Saturday, December 12, 2009

Misunderstanding Christmas

Driving into town one evening last week, I passed the local Chamber of Commerce office. They had their Christmas decorations set up out front, with huge lighted letters spelling out "Peace On Earth, Goodwill To Men." A very Christmasy look and message, right? But I was immediately struck by the misunderstanding that the unbelieving world around us has about Christmas and its significance. And how this popular Christmas slogan is a reflection of that misunderstanding.

What is it this statement seems to mean to the good folks in the C of C, or to most others who would express this as a Christmas wish? Well, likely that the real message of the Christmas season is the promotion of peace among people and nations on earth, and expressing good will and good feelings toward our fellow man, regardless of our differences. These words seem very attractive to the tolerance and can't-we-all-just-get-along crowd. Peaceful coexistence, setting aside those things that would divide us, blah blah blah. In fact, I just heard that old Bing Crosby/David Bowie rendition of The Little Drummer Boy, where Bowie talks about peace on earth and how we have to work to teach our children to live in peace and all that. Sounds so great. But does this have anything to do with the words as stated in Scripture? Do these sentiments have any connection with the real meaning of Christmas? Not so much.

Of course, the first problem is that these words are taken from a not-so-good translation of Luke 2:14 in the KJV. The NASB is much better, which states: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." These are the words of the angels to the shepherds as they announced the birth of the Savior. They expressed first and foremost that God is the One to be glorified in this event, above all. And secondly, the announcement of peace on earth. But not universal peace among all men. Not the cessation of all conflicts. Jesus later even said this wasn't His purpose for coming at all. But rather, peace towards and between men and women with whom God is pleased. The peace on earth announced here is reserved for those who are pleasing to God, who trust Him and the salvation that He is providing through the incarnation of His Son that night in Bethlehem. The goodwill to men communicated by the angels is God's goodwill toward His people through Jesus Christ, and among those people whom He has brought to Himself through Christ. An announcement of the cessation of hostilities between God and those who will be His people. But not a general declaration of peace and goodwill for all men. Such an understanding is a misunderstanding of the true message and meaning of Christmas.

So, Christian, as those who are recipients of this peace with God and His goodwill toward us in Christ, what shall we do with the unbelieving world who misunderstands this announcement? Give them the truth, the reality of the Gospel of Christ, the only hope for peace and goodwill of any kind for mankind. And the only hope for eternal life for anyone. Give them the real reason for the season. For His glory.

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