There’s a familiar old story that makes a good launchpad for the point I want to make today. It probably originated in those bygone days when Vaudeville comedians were making the rounds. The curtain opens to reveal a scene depicting an empty city street. There’s a man bent down like he’s looking for something. He exhibits an exaggerated state of frustration and consternation as he slowly moves around in the lighted area around the base of the single streetlight.
Soon, another man comes along and asks what’s going on. The first guy says, “I dropped a diamond ring and can’t seem to find it.” The other man joins in the search and after a few minutes he says, “Show me exactly where you think you may have dropped it.” Then the first man stands up, points ahead toward the darkness, and says, “It was about halfway down the block near that storm drain.” The second guy says, “If you lost it down there, why in the world are you looking for it all the way up here?” The first one then responds with, “Don’t be stupid. All the light’s up here–you’d never be able to see it down there in the dark.”
Going in a Different Direction ~
I don’t know whether that old Vaudeville skit provided inspiration for the writers of Johnny Lee’s 1980 Country music hit, “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places,” but it certainly could have. Looking for things in places where they can’t be found is a theme that has been woven into all kinds of artistic expressions. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it’s so recognizable. Millions have lived out the misery and futility of searching for some treasured objective in places where it doesn’t exist, and no doubt, some are engaged in that kind of vain quest today.
I’m borrowing the “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places” idea and taking it in a slightly different direction today, because love isn’t the thing being sought in places where it doesn’t exist. As Christmas approaches in a culture awash in violence and conflict on many different levels, it’s understandable that multitudes are searching for a way to find peace. Given the number of times we see the concept of “peace on earth” on Christmas cards, seasonal memes, and other holiday material relating to the birth of Jesus, it makes sense that the quest would lead in that direction. The important question in this case is not whether we’re looking for peace in the right place, but, “Is the peace we’re looking for the kind of peace that Jesus offers?” To find the answer, we need to set aside our Christmas carols and the “Gospel according to Hallmark” for a moment and see what God had to say about it.
A Familiar Passage ~
Most Christians instantly recognize those sections of Luke’s Gospel that include God’s announcement of the birth of His Son. Many refer to those passages as “The Christmas Story,” and they are prominent throughout Christianity this time of year. We read them, hear sermons based on them, and often see them acted out as December 25th approaches. The praise offered by the angels get special attention, especially the part following the announcement to the shepherds. As the lead angel concluded the divine revelation, a host (which, by the way, is a military term–more like a Roman Cohort than a choir) of other angels showed up to punctuate the event with Heavenly praise. Together they exclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14 NKJV)
It’s appropriate that God lit up the night to herald the brightest news Heaven had ever delivered. As I mentioned in last week’s edition, God wrapped enough light into that tiny baby in Mary’s womb to illuminate an entire world that was shrouded in spiritual darkness. But there was more than radiance residing in that little bundle she held in her arms.
No Immediate Transformation ~
The world that awaited Him was ravaged by more conflict, violence, hatred, cruelty, and hopelessness than we could begin to imagine. Into that lost, hell-deserving world, God sent the possibility of peace. Jesus was and is the composite expression of all the love and grace that Heaven has to offer. But the peace Jesus brought with Him wasn’t some aura of tranquility that just settled over the earth like a soothing blanket because Jesus was born. All the conflicts in the world didn’t suddenly cease when His cries rose up from that manger in Bethlehem. Armies didn’t throw down their weapons and take up farming to acknowledge His arrival. Isaiah said He would be called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), but His coming didn’t suddenly end all wars, resolve all conflicts, and remove all sources of animosity. The kind of peace He brought was not the universal absence of conflict that some were doubtlessly hoping for.
As a matter of fact, the presence of Jesus in a world dominated by evil often produced the antithesis of the kind of peace sought by many. He gave this sober warning to His disciples on more than one occasion:
Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51–53 NKJV)
Jesus’ words make it seem like maybe Isaiah and the angels got it wrong. Instead of bringing peace, it sounds more like He would be intensifying division, creating conflict, and tearing families apart. But before we tear up all our “Peace on Earth” Christmas cards and try to find some that say something like “Merry Mayhem,” we must recognize that there are two contrasts involved here that we need to consider.
The most obvious is the one between the chaotic and frightening world around us and the absolute harmony that characterizes the Heavenly Kingdom. The second contrast may not be as obvious, but in our quest for peace, it is much more important. There is a sharp distinction between the concept of peace as we define it and peace the way God provides it.
Unexpected Applications ~
The peace Jesus offers is not defined by the absence of conflict or freedom from all sources of fear and anxiety. As a matter of fact, it is the very presence of threatening circumstances, disturbing possibilities, and oppositional forces that gives definition and power to the peace Jesus offers. When surrounding circumstances are overwhelming and deliverance seems impossible, His peace rises up in irresistible and invincible defiance and refuses to succumb to despair. That kind of peace wasn’t won by potentates with their massive armies or politicians with their conspiracies, and it wasn’t bought with the currency recognized by the world in reacting to the conflict between Jews and Gentiles, Paul says it clearly:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:14–18 NKJV)
Eventually, Jesus will come again, and He will defeat every enemy, end every war, resolve every conflict, and wipe away every tear from every eye. Until then, the risen, living Prince of Peace offers us Himself. He will travel every road we take, endure every trial we face, meet every challenge we confront. He will rejoice along with us when we win and reconcile our hearts when we lose. If you have Him, then peace has, indeed, come to earth. If you don’t have Jesus, then you’re probably looking for peace in the wrong places.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Is the peace we’re looking for the kind of peace that Jesus offers?” To find the answer, we need to set aside our Christmas carols and the “Gospel according to Hallmark” for a moment and see what God had to say about it …” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “God wrapped enough light into that tiny baby in Mary’s womb to illuminate an entire world that was shrouded in spiritual darkness. But there was more than radiance residing in that little bundle she held in her arms.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Jesus was and is the composite expression of all the love and grace that Heaven has to offer. But the peace Jesus brought with Him wasn’t some aura of tranquility that just settled over the earth like a soothing blanket because He was born.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “All the conflicts in the world didn’t suddenly cease when Jesus’ cries rose up from that manger in Bethlehem. The kind of peace His coming brought was not the universal absence of conflict that some were doubtlessly hoping for.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The very presence of threatening circumstances gives definition & power to the peace Jesus offers. When surrounding circumstances are overwhelming, His peace rises up in irresistible & invincible defiance & refuses to succumb to despair.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The Prince of Peace will travel every road we take, endure our every trial, rejoice when we win and reconcile our hearts when we lose. If you have Jesus, peace has come to earth. If not, you’re probably looking for peace in the wrong places.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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© 2022 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved
Am terribly late in responding my friend, but “scaling email mountain” can sometimes be a long and arduous event. Recent circumstances conspired to put nearly 300 emails behind. According to my little note in lower-left corner of Outlook, I only have another 138 to go. Am sure glad I finally got to this one. Wonderful wisdom shared once again sir. Nothing less than what I’ve come to expect with your every post. I think the point that stood out the most to me this morning was your words, “… the possibility of peace.” While I agree that the peace so many seem to be wanting is there in front of them, far too many will never attain it because they’re too afraid to let go of the world enough to recognize something better is awaiting them. I won’t expound much more as I’m so late in getting to this, but your post is one that I want to circle back to so I might mine it for more precious treasures from your heart. God’s blessings and Merry CHRISTmas my friend. Praying you and Ms. Diane hold onto that precious treasure of God’s peace in your lives.
With all you’ve got ahead of you, I almost hesitate to respond because it produces something else for you to read. I’m amazed, not to mention humbled, blessed, encouraged, and a tad intimidated by your faithfulness in following through on your commitments. There’s no wonder that all of us who have found our way into your growing circle of friends feel such a strong connection with you. We all want a bit of all that stuff that God put in you and that He uses to reveal Himself. Finding your response today was even more encouraging than usual (and that’s saying a lot). I’m a bit limited because I fell and broke my wrist last week and Diane and I are both locked out of all our Christmas gatherings because we’re working through a dose with Covid. Thus the joy your unexpected Christmas Eve blessing brought is a highlight that both of us cherish and our prayer is that God will send something comparable your way. Merry Christmas to you and Diane and all the Cross-Dubya family.
Amen, Ron! If we don’t have Jesus in our lives, we can’t possibly understand what true peace is about. Let’s not look for something where it can’t, and doesn’t, exist.
Love you thoughts here, my friend!
Thanks for the heartwarming encouragement, Martha. Like the insights you share in your own writing, your comments always lift my spirit and bring the kind of smile to my face that connecting with friends always does. Today just happens to be my birthday, and your response just helped to make it happier.
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yes and amen!
Thank you, Laurie. God bless you for the welcome and uplifting encouragement that your note brought with it.