December 24, 2012

Tonight, in churches all across America and other English-speaking countries, an all-familiar text from the Gospel of Luke will be read. It is the account of the birth of Jesus. I refer to Luke chapter 2, verses 1 through 14 (or to verse 20). Sermons and lessons will pour forth from the lips of pastors, priests and ministers which will take a closer look at the meaning of these verses.

Maybe we should take a quick look at this passage just to see what transpired on the day of the miraculous birth.

A census was taken during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone in the Roman Empire was required to register and to do so in the town, region or city of their ancestors. Mary and Joseph followed the edict and made a ninety mile journey from Nazareth, Galilee to Bethlehem, Judea.

While in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor. There being no room in the the local inn (literally, Luke says there was no place in the guest room, meaning Joseph's relatives didn't have room for them) they were allowed to stay in a cut out of a small hill or cavern in which cattle were kept from the elements.

Mary gave birth to her son, wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a feeding troth.

Shepherds were out in the fields nearby, tending to and watching over flocks of sheep. An angel of God appears with a proclamation of Jesus' birth and an invitation to go to the birth place and see the child.

Then, comes the monumental verse 14. A whole host of angels came forth shouting:

Glory to God in the highest and peace of earth, good will to men.

The New Testament was written in Greek, the language spoken throughout the entire known world in the first century. It was the universal language. I point this out because Luke wrote a phrase in this one verse which the King James Version, published 400 years ago, mistranslated.

We are most familiar with this version of the Bible and it is truly a majestic and beautiful translation. But the angels (as Luke records) did not say "peace of earth, good will to men." Luke says the angels sang: "Peace on earth to people He (God) favors" or more literally, "Peace on earth to men of good will."

"Men of good will"? Now who might they be?

As the modern New Living Translation renders it, these are "those with whom God is pleased." God is most pleased with people who are of good character, moral, God-loving followers."

Now here is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. If I can be bold to bring this translation and its ultimate meaning to its rightful conclusion, the angels are saying it is impossible to have peace when there is no good will.

Yes, you read that right. I am saying that the problems we face throughout this world, from gun violence, to the build up of nuclear arms in N. Korea and possibly Iran is attributed to the fact that there is no good will among men. Therefore, God is not pleased.

Don't get me wrong here. Peace is not the absence of war or conflict. Peace is a relationship of good will among men who are both pleasing to God and with whom God is well pleased. This kind of peace is sadly lacking in our world today.

As we sit here on Christmas, barely a week and a half out from the horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, millions of people are asking that question. Did God cause it? Did God allow it? Was God involved at all? Perhaps it was evil incarnate.

I have been especially touched by this tragedy, as my beautiful wife survived a shooting rampage by a deranged young man at a local bookstore two years ago. I am also the father of two wonderful daughters, one of whom just turned 5. As a mere mortal, I can only speculate as to why the event in the quiet community of Newtown, Connecticut, occurred.

I can't speak for God, but I do know that in my lifetime every tragedy that has ever befallen our country, be it large or small, has drawn people closer together. Whether it was terrorist attacks, disease, natural disasters, assassinations or school shootings, somehow good came out of the bad. The problem with human perspective is that we think small, we think narrow and we think short term. God sees the big picture; He knows the long term plan. He designed the plan.

Sometimes it's not about those directly involved with a tragedy, but it might just be about the rest of us. After Sandy Hook, how will we react, what will we do differently? There are those in Washington arrogant enough to think they can pass legislation that will somehow eliminate evil in our country. And believe me, Washington, D.C., put the "jerk" in knee-jerk reactions. But this issue is not about government priorities, this quite possibly is about re-evaluating our personal priorities.

Maybe in this country of 330 million people, the sudden death of 20 young schoolchildren will cause us to put our own lives in perspective. Maybe we'll hug our own kids more often. Maybe we'll turn off the TV and actually play that new game with our kids we gave them for Christmas. Maybe we'll try to be more loving to our spouses, our kids, our neighbors. Maybe the shooting will inspire people to open their hearts to strangers, be more patient in traffic, more charitable with those in need and more understanding at Wal-Mart. Maybe we'll set aside those petty arguments that cause more problems than resolve.

The truth is that we may never have a definitive answer as to why such tragedies occur, but as Christians we are called to have faith that God knows why. I pray for those families directly affected by the shooting, as I'm sure their world is upside-down right now and Christmas will be difficult for them.

I do know this: God has a plan; God has the answers. The answers come to people of good will. God showers His grace on those with whom He is please. And His pleasure rests on those who love Him, no matter what happens.

Violence comes from the hands of those who have no peace, who are of ill-will. With them, there is no peace and Christmas has no meaning at all. This is perhaps the real reason atheists and secularists try to destroy or discredit it, making everybody else's life a living hell on earth.

For you who love God and seek the true meaning of the season, you will have peace. And may the peace of the Baby in Bethlehem bring true joy to you and yours, now and forever more.

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