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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Peace on earth

"Peace On Earth"

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14).

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

During this season we have lots of Christmas activities. Apart from activities in our church and with our family and friends several of the companies we serve have holiday gatherings. We attended a luncheon yesterday, have a breakfast tomorrow and a banquet meal Friday evening. These functions are appreciated by the employees and provide an opportunity to gather in a setting different than the normal work place.

Val-Co Christmas meal 2015
Val-Co Christmas meal

Yesterday after a delicious buffet and some fun games Brooksyne led the group in singing "Joy to the World". This particular company has employees from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Vietnamese, Russian, Kenyan, Korean, Honduran and many others as well as some transplants from New York and even some long-time Pennsylvania Dutch Lancaster Countians! As I visit with them I am blessed to see people getting along. As many of you know great, lasting friendships are often established at work.

I had the opportunity to conclude our gathering in prayer and as I thanked the Lord for our peace-filled, joyful gathering I also alluded to the terrorist attack out in California last week which began at a work-related Christmas party. How quickly a gathering marked by joy and goodwill was shattered by practically unimaginable horror and terror.

The words in our daily text are the summation of praise of the heavenly host of angels to the Shepherds at the time of Christ's birth. I use the word summation since I wonder if there was actually more to their message that Luke summed up as “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

Today we consider the phrase "on earth peace". We associate Christmas with love, joy, and peace, but also in the same Scriptural narrative there is the written record of unimaginable evil. We know the story but it's not a section of the Christmas narrative we choose to focus on. We might prefer to skip over it since the backdrop seems to be unconducive to what we perceive as the proper setting for the Christ Child's arrival.

King Herod, in an effort to destroy the Christ Child King, ordered his soldiers to kill "all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (Matthew 2:16). What a horrible time this must have been. Herod was an exceedingly evil man. We also consider the moral depravity of the soldiers in carrying out such an evil command. Even though we know Herod's motivation there is no reason to believe the inhabitants of Bethlehem did.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
"I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a Christmas Carol Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote 152 years ago for a church in Boston, MA during the cruel miseries of the Civil War. The beautiful chiming bells of Christmas shook Longfellow from his despairing stupor and reminded him that God was still in command. In His pre-ordained time God would cause the right to triumph. Our loving Father would bring the sounds of peace and good will to the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. In light of the recent unthinkable tragedy it seems a fitting song to consider.

Deep grief and despair have always existed in the human experience since the original fall. Longfellow experienced this as he received news that his son who joined President Lincoln's army, contracted typhoid fever and malaria. After months of recuperation he returned to the battle field, only to be shot through the left shoulder, causing near paralysis. After his injury stabilized Longfellow's son, Charley, was returned to his home. For weeks Henry sat by his son's bedside, slowly nursing him back to health. (Longfellow's wife had died two years earlier in a tragic fire.)

Church Bells
Church bells

Justin Taylor in a background story about the hymn writes, "On Christmas Day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook."
The poet drops his head in despair, and writes these piercing words

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, good will to men.”

Taylor continues, "The theme of listening recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settled, confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair."  Longfellow hears the ringing of Christmas bells, perhaps from a nearby church. Their triumphant pealing reminds him that "God is not dead nor doth He sleep,"

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, good will to men.”

We who believe in Christ still live in a fallen world with much evil and unrest. The peace of which the angels sang sure does not appear evident. Rather all around we see strife. But the peace the angels spoke of is not the external circumstances that surround us. Rather it is the peace that Christ imparts within our hearts when we know Him as Savior and Lord. True peace in other ways will come when the Prince Of Peace returns. Ultimately "the wrong shall fail, the right prevail."

The peace reigning within our hearts is truly a gift from God that surpasses all other gifts.  Won't you receive this peace and the Christ of Christmas today!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, our hearts are heavy today as we continue to see the disastrous results of a country that has turned away from its original purpose for existence. Our current laws have dictated that Your Ten Commandments have no place in the discourse of public education. Evil forces seek to strip your people of the right to pray and so many in government do not seek Your approval when establishing the laws that govern our lives. We see the injustice in so many ways; the perversion of marriage, sexual anarchy, clamoring for abortion rights, deadly violence. Now we see the foundations being destroyed and confusion abounds. Many cry out, "Where was God?" when the evil couple killed 14 and injured many others last week. Yet, to so many, all that the Scripture teaches us about how to live and show love one to another is referred to as old-fashioned, irrelevant, a thing of the past. Experts come from every direction to discuss their thoughts, but we know the only lasting answer to our need is provided for us in the arrival of Your Son, Jesus, who came to deliver us from our sins. How we pray for a mighty revival to sweep our land, revive our hearts and turn people away from their sins. We thank You for Your infinite mercy, and pray for Your comfort to be heaped upon those whose loved ones were stolen from them last week. May our brothers and sisters nearby have an inroad to these hurting families as they reach out to them with the love that only You can provide through their loving endeavors. We also pray for the law enforcement and officials overseeing the deadly terrorist follow-up, that You would grant them wisdom, discernment, and a truthful accounting, avoiding the deadly peril of political correctness. Fade from their memory the nightmarish horrors to which they are exposed. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen.

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Val-Co Christmas meal 2015
The employees were divided into groups to make Christmas trees by decorating an employee as the "tree".

Val-Co Christmas meal 2015
I like this photo showing folks from a variety of backgrounds working together and having a good time; Vietnamese, Kenyan, Hispanic.

Val-Co Christmas meal 2015
The engineering department trimmed a triple decker "tree" with two employees holding another on their shoulders.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" 
Video  Casting Crowns in concert

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
"  Video  Outstanding presentation with background story and touching photos (Artist not identified)

"I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"  Video  Another version by Steven Curtis Chapman

The story behind "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" by Justin Taylor

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, Copyright 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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