I heard my first Christmas song of the season today. (That is, if you don’t count the surreal experience of Mariah Carey belting out “All I want for Christmas is You” at the gift shop at Qumran in May.)
I was eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant this morning, the day after arriving in Kiev. As I sampled the cabbage rolls and perogies alongside more familiar fare, and thanking God for European coffee, I worked away at my lecture schedule for the next few days. The music was a mix of instrumental Muzak, interspersed with traditional Ukrainian melodies. It was pleasant background noise. Until one particular song came on. It was halfway through before it pounded into my experience, and I noticed they were playing Casting Crowns’ “Peace on Earth”. It cut me to the quick and I was suddenly very moved in lament and worship.
I had followed the events in Kiev in 2014 through the FB feed of a friend. I knew the people had scored a significant and precarious victory. I knew the war continued in the southeast of the country. But I was reminded by my friend just yesterday that the war is impacting the whole of the country in significant ways. He knows many who have been killed, or lost family members. He told me there are a million and a half internally displaced people in the Ukraine. Yet again, I found myself confronted with the conflict and injustice experienced by friends in diverse places. Beautiful people, in beautiful places.
This beautiful world is a mess. And we hardly know just how much of a mess it is in.
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, goodwill to men,’ wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of the American Civil War. The song has often resonated deeply with me, particularly the 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.” My call to ministry itself emerged from a passion to understand better and deeper the love and justice of God. In the mess that is the world, it is sometimes tempting to turn away, and give it up to its own destruction. Wolfville is a good place to hide.
But God did not give up on the world. God did not hide. And heaven is surely a good place to hide.
“Then peeled 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.” The intervention of God in the incarnation reminds us that God’s active presence is not just for Christmas. It’s for the everyday messy life of this world.
The question is, where will the church be found? Hiding, fretting, amusing ourselves to death? The temptation to not be bothered is huge. Jesus himself faced it. Will we be counted among those who sing ‘peace on earth’ over this world, in historical and eschatological witness, as we embrace and express God’s mission to his world every day as the hands and feet of Christ?
I guess it isn’t too early for a holiday song after all. As it turns out, the incarnation isn’t just for Christmas.
[Listen to Casting Crowns’ version of the song here.]