Two centuries ago today, Americans under Andrew Jackson were preparing to square off against British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars near New Orleans. Not the picture one usually brings to mind when thinking of Christmas.
One century ago, according to accounts that have grown into legend, the Great War in Europe briefly came to a stop as all the participants took a moment to recognize the birth of the Prince of Peace. Indicative of the fundamental changes that War inflicted on Western Civilization (formerly known as Christendom), it was the last such truce in what would become an agonizing slaughter, setting the stage for many horrors to come in the 20th Century.
Juxtapose Christmas and war, and most people sense a cognitive dissonance. Tragically, though, it is all too appropriate. You see, the Prince of Peace did not come to bring lasting temporal peace in a world that is hostile to its Creator. In fact, He Himself noted His intrusion into that hostile world would only stir even further animosities.
Why, then, the title “Prince of Peace?” Because Jesus offers the only peace that matters: peace between each person and their Creator. Each of us are born into a camp of rebels, instinctively fighting against the legitimate Authority. In our stubborn struggle against that Authority and its wisdom, we also damage our relationships with others and the world around us. Our ancestors rejected the paradise that was offered, preferring, in the words of Milton, Satan’s inclination to ‘reign in hell than serve in heaven.’ We decided we knew best, or could.
It’s been hell on earth ever since.
The worst part is that we know it shouldn’t be like this. We hear the faint echoes of what was supposed to be, before the Fall marred all of Creation (including every one of us). For some, the gap between what is and what was intended causes despair. For others, merely a grim determination to get through this life as best as possible. And for some, it rouses a righteous indignation at the evils around us that demands action.
But like a surgeon operating without a proper diagnosis, taking such action without understanding the nature of the problem merely makes matters worse. It is possible to treat many of the symptoms of this decaying world, but it is beyond human power to cure what is wrong. We can be — and in past centuries have been — individually charitable to the needy, and caring of the poor and helpless. But the human heart remains beyond our ability to reform, despite the best efforts to create the “New Model Man.” Indeed, such efforts seem only to bring out the worst even in those dedicated to the latest utopian scheme, whether attempting it from a Marxist or a forcefully legalistic Christian foundation. Only God can change the heart.
The best we can achieve in this world is a society where each person is free to reap the results–good and bad–of their own choices, with minimal interference from others as they choose their own life. In such a society, followers of Christ are called upon to help the hurting, not just in a physical sense, but in a way that points them to the Truth. We are called to be humble examples, but nowhere are we commanded to force others to stop hurting themselves. Even the attempt to do so usually serves only to drive them further away from the Peace they need… a marker of just how badly broken we are as people.
What peace there can be on earth begins with the individual choice to stop fighting against God’s design; to be humble enough to acknowledge we are the creation, not the Creator. To the extent that submission allows the Creator to refashion us as we were meant to be, it has an effect on those around us. Some will be drawn to Him as a result. Others will fight the physical representation of what they already oppose in spirit. Regardless of reaction, those of us serving the King must remember that our real struggle is not with our fellow flesh and blood, but against this broken creation that holds so many in sway. That struggle itself is not ours to wage, but rather belongs to the One who has overcome it already. We need not fear the wars we see around us, nor the struggles within us. We can have a peace that passes human understanding, even in a world of war, because we see the promise of the world to come.
He is not just born as a baby. He is risen as Lord!