In Longfellow’s classic I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day every stanza ends with the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Unless you’ve been living someplace that doesn’t get the daily news, you might be saying, “Peace on earth? Really? I just don’t see it….” Or as Ebenezer Scrooge might say, “Peace on earth? Bah! Humbug!”
A humbug is an imposter, or something empty of meaning.
The third stanza of I Heard The Bells seems almost to slide into that Christmas humbug note: “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.’”
Indeed, even for those who call themselves a Christian, Christmas could become a humbug if…
- … it’s all about busyness or just trying to “survive the holidays”
- … we get more excited about Santa Claus coming down the chimney to fill stockings than we do about Jesus coming down to Earth to be born in a manger
- … our main focus is on gifts—both what you’re giving and what you’re getting—and then we regret putting ourselves into debt
Between Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament) and Matthew (the first book of the New Testament) is a time span of about 400 years that is called “the dark period.” God had promised through Jeremiah that He would restore the Israelites and rebuild Jerusalem. There were promises of the Messiah coming to set things right, but after 400 years of darkness, the mindset of most Israelites was probably, “Messiah? Peace? Bah! Humbug!!”
What God really promised through Jeremiah was a peace that came about as a result of two things: (1) forgiveness of sins and (2) restoration of a perfect relationship with God. The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, which means one’s personal sense of wholeness and well-being, free from anxiety and fear, knowing that all is well between my soul and God.
This is what God promises—I will cleanse them from ALL the sin they have committed against Me and will forgive ALL their sins of rebellion against Me (Jeremiah 33:8).
This shalom is what comes through the First Advent of Jesus! As Longfellow observed, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
And this is what Jesus brought—
- She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21 NIV).
- Now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ. For Christ Himself has brought peace to us… (Ephesians 2:13-14 NLT)
- Therefore, since we are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith, let us grasp the fact that we have…peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) (Romans 5:1 AMP).
The bells and carols and remembrances of Christ’s First Advent should send our hearts soaring in anticipation of Christ’s Second Advent—when Christ shall return to take all of His own to be with Him forever, where He will wipe away every tear and where we live forever with Him in the New Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 33:9; John 14:3; Revelation 21:1-4).
Let us guard against Christmas ever becoming a humbug—an imposter, something empty of meaning—but let’s make sure the rich meaning of Christ’s peace dwells richly in us!
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