The Prince of Peace

The coming of Jesus Christ has made a real difference to this world. In the days leading up to Christmas this year there was a real sense of joy as Christmas carols and music were played in many places. Jesus has brought joy and peace to countless people. He lifts us above the struggles of our daily lives and the troubles of the world. Christmas has now passed but the blessings that Jesus brings to our lives continue.

One of the greatest blessings that Jesus gives is peace. The angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then a great number of angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Jesus came to bring peace and reconciliation between God and us. By nature we all rebel against God and assert our right to go our own way. This is the root cause of all our personal problems and the many conflicts in the world. We need to find forgiveness, peace with God, and new life in Jesus. One carol rejoices in this, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’”

When people come to faith in Christ their lives wonderfully change. On my recent visit to the Hupla people in Papua I saw many men with spears and other weapons. In the past they were always fighting with each other and with neighbouring tribes, but they don’t do that anymore because they have come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.

The Christmas Truce in some parts of the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914 is an example of the remarkable influence of Jesus Christ on ordinary people, even those caught up in a terrible war between “Christian” nations. The British and German soldiers agreed to maintain a truce on Christmas Day and some met each other in No Man’s Land between the respective trenches. They exchanged gifts and souvenirs and sang Christmas carols in English and German. The following day the battle resumed! Let us pray that in the coming year we, and the peoples of the world, will know the true and abiding peace which only Jesus gives.

Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Mary and Joseph lived in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Joseph had known Mary from a very early age and she had been promised to him in marriage. She was still in her teens and he was the village carpenter. They loved each other very much and were looking forward to being married and making their home in the village. They could not have known that God had wonderful plans for them that would fulfil his promise that through the descendants of Abraham all nations on earth would be blessed.

One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her not to be afraid because the Lord was with her. The angel told her that she would supernaturally conceive a child and give birth to a son. He said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary’s humble response to God’s purpose for her life was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

When Joseph realised that Mary was pregnant he was devastated and assumed, very understandably, that she had been unfaithful to him. He did not want to her to be publicly disgraced so planned to end their relationship quietly. Then, one night, God revealed the truth to him in a dream. An angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So Joseph married Mary and had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.

This was the beginning of the greatest story ever told. God had promised to provide a saviour and out of love for a sad and sinful world he gave the gift of his only Son to be that Saviour. Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This Christmas, and every day of our lives, each of us needs to know God’s love for us, the forgiveness of our sins and that he is with us. Then we can joyfully sing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King: peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’ Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

As we sat in Bali airport waiting for our flight it was a very pleasant surprise to hear the music of a familiar Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, being played. The carol joyfully affirms that the coming of Jesus into the world is a reason for all to rejoice. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” Jesus, who was born in lowly circumstances in Bethlehem, is King of kings. “He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove, the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”

It seems as if two different celebrations are being held at this time of year. For some it is “Winterval”. In the dark days of mid winter this festival offers happiness through spending, feasting and parties. It is very expensive and leaves the headache of paying the bills in January. It is really good, in the busyness of modern life, to take time to be with family and friends and to give and receive presents, but surely there is more.

Jesus is at the heart of Christmas. His birth is a wonderful reason to celebrate because his coming brought true and lasting joy. In the words of another Christmas carol, “O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

There are real similarities between Bethlehem, when Jesus was born, and our 21st century world. The people in Bethlehem that night were busy because their lives had been disrupted by the demands of a Roman census. They had had to travel from their own communities to Bethlehem and many were stressed as they tried to find a place to stay. It wasn’t a good time to pause and take note that a child had been born in a nearby stable who fulfilled the promises made by God from the beginning of history.

God has given us his only Son, whose name is Jesus, because “he will save his people from their sins.” “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

The Hupla People receive the Bible

Last week I was in the beautiful mountain village of Soba in Papua for the dedication of the Hupla Bible. For the first time the 6000 Hupla people have the whole Bible in their own heart language. It was a time of great joy and celebration. It has taken more than 25 years work to translate the Bible and the main translators Mathias, who is a Hupla, and Sue, who is from Ireland, rejoiced in the completion of what, for them, has been a labour of love.

Sue first arrived in Papua in 1978 as a young nurse and for 19 years lived amongst the Hupla people in Soba. It took her 2 days to walk through the mountains from the highland city of Wamena to Soba. At other times the journey took 15 minutes by light aircraft to the small airstrip that had been cleared in the village. In 1994 Sue joined the Bible translation team.

Before they heard the good news of Jesus the Hupla people, like the other 250 tribes in Papua, lived in constant fear and oppression from evil spirits and the spirits of dead relatives. Fear of these spirits controlled every part of their lives and they offered many sacrifices to appease the anger of the spirits.

There was also frequent fighting amongst the clans within the tribe and with other neighbouring tribes. The practice of revenge and ‘pay back’ killings meant that there was no end to the fighting. Many died and others suffered terrible injuries. The people also practised cannibalism. Although the people lived in very beautiful mountains and valleys their lives were very dark. Now that many of the people know Jesus, things are very different.

In each village there were special places where only the men were allowed to go. If a woman or child entered that place the spirits would be angry and they had to be put to death. One day a little girl, who was looking for her father, unknowingly entered the forbidden place. She was taken to her father who knew what he must do to appease the spirits. He took his little girl to a nearby waterfall and threw her into it. Later when missionaries came to that village and told the people the good news of Jesus the father said, “If you had only come sooner my little girl would not have died!” All of us experience fear, but the perfect love of God in Jesus overcomes all our fears.

The transforming power of God’s love

I am visiting Papua in Indonesia. Papua is the Western part of a large island north of Australia. It is an amazingly complex society. The people of Papua, who number two and a half million, speak 250 different languages. Many of the people live in remote areas amongst the mountains and valleys of this very beautiful country. In the 1950s Christian missionaries first brought the good news of Jesus to the tribal peoples of Papua. They lived amongst the people, built relationships with them and learned their languages.

The missionaries faced many challenges and dangers. In 1968 two missionaries, Stan Dale and Phil Masters, were killed by warriors from the Yali tribe. Despite this tragedy others continued the work and many of the Yali people experienced God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus. Their lives, and the life of the tribe, was transformed.

One of the first Yali men to come to faith in Jesus was Dongla Kobak. His father, Andeng, was the cult priest of the tribe and Dongla had been expected to succeed him. But Dongla’s life was decisively changed when he became a Christian and he became a leader in the church. He could not read but he learned the Bible stories the missionaries taught the people and then he taught his children those stories.

One of his sons, Otto, came to know Jesus as his Saviour and Lord and worked amongst the young people in the churches. In 1988 he joined the team translating the Bible into the Yali language. He dedicated the next 12 years of his life to this work so that the all the Yali people would be able to hear and read the Word of God in their own heart language. The complete Bible in Yali was published in 2000. Earlier this year, at the age of 50, Otto died of TB.

Otto’s experience of God’s love for him in Jesus transformed his life. Like the Apostle Paul he could say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Otto’s whole life was committed to sharing the good news of Jesus with others and he died secure in the knowledge that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Now he is in heaven, in the presence of God, and is experiencing his love more deeply than ever before.