Christmas 2014 – Songs in the Night
2. The Impossible Dream
Luke 2: 14
The End Of Innocence
December 7, 1941, a day when one world died and another world was born. It was the end of the Age of Innocence. The first bombs fell at 7:53 am Pearl Harbour time. The Japanese pilots left a sea of flaming wreckage - the death count would reach 2,403. On December 6, 1941, a committee met in Washington. Its subject: the construction of something called the atom bomb. What happened in a tiny 3 day window of time changed the balance of power and ultimately redirected the course of human history.
From Pearl Harbour To Baghdad
What happened at Pearl Harbour led directly to World War 2 - when some 25 million people would die. What happened at Pearl Harbour led eventually to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and set the stage for the Cold War, which led into the Korean War, and ultimately to the War in Vietnam and the crisis in the Middle East. There is a line that stretches from Pearl Harbour to Baghdad. What started 73 years ago has ramifications with us today.
Quicker, Faster, Cheaper
So we come to Christmastime, 2014, in what has been and continues to be a bloody and violent era. We talk about our technological progress, we brag about how far we've moved up the evolutionary ladder. But it's all just a pipe dream. We kill quicker now, with greater efficiency, with less mess, at a much lower cost. If we are advanced above preceding generations, it is mostly in the fact that we are better at doing each other in. That's a kind of progress, to be sure, but hardly the stuff of heroic legend.
Words We Barely Believe
The angels sang out on that night so long ago, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men." How many times have we heard those words? How many times have we seen them printed on Christmas cards? How many times have we ourselves repeated them? Hundreds, no, thousands of times. These are among the most familiar words in all the Bible.
I have tried to look at these words with fresh eyes, as if I had never heard them before. My conclusion was: If I heard those words for the first time, they would strike as nice sentimentality that has nothing to do with the real world - they could not possibly be true. If anything seems obviously true, it is that we don't have peace on earth today and we don't have goodwill toward men. It doesn't seem as if we're getting any closer to peace or goodwill.
Peace on earth - where is it? Goodwill toward men - I don't see it.
13 Years Of War - 1 Year Of Peace
In world history we have seen 13 years of war for every year of peace. "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men." Is it just an impossible dream? "Joy to the World, the Lord is Come." We are treated to the spectacles of rape trials. 55 000 reported cases of rape p.a. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Newborn King." 500 000 cases of violent interpersonal crimes p.a. "Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright." 19 000 murders p.a. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, Let Nothing You Dismay"
These words that we sing and repeat so glibly at Christmastime. Are they really true? Can we really believe them? Are they just religious doubletalk? Let me frame the question this way:
1. If Christ came to bring peace on earth, why is there so much hatred and so little peace?
2. If Christ came to bring goodwill toward men, why is the promise of Christmas unfulfilled after 2,000 years?
Two Possible Answers
1. Peace Does Not Come to the Earth Because of the Condition of the Human Heart.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17: 9) Left to ourselves will do the most terrible things imaginable. We will cheat, lie, steal, yes, we will murder. Often the only thing that holds us back is that we fear getting caught. It may be that we simply don't have the opportunity to commit every sin we dream about.
We are all by nature materialistic, selfish and greedy and self-centered. All of us will say terrible things about other people if we are provoked in the right way. All of us will get physically violent if we are pushed over the edge. All of us will commit horrible crimes if we are put in the right set of circumstances. We're foolish if we think anything else is true.
The real problem is the universal condition of the human heart. If you want to know what's wrong with the world today, look in the mirror! The problem is you, the problem is me, the problem is all of us together. We share the same basic human nature. There is no peace on earth because we are not peace-loving people. We are not peace-filled people. We are anger-filled, hate-filled, lust-filled and greed-filled. No wonder we have problems. No wonder we kill each other. No wonder there is no peace on earth.
The Way of Peace They Have Not Known
Romans 3: 10 – 17 - If there is no peace on earth today . . . the problem is not with Jesus. We are the reason there is no peace on earth. When his promises have been followed, they have been completely fulfilled. When his principles have been put into practice, there truly has been peace on earth. The problem is not with Jesus. The problem is with you and me.
2. Peace Comes to the Earth One Heart at a Time.
God's plan is to bring peace on earth by moving from heart to heart to heart. There is no such thing as national peace. There are only men and women who love peace, and men and women who love war. Unfortunately, there still seem to be a lot more people who love war than people who love peace.
If you decide you want to be angry, God will let you stay angry. If you decide you want to be bitter, he'll let you stay bitter. If you decide you want to stay critical and judgmental, he'll let you stay that way. If you decide you want to stay prejudiced toward somebody, he'll let you stay that way. If you decide you want to be violent, he'll let you be violent.
Song - "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me"? That's the way peace spreads. From your heart to my heart and from us to other people. "That's an awfully slow way to bring peace on earth. Isn't there a better plan?" It is a slow plan, but God's way is the only way that works.
Time shortly after Pearl Harbour. A daytime bombing raid is carried out over Tokyo. The bombers run out of fuel and are unable to make it back. Most of the pilots are forced to bail out over hostile Japanese territory. One of the men was Jake DeShazer. He was held in a POW camp for nearly 4 years. During that time he was beaten, mistreated and nearly starved to death. He hated the Japanese with a fierce hatred.
When the Americans in the POW camp asked for some reading material, they were given an English Bible. For the first time in his life, Jake read the Bible. He read the story of Jesus, the message of forgiveness seemed to overwhelm him. There, in a Japanese POW camp, Jake DeShazer gave his heart to Jesus Christ. In that one transforming moment, all the anger was gone. All the hatred was gone. He started loving his Japanese guards.
After the war, Jake DeShazer enrolled Bible College, and later returned to Japan as a missionary.
Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the attack on Pearl Harbour, was discharged from the army and returned home. His fighter pilot days were over. 1950 - Fuchida rode the train to Tokyo. Walking across the platform, someone handed him a little piece of paper. He glanced at the title-"I Was a Prisoner of Japan"- and stuffed it into his pocket. It was Jake DeShazer's story of how he had come to Christ. He was captivated. It told of a man who once hated the Japanese but now gave his life to reach them for Jesus Christ. The tract caused Mitsuo to find a Bible and to begin reading it. As a Buddhist, it was all new to him. He was enthralled by the story of Jesus Christ, especially by the words from the Cross - "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
“I was impressed that I was certainly one of those for whom He had prayed. The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not understand the love which Christ wants to implant within every heart. Right at that moment, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time. I understood the meaning of his death as a substitute for my wickedness, and so in prayer, I requested Him to forgive my sins and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living. That date, April 12, 1950, became the second "day to remember" of my life.”
His friends and family were shocked. Headlines - "Pearl Harbour Hero Converts to Christianity." His old war buddies tried to convince him to give up this crazy idea. They couldn't. The man who led the attack on Pearl Harbour became a Christian, and a flaming evangelist for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My story is not yet over. 1941 - 19 year old Texan named Joe Morgan - raised as a Baptist and at one point felt God calling him to be a preacher. But those plans were set aside when he joined the navy in order to see the world. When the Pearl Harbour attack came, he grabbed a gun and started firing wildly at the attacking Japanese. He stayed there all day and all night waiting for the planes to come back, but they never came back. After the war, Joe Morgan went to seminary and he too became a preacher. Where was his first church? Hawaii. He struggled for years with hatred for the Japanese. He simply couldn't forgive them for what they did at Pearl Harbour. "When we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, I cheered. I was happy that we had finally killed so many of them." Years passed, and he was eaten up with anger and bitterness. Then in 1956, a friend told him about an unusual guest speaker who was coming to a local Methodist church. It was a man from Japan named Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbour.
With great skepticism, Joe Morgan went to hear him. Afterward he confronted Fuchida and told him he had been on the ground at Pearl Harbour. Fuchida bowed slightly, then very gently said “Gomenasai”, which means "I'm sorry." Then the man who led the attack reached out his hand to one of the men he was trying to kill. “As he reached out to shake my hand, I experienced the miracle of my lifetime. The anger and hatred were gone. God had let me forgive.”
What a story of the grace of God. It started on the deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier. It led to a Japanese prisoner of war camp in China. It continued on the platform of a Japanese rail station. It climaxed at a Methodist church in Hawaii 11 years later.
I know that I am talking to some people who dread Christmas this year. You fear the season because you have no peace in your heart. Christmas for you means dredging up all those old memories and all those ghosts and skeletons that come flying out of your cupboard this time of the year. Peace is the farthest thing from your mind.
If you will open your heart to Jesus Christ completely and without reservation, he can come in and remove the hatred and bitterness. He can redeem the hurts of the past.
My prayer for you at Christmastime is that the peace of Jesus Christ might be your peace. My prayer for you is that you will open yourself up to Jesus Christ in a new way so you will personally experience peace on earth, goodwill toward men.
“Lord Jesus, we long to experience the reality of your presence. For some of us, peace seems so far away. We long to draw close to you, and to have your peace fill our hearts. Help us to let go of bitterness, anger and resentment. Help us to forgive as you forgave, and so be filled with your peace this year at Christmastime. Amen.”