“Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”
Christmas is the season when our hearts resonate with these words. We long for wars to end, for humans to demonstrate love, friendship, and understanding toward one another. How many wistful songs are written about this? How many poems and greeting cards? Peace is one of our most basic desires. It’s what the angels promised. But this weekend, in the midst of our seasonal celebration of peace, I wept as a young man opened fire on a room full of first graders.
How do we reconcile such a promise with a world full of Adam Lanzas, Charles Mansons, Adolf Hitlers? We can’t. That promise hasn’t taken effect yet. It was given at the first coming of the Prince of Peace, but it’s fulfillment must wait for Christ’s second coming. When he returns, Jesus Christ will rein for a thousand years. It will be a period unlike any this earth has ever know. Imagine an absolutely perfect ruler with perfect judgement, perfect justice, perfect laws. Yet, the millennial kingdom is only a picture of heaven. There will still be a final rebellion. Only after it is put down, after the wicked are judged and the heavens and earth are renewed will the angel’s prophecy reach it’s complete fulfillment.
I’ve been reading a good deal about heaven lately, and the more I learn, the more I long for it. I’m excited to realize it will be here on earth! The earth was created as the perfect habitat for people, with its atmosphere, water supply, temperature, beauty, and seasons, and that plan has never been revoked. Because Christ inserted himself into his own creation and sacrificed himself for that creation, everything he made will be remade. That redemptive work is much more far reaching than we realize. Every effect of sin will be rectified. Every effect! Anything less would be a victory for Satan.
That means earth will again be “very good,” with no sickness, no death, no drought, with food enough for all and people who will no longer even be tempted to sin. Animals, once created as immortal companions to humanity, will be renewed, gentled, and perfected (yes, I believe that means the original animals). My garden will grow without weeds. Stars, mountains, plants, earth’s natural resources, the food chain, all will revert to God’s original plan. The earth will once again be given to humanity to govern–we won’t fail this time–and the New Jerusalem, God’s own city, will come down to us.
That, perhaps, is the most thrilling to me. God will not require us to “go to heaven” as some disembodied spirit doing unfamiliar things in some alien realm. God can exist as such. We cannot. We were created as physical beings, we’ll be resurrected as physical beings, and we will do familiar, physical things in the familiar, physical world that was prepared for us. God will enter our world and make himself accessible to us forever. How absolutely amazing is that?!
Since we will be in bodily form on the renewed earth, I think our heavenly existence will be much like the one we now experience. There will be dining, travel, music, work, leisure, friends, outings, sports, and celebrations. But there will be no sin to mar any of it. No disease. No death. All our separations will be temporary. There will be no famine, no war, no school shootings, not even anger. And we will meet Jesus. Finally, the peace we long for will be realized.
I weep for those who lost children and loved ones this weekend. As a mom with a child the same age as the Newtown victims, my heart is heavy. This world sucks. I have not lost a child, but I live with Crohn’s disease. My son has dyslexia. Marriage is a constant struggle. And my dog just lost a leg to cancer. I’ve experienced the effects of sin firsthand, and I long for their removal. But the promise of heaven is only purchased through Christ’s death and resurrection, and only those who accept his sacrifice for the payment of their sin are eligible to experience it.
If you’ve encountered the Child of Bethlehem, this Christmas you can join me in anticipating the day when “Peace on Earth” will become a reality on earth.