Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"
Peace on Earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
In the ever popular song by Charles Wesley, we hear of the angels giving a royal announcement to the shepherds tending their flocks. A King has been born, and with his birth is a promise: "peace on Earth."
The English word "peace" that gets used in the song (and in the Luke 2 passage on which the song is based) is actually a translation that falls short of the Hebrew word that the Bible is conveying: shalom. Shalom is the idea of complete harmony and wholeness and is more than simply the "absence of violence" that often is associated with the term "peace." Shalom is the state of being in which all relationships are in perfect sync, and human flourishing is at its highest potential. Man's relationship with God, his relationship to his fellow man, and even his relationship with the natural world are all in step with God's design and are contributing to the glory of God and the joy of his creation. It is this state of perfect harmony that was lost when we rebelled against our God. We believed our design was better than his—that our ways were wiser than his. We believed the lie that we would be better suited to be in control than God. For all intents and purposes, we sought to overthrow him as King of the cosmos and crown ourselves instead.
When it comes down to it, that's the central problem of the human heart: our rejection of God as King. In our sinful state, we naturally have an opposition to being told what we should or should not do; we hate the idea of someone deciding for us our purpose and morality. After all, the lie that plunged humanity into opposition against God was a promise of being "like God" when it comes to deciding Good from Evil (Genesis 3:5). The problem, though, with mankind being its own King is that we are terrible at it. We are the ones who have created the violence, the strife, the jealousy, and the enmity that plague the world today. We are the ones who have sought riches and prosperity at the expense of the marginalized and oppressed. We are the ones who have miserably failed at "being in charge." We are in desperate need of someone else to graciously lead and steward this world. We need a wise and good King, able to bring the world back under the shalom it once enjoyed—able to bring "peace on Earth."
That's what true and good Kings do: they rescue and restore. Think of the great stories of Kings that we love and celebrate—Odysseus, King Arthur, Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, Simba! No matter what time period or culture they're from, they have one thing in common: they return to their people, defeat the forces of evil, and bring peace to the land. We know this is what Kings are meant to do, and hidden beneath all of the opposition we have to the notion of Kings is a desire for a King to rescue and restore us. And there's only been one King able to do what we love to see Kings do in the stories we create.
Two thousand years ago, the angels heralded the news of that King's birth. In the person of Jesus, God himself came to us as a King, as one who would restore what the sinfulness of man had robbed from the world. Through the work of Jesus, in his life, his death, and his resurrection, we are welcomed back into relationship with God, which then frees us to live as citizens of his Kingdom, living for and serving his plan and purpose. It is no coincidence that Wesley tied together "God and sinners reconciled" with the accomplishment of "peace on Earth." Only by being reconciled to our God—our true King—will we experience the shalom—the peace—that we were created to enjoy. Because one day, the angels will sing again, but this time they won't be singing of our King's birth, but his return; they won't be promising a peace to come, but instead proclaiming a peace that has come. We read in Revelation 19 and 21:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
No more mourning. No more crying. No more pain. Even death itself will be defeated when our King comes back and "makes all things new"—as he brings the peace on Earth that we're promised.
But, of course, sometimes it's difficult to rest in the promise of a peace to come when all around us we see and experience things that aren't peaceful at all. Even at Christmastime, it's easy to look around and see plenty of mourning, crying, and pain. So what do we do? How do we know Jesus cares enough to rescue us? How do we know he even can rescue us? How do we cling to the promises of our King while we're waiting for what he's going to accomplish? We must look to what he has already accomplished.
When we look to the cross of Jesus, we see a King who cares. We see a King who has given up his rights, his power, and his authority for our sake. We see a King who is willing to go to endless lengths to prove his love for us. "Greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for his friends." Jesus proved that great love in laying his life down for us. And so we know our King has not forsaken us. In fact, he was forsaken for us. But the story doesn't end with him being forsaken and killed.
When we look also to the empty tomb, we know that our King Jesus does not only love us, but he's also powerful enough to defeat the forces of evil on our behalf. The greatest enemy that we face, death itself, is powerless against our King. When he walked out of the grave in victory, he proved to us that our victory over death is an assurance. Because of the Resurrection, we don't have to wonder whether Jesus can make good on his promises. If you can beat death, you can beat anything.
So this Christmas season, when it's difficult to feel the "peace on Earth" that our King has promised, don't run from him; run to him. Look to what he has already done for us, both in his willingness to face death on our behalf and in his power to then have victory over it. And know that one day, our King will return and bring the "peace on Earth"—the shalom—that God's children are not only created to enjoy as he makes "all things new."