They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.
‘Good news!’ said the angel to a girl named Mary. ‘God is sending someone special into the world. He will be a great king. His name will be Jesus. And guess what? God wants you to be his mother!’
‘Good news!’ said the angel to a carpenter named Joseph. ‘God is sending someone special into the world. He will rescue everyone from the wrong things they have done. He will be God’s own Son! But guess what? God wants you to take his mother Mary as your wife and raise little Jesus as your own.’
‘Bad news!’ sighed Joseph to Mary. ‘The rulers of our country want to count us, to see how many of us there are. And to make it easier for them, we have to go back to our home town. That means a trip all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem! And with the baby due so soon….’
‘Bad news!’ sighed the innkeeper, shaking his head. ‘There’s not one room left in Bethlehem. But seeing as the young lady’s expecting and all, why don’t you spend the night in my stable?’
‘Good news!’ smiled Joseph, handing the baby to Mary. ‘It’s a boy, just as God promised. God’s own son, there in your arms – Jesus.’
‘Good news!’ called the angel to the shepherds on the hill. ‘God has sent someone special into the world. The someone you have been waiting for. If you hurry into Bethlehem, you can see him for yourselves. He’s just a baby now, wrapped up warmly and lying in a manger. But one day he will save you from all that is wrong. One day he will bring you PEACE!’
Then the angels filled the sky with a good news song. The shepherds went to Bethlehem and made a good news visit. And, on that very first Christmas Day, Mary just watched, rocked her baby and smiled a good news smile!
The Hebrew term for peace, ‘shalom’, has a deep and complex meaning, encompassing much more than simply the absence of hostility or war. Shalom includes ideas of healing and health, wholeness and well-being. It means harmony, stability and security within a community. It refers to relationships based on truth and righteousness, where people flourish because they are nurtured.
The Biblical picture of the age to come is one of Shalom. ‘Swords will be beaten into ploughshares’ … ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb… no-one shall hurt or destroy…’ (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:1-9). Traditional enemies will live together contentedly and the people will be governed with wisdom, understanding and justice.
In Jesus’ message, peace is an almost tangible element. It is his gift to his disciples. Paul describes God as the God of peace, the Christian message is called the ’gospel of peace’ and peace is one of the ‘fruits of the Spirit’.
It seems that humankind has to learn and re-learn the message of peace. It does not come easily or automatically. We constantly fall back into hostility and suspicion. Peter, quoting the Psalms, says we must ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (1 Peter 3:11). Jesus blesses those who are ‘peacemakers’ and calls them ‘sons of God’. It is noteworthy how often the word peace is used in parallel with the word ‘righteousness’. Peace cannot come by simply wishing it to be the case. Peace is founded on righteousness and justice.
Christians are called to share in Christ’s work of restoring wholeness. The Christian vision in this respect is far-reaching and challenging: harmony between people, harmony between people and God, and harmony between humans and the whole created order.