On 1st March, the Murgon Ministers' Fraternal gave Dad an unusual farewell gift - a copy of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolf Hitler. Already the dark clouds of Nazism were troubling the world and on 3rd September that year, the word came through, the word that most had feared - "The world is at war!" That book helped Dad understand the evil course of the next five years of world history - through the eyes of a twisted man with an early passionate hatred of Jews and an equally passionate commitment to German world supremacy.
Sixty years later the documentaries are still probing many unanswered questions. But all of us are thankful for the peace treaties that ended the war - though still haunted by the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that seemed the only way to curb Japanese imperialist ambition.
The war was stopped, the bombing ended - but is this what peace is all about? Is peace simply a negative quality - the absence of war? It has been said that it is easier to win a war than to live in peace.
One story has it that, after the war, the Americans proposed that, as a gesture of peace, they should exchange generals with the Japanese. "That's good," said the Japanese. "We would like General Motors and General Electric!"
In contrast to our negative view of "peace", the Hebrew word shalom has a very positive ring to it. It has to do with well-being, health and prosperity. Far from the sentiment of the tombstone epitaph "R.I.P." - requiescat in pacem "rest in peace" - shalom has to do with action and vitality, everything in motion and functioning properly rather than being at rest and doing nothing.
In Isaiah 26.3-4, we have the promise, "You will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the Rock eternal." And in verse 12, "Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us." In the Hebrew "perfect peace" is shalom shalom - double peace, peace in all its fullness, in all its richness. Notice that this "perfect peace" results from trust in the Lord - it is a gift of God received by faith. Trust in the Lord leads not just to laying down arms, but to taking up tools.
The Jews have been noted as people of action - one of the specific reasons Hitler hated them. They are astute and enterprising - and not always compliant at the negotiating table!
Over thirty years ago, I received a small booklet which described how the land of Israel had once again begun to produce in abundance since the formation of the modern state of Israel. The Jews understood that living in shalom meant a vigorous and active life.
And in Isaiah 9.6, in the midst of exploitation, oppression and war, comes the promise, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
The friends of Jesus were worried and upset. It wasn't working out the way they expected. Jesus had taught a great deal about God's Kingdom. They had been anticipating places of honour. But just now it looked certain that Jesus, their Lord and Master, would soon be eliminated, killed, executed. What would they do? Where would they go? How would it all end? Jesus hadn't even promised them an easy time. Far from it! People would insult them, persecute them and falsely say all kinds of evil against them because they were Jesus' followers (Mt. 5.11).
And yet... "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (Jn 14.27). Peace, like joy, isn't circumstance-dependent.
Some of you will remember the Brisbane Courier-Mail cartoonist, Ian Gall. When there was a federal budget, we might well see benefits given with one hand and taken away in taxes with the other. Two birds labelled "Rhyme" and "Reason" would be flying off saying, "Wow! This is no place for us!"
Jesus' gift of peace isn't like that. There isn't a "down side". Jesus' gift of peace is sealed with the costly gift of his life and accompanied by the coming of the Helper, the Holy Spirit who comes to live within us.
At the birth of Jesus, a whole army of angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests!" (Lk. 2.14)
This "peace on earth" can never be independent of God. It is freely offered to all who will put their trust in Jesus Christ - born 2000 years ago as the Baby in the manger. It is a peace we can continue to know in this millennium, because it is given to us by "the Man behind the Millennium". Receiving his gift of peace is infinitely more important than anything that might happen to us.
Heaven's army singing peace:
Peace on earth! Peace on earth!
Let the chorus never cease
as the choristers increase -
Prince of Peace.
Jealous, angry, cursing, hating:
Loving, giving, hoping, waiting:
"It is finished!" - sin abating.
born to die!
Raised to glory in the highest:
Christ is King! Christ is King!
Peace on earth to all believing,
offered now to all receiving -
gift of peace.
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
"Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those on whom his favour rests!"
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
God offers us the gift of peace through his Son Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Love ("for God so loved the world..."), joy ("glad tidings of great joy...") and peace ("peace on earth..."). These are three of the special gifts from God that we celebrate at Christmas time - all given to us in Jesus Christ. Receive and welcome him and know God's love, joy and peace in your life - all part of a relationship that no circumstance can take away.
Love... Joy... Peace... These are the first three qualities which Paul lists as part of the "fruit of the Spirit" within our lives - "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5.22-23a). Produced in our lives by God's Spirit, his love, joy and peace will reach out through us with transforming power into the community.
Receive the Saviour Christ the Lord and know these special gifts. Carry them with you beyond our present time and into eternity.