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Christmas Peace

John Stewart | The Voice of Zion December 2021 --

It was wintertime. As the day faded into evening and passed into darkness, the air became crisp and still. Stars twinkled overhead, and across the expanse of a wide field muffled sounds from a flock of sheep echoed in the distance. The small, nearby village of Bethlehem, also called the City of David, overflowed with people who had come to register for a taxation commanded by Rome. Several miles to the north on higher ground lay the larger city of Jerusalem – the site where, on the Temple’s immense altar of hewn stones, many of these sheep would later be sacrificed. Shepherds dwelled in Bethlehem’s surrounding pasture areas and kept watch over the flocks. Especially as evening approached, and at night, the shepherds sang or hummed peaceful songs in low tones that comforted and calmed the sheep. It was a scene of quiet solitude. The Angels Bring Tidings This pastoral setting, however, was suddenly and dramatically transformed in a miraculous way. An “angel of the Lord” descended upon the shepherds’ field with the glory of God shining round about. Naturally, great fear gripped the herders’ hearts. Yet amid this shocking change, the angel brought a wonderful message! The tidings were of great joy and peace, a heavenly peace – a serenity and a hope that would surpass any temporal or earthly solitude. It was a message to all people: the message of Christmas peace. To the lowly shepherds the heavenly messenger proclaimed comforting and reassuring words: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11,12).

The miraculous moment for the shepherds did not yet cease. But rather, as their fear began to abate, they experienced great wonder, hope and awe when, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (v. 13,14). Believers in our time remember the angels’ miraculous visit in song: “The angels once sang of the triumph of heaven on Christmas night. They sowed into mother earth’s sorrow a radiant starfilled night” (SHZ 28:1).

The heavenly event faded, the field quietened, and the shepherds again found themselves alone with their flocks under the silent night sky. Yet, under the canopy of heaven, moved with awe and wonder, these shepherds began to discuss their experience among themselves, saying: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (v. 15). Thus carrying heavenly tidings, and guided by the Holy Spirit, the shepherds quickly and excitedly made their way across the fields to the stable. There, just as the angel had described, they found the baby lying in a manger. Mary and Joseph were close by. Shielded from the busyness of crowded Bethlehem, the lowly few nestled round the Christ Child’s bed of hay. Hope and a deep heavenly peace filled the heart of each one present. The Word Offers Peace After the shepherds had seen the child described by the angel, they returned to their daily calling in the fields. They were not able to contain their peace and joy. They began to spread abroad the tidings of the heavenly angel. The shepherds brought a message that was not their own, nor was it a message of earthly or temporal peace. It was the Word of a joyful, heavenly Christmas peace through the work of the Holy Spirit. Today this same Word continues, ceaselessly, from believers in God’s kingdom, just as it did from the lowly and poor shepherds. The gospel Word always offers Christmas peace – even amid personal trials, in temptations, and during struggles and battles of the journey. Through faith the child of God experiences true Christmas peace.

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