Each of us longs for peace—deeply and desperately. This has been the human dream since the beginning. We work for peace, but peace eludes us. We argue back and forth about whether gun control is the problem or the solution—but the fact is that the problem is the human heart, and the solution only comes from God.
In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, Zechariah sings a song at the birth of his son John, who will grow up to be the forerunner of the Messiah. In verses 68-69a[i], he says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” In our longing for peace, this word “salvation” is used. It comes from the word “salve,” or a healing balm. In this context, it can mean many things.
First, it can mean physical safety. Zechariah sings of “salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us (v. 71).” He prays, “grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear (v. 74).” Being able to serve God without fear of terrorism would a wonderful thing. Everybody wants to live free from those who hate them and wish them harm. Certainly, this is part of the salvation for which Zechariah prayed in his violent world, and for which we pray in our broken world as well.
Then, this “salvation” or “healing” can mean also a purposeful existence for our children. In his song, Zechariah turns to his baby and says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways (v. 76).” Every parent in every culture longs to see their children grow and be safe and free to find their life’s mission. It’s not just American parents or Christian parents who want these things for their children—every sane parent wants the same thing.
Next, Zechariah anticipates the coming of the Lord “To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins (v. 77).” Salvation, or “healing” isn’t just a social or political thing; it is also spiritual. Jesus, the ultimate expression of God’s love, wanted us to know that God forgives all our sin. Nothing you could ever do is excluded from God’s forgiveness—and because of that, God wants us to extend that forgiveness and peace to others.
Just as God called John as an agent of change in the world, God calls us “To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (v. 79).” This is how we bring salvation, the healing of God, to the world. Granted, it can be a difficult task to swallow our anger over the world’s violence and become shining lights. Our initial reaction is to respond to violence with violence—but that isn’t the way of Christ. Instead, the Lord calls us to realize that the hearts of our enemies are simply bound in darkness, to have compassion on them, and to walk the path of peace.
This desire for peace spans every generation. On Christmas day of 1863, in the wake of his wife’s death and the severe wounding of his son Charles at the Battle of New Hope Church, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his famous poem, “Christmas Bells.” Lamenting the vast difference between the Christmas ideal of peace, and the reality of violence, he writes:
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
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!"
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."
Longfellow ends his poem not with despair, but with hope. The bells reply to his grief with an affirmation that God and good will win in the end. In Psalm 98:3, a different poet echoes the sentiments of Zechariah and Longfellow. “[God] has remembered His loving kindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” Hope for peace is found in the knowledge that not only has God remembered “our” people, but that all those from the ends of the earth are God’s people as well. Knowing that, we trust God to “To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (v. 79).”
[i] Scriptures taken from the NASB