There is a story from WWI that reminds us that in the worst of times, there’s still hope. Nearing the end of December 1914, 5 months after WWI began, British soldiers heard their German foes singing Christmas Carols after a day of fighting.
In the dark, huddled in their cold trenches, the British soldiers wondered what to make of this. But soon, they joined in, singing well-known and well-loved Christmas carols. And so, through Christmas Eve, the two warring armies celebrated the birth of their Messiah.
Amazingly, the Christmas spirit continued the next day, as “some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.” For the rest of the day, these sworn enemies traded gifts, played soccer, and celebrated the peace that only Christ can bring.
More than a century later, with the bloodiest century on record standing between us, the Christmas Truce of 1914 flickers a light of hope that only Christ can bring. Only between two nations with Christian heritages could such an armistice be considered. Still, the peace Christ brings intends to do more than foster temporary cease fires. As Micah 4:3 says of the Lord,
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
What a day that will be when all wars cease, when the peace of our Lord is fully realized, when Micah’s prophecy comes to fruition. But for now, we still in a world filled with threat, hostility, violence, and war. Therefore, it is worth asking in what way does Christ bring peace? And how can we know that peace this Christmas?
Micah’s Road to Peace
In Micah 4 the prophet begins by looking to a future day when the nations will come to Zion, Yahweh’s holy hill.
1 It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
2 and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
In this context, when the nations, or many from the nations, come to worship the Lord of Israel, Micah says wars will cease (v. 3). In other words, wars will cease because from Zion to the ends of the earth, the people on the earth will be taught by God’s Word. Gone will be rebellion against the Lord and his people, because those on the earth will “walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever” (v. 5). In other words, the nations who follow their own gods will forsake their idols to come to Zion.
As Micah 4:6–13 displays, God shall redeem a remnant from Israel and attached to them will be others. Verses 6–7 read,
6 In that day, declares the Lord,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
and those whom I have afflicted;
7 and the lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
from this time forth and forevermore.
In the same day (“that day”) when peace is given, Micah says the Lord will bring to himself an afflicted people. Implied is the promise that God will gather this ‘remnant’ to bless those whom he previously cursed (cf. Hosea 6:1–3). To Israel, he promises that the nations will come to them, their kingship will be established as before (v. 8). But first, Micah writes in verses 9–13 that they must go into exile.
Writing in the days of Assyria’s conquest of the ten Northern tribes in Israel, Micah says that before Israel’s kingdom is established in peace and righteousness, judgment from Assyria must come (5:5–6; cf. Isaiah 10). He says also in verse 10, from Babylon the Lord will rescue and you redeem you from your enemies. Implied here are two exiles, not just one. While the world gloats over your destruction, “they do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan” (v. 11).
And what is that plan? To bring a remnant of Israel back to Zion (4:11–13; 5:3), along with a multitude from the nations (4:1–2). And how will he do that? By bringing a king who will “shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” This is what Micah 5:4 says, and it continues, “And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:4–5).
The Prince of Peace
Peace has been allusive since Cain killed Abel. In no generation has there been absence of warfare. While truces have been declared, the promise of lasting disarmament (Micah 4:3) is only brought about by one man—the shepherd king whose birthplace is Bethlehem. Standing between the promise of peace in Micah 4:3 and its fulfillment in Micah 5:4–5 is the announcement of where this prince of peace would be born,
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
In Micah’s day, Bethlehem stood as the city of David. Ruth tells the story of how David came from Jesse, who came from Obed, who came from Boaz in the little town of Bethlehem. Ever after, this Judean hamlet would be associated with the kingdom entrusted to David by means of God’s covenant (see 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89). Hence, it makes sense for Micah to locate this coming kingdom in the town that brought forth the first king.
By the eighth century, the promise was a not physical return of David. Rather, it was a promise that just as God brought a king from Bethlehem at a time when judges ruled and chaos reigned (that’s the message of Judges, see Judges 21:25), so too in the future God will establish his people under a new king, after they return from Assyria and Babylon (Micah 4:10). Or better, it is by this shepherd-king from Bethlehem that he will lead God’s people home and give them lasting peace.
Peace Now and Not Yet
Today, one might look at this prophecy in light of the world and say, it still hasn’t happened. God is 28 centuries overdue on his word. But that would be to ignore Christmas.
The story of Jesus birth tells us that the child born in a Bethlehem stable is the king God promised to bring peace. In Luke 2:14, the heavenly host announce the peace that God promised: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is specifically identified as the shepherd-king who will bring peace. Matthew 2:6 cites Micah 5:2 when Gentile kings come and worship the king of the Jews.
Therefore, in the birth of Christ, the promise of peace has come. And yet, in a world full of war, the peace God gives has not come in its fullness.
What Christ offers today is not peace between nations who walk in the names of their own gods (see Micah 4:4). Jesus offers peace with God (Romans 5:1) and peace with one another (Mark 9:50). As Ephesians 2 puts it, Christ is our peace (v. 14; cf. Micah 5:5); he has made peace between Jew and Gentiles (v. 15); and he proclaims peace to those far and near (v. 17), so that through him, his work on the cross, and his message of reconciliation he turns enemies into friends. This is what continues today.
While the nations rage, the Spirit of Christ continues to work powerfully among his people. How? Through the preaching of the gospel and blessed gift of saving grace and spiritual peace (cf. Acts 4:23–31).
Peace is the gift God gives to all who trust in him (John 16:33); it is the nature of God’s kingdom brought by the presence of Christ’s spirit (Romans 14:17). And while such peace has not eradicated war (yet!), it has produced incredible results in this age—like the Christmas Truce. How much more in the age to come? Read Revelation 21–22.
Holding Fast to the Prince of Peace
At Christmas, therefore, we can marvel at the peace Christ gives in the midst of trouble. And yet we should pray and yearn for more. Like children of Israel who longed for the Christ-child to come, we can hope and pray and preach the gospel of peace with absolute confidence, that one day all wars will cease, all quarrels will end, and the people of God will enjoy the righteousness and peace that Christ purchased with his blood.
This is what the prophet Micah proclaimed long ago. It’s fulfillment began in the birth of Christ, and it will continue in this age as his birth brings about new births. Eventually his death and resurrection will make all things new, and in that day there will be no more war, no more death, no more tears, no more terror.
Until that day, let us hold fast to the prince of peace.