings” (1 Timothy 6:14, 15), and every wrong will be made right.

That’s good news to proclaim year-round—“more loud and deep.”

*English Standard Version

Patti Richter writes and edits Christian faith articles and has co-authored Signs of HIs Presence: Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering. Read more of her essays at