“Peace on earth and goodwill toward men,” the angels announced on the eve of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, “Don’t be afraid.”
Yet, the newborn infant had scarcely drawn his first breath when King Herod unleashed barbaric cruelty and decreed all babies under two years old be killed. He was threatened by rumours of the birth of a king to challenge his throne so he took action. Where was peace and goodwill on earth?
Before that bloody event Mary and Joseph’s life and plans had been turned upside down by the revelation that Mary would carry the child of the ‘One on High’. Their reputation in the village was shattered, plans for a family wedding (as had always been the tradition) were shredded, and soon after the birth of the ‘messiah’ they had to flee for their lives to Egypt. Where was peace and goodwill for them?
It was there, hidden amidst the rubble of human angst and jealousy. Quietly breathing, trusting, believing, and living by faith.
There’s so much disillusionment and misunderstanding when it comes to God, Jesus, and how He accomplishes His purposes. We often don’t even realize how much we wrap our version of God in what we think…. and then declare our conclusion to be His will and purpose.
Herod’s peace on earth was accomplished by violence, overcoming opposition, lies, control, deception, and the brutal misappropriation of power and influence. It didn’t work, and it never will.
The peace and goodwill on earth was sprinkled like salt and light with the first revolutionary crystals falling in Nazareth and Bethlehem. They fell on Mary and Joseph, who with peace and goodwill embraced the unexpected and interrupting will of God for their lives. Instead of holding onto their plans and preferences they yielded to the revelation God gave them with awe and wonder; certainly not much understanding. “How can this be?” Mary uttered. But unlike the threatened and insecure Herod she courageously and graciously yielded to the One who was greater. As did Joseph after his initial shock and scratching of the head as he considered Mary betraying him by sleeping with another man.
Peace and goodwill filled Mary and Joseph as they journeyed uncomfortably to Bethlehem. God doesn’t always answer prayers for a parking space and there was no room for them in the inns of the town. The place was crowded and they ended up settling in a stable with cows and chickens and a manger. Most of us would never comprehend that God would allow such indignity to His anointed. “God is good, His favor is upon us, we’re believing for an en suite and an upgrade,” we declare :-)!
But Mary and Joseph had never heard of such things and embraced the journey, including stable and exile in Egypt. Peace and goodwill resided deep within their spirits because the most amazing truth to them was that God’s angels would speak, and they would be chosen to parent his child. That honor transcended any of the other details along the way. They already knew they had no clue how to understand or explain. They already knew their lives would never be the same; this was way more exciting than fretting over changed wedding plans, or what the neighbours thought.
Peace and goodwill surprised them as they journeyed together. Unlike Herod, who needed to destroy others to feel more ‘peaceful’ Mary and Joseph believed that God would take care of them in the midst of chaos, and even violence. And He did.
One of the most profound characteristics of the Spirit of God manifest in human beings (on earth as in heaven) is peace and goodwill. Paul captured this essence in his famous description of love in 1 Corinthians 13… Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, never envies etc.
So many Christians are more like Herod than Mary and Joseph. They try to force, control, campaign, declare and manipulate toward the goal of a peace and goodwill that is a political or personal agenda. It’s easy to slide into that mindset – for the best of reasons.
Let’s learn from Mary and Joseph this Christmas rather than emulate Herod. Trust God with process, patiently embrace the journey with peace and goodwill. Refuse to interpret circumstances as indicators of God’s favor or blessing (times in a stable maybe exactly where He wants you for now, for reasons you may never know). He’ll send shepherds, wise men, gifts and resources to encourage and bless. He’ll never leave us or abandon us as long as we trust.
It should be easier for us today than for Mary and Joseph yesterday. We have a greater revelation of the love and kindness of God through the son Jesus, they nurtured and parented. The peace and goodwill God’s Spirit strengthened them with led them through Egypt, back to Nazareth, through Jesus’ public ministry and increasing fame, through another brutal death, into resurrection and beyond.
Christmas is unbelievable; the revelation of God in Jesus changes everything. What God did through Mary and Joseph He’ll do through any who yield without fully understanding. May peace and goodwill be yours this season, in you, through you, and around you….. crystals of salt and light, evidence of the Kingdom on earth as in heaven.