Peace On Earth: Part 2
Haven’t read Part 1? Start here.
Did you know that A Charlie Brown Christmas, an additional staple of the annual Christmas movie lineup, almost didn’t happen? True story.
Now, Lucy’s particular quote here isn’t exactly related to my topic here.. but it’s good for a laugh, right? Keep watching, though, because later in the movie we do find a meaningful contribution to the conversation we began last week, examining the starting points that (we think) we have for expecting Christmas to usher in peace on earth, joy all around us, happiness for everyone, and so on. And it’s this: maybe, just maybe, our collective hope for “peace on earth” is based on at the very least a desire that the promises delivered by an angelic choir on the night of Jesus’ birth might be true. Here’s what Lucy’s brother Linus famously reads us:
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Quick note before I continue: Give yourself the gift of an accurate representation of this moment in history with this rad video from film maker Dallas Jenkins.
Back to Charlie Brown. Linus is reading to us a line-for-line of the King James rendering of the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke. The trouble is, they didn’t have the oldest and most trustworthy manuscripts in the 17th century when the King James version was written. Now textual critics know better that “on earth peace, good will toward men” should actually be, “and on earth peace among people with whom [God] is pleased!”
Wouldn’t you agree this makes better sense of the message? Rather than some magical worldwide “cease-evil agreement” suddenly taking effect simply because a baby was born in Bethlehem — an nonsensical idea, if you stop to consider it — the angel was actually announcing the fact that those under God’s provisional care, those who’d trusted that he was going to provide a Savior, could finally have peace. (It also made sense in a more immediate historical context, for the Jews of the time were anticipating a savior, and were suffering greatly in Roman-occupied Palestine; so for them, this would be a welcome message of peace, too.)
If you don’t find yourself agreeing with the truthfulness of the Gospel message — that Jesus was born of a virgin to be the awaited Messiah of the Jewish scriptures, to ultimately offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we who believe in him can have everlasting life and escape the otherwise appointed fate of eternal separation from God — then why in the name of Barbara would you care at all about a blue-collar carpenter’s son being born under the same roof as livestock some 2000 years ago, miles outside of Jerusalem? Why would you, if this really happened, consider the angels’ message a good tiding of great joy for all people? If Jesus is not a savior available to (though not forced on) all mankind, then what is it about the historic root of Christmas that can offer the hope of peace? Why should that peace be expected to be worldwide, or, if the portion of Luke’s gospel were actually written as spoken by Linus, why suddenly do we assume we’ll find goodwill toward men?
You’ve seen shoppers on Black Friday. And just take a look at your inbox. Christmas is no more selfless than any other time of year — it just has a surface-level luster of cheeriness, that’s all. People are still dying, losing their homes, getting divorced, etc. Our country is in a perpetual state of out-group hating. And none of us fully understand Bitcoin. (!) Christmas cannot possibly be expected to somehow flip that script. You simply cannot expect any stranger on the freeway to be more likely in December than in April to let you merge inconveniently in front of them.
What, then, does Luke — or any passage of scripture, really — promise us? Take the words of Tiny Tim, as quoted by his father Bob Cratchet: “Tim Told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.” After this world tears itself to pieces, after fallen and selfish men use their freewill to ruin the lives of those around them, and after each of our ~87 years on this earth are through, then those who’ve recognized those depravities and trusted in God’s salvation through Jesus can expect a new earth filled with eternal peace on said earth (and sadly those who have trusted in their own goodness will only get as far as that goodness could possibly send them on an eternal framework). That’s what the Christmas message is, if you’re taking it from scripture.
And if you’re not taking your Christmas message from scripture, then my friend, you’ve planted your feet firmly in midair, and I sincerely urge you find your landing place.
Tune in later this month for the conclusion of this three-piece story.
This post was originally published on Facebook in December 2017