The joyful announcement of the angles is balanced by sober realities.

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that read, FIGHT FOR PEACE. This might seem a contradiction in terms, but is it?

The sixties were called “the frustrated generation”; the seventies were called “the me generation”; and now the eighties are called “the survival generation.”

Certainly this is the generation destined to live in the midst of danger, crisis, fear, war, and death. When we read of the scores of little wars in many parts of the world, we sense that something fearful is about to happen. A few months ago the American Broadcasting Company did an hour-long study of the Middle East at prime evening time, entitled “Near Armageddon.”

David Inglis, senior physicist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, warns in his book, Unless Peace Comes, of a hydrogen bomb wrapped in cobalt that can annihilate all life in the northern hemisphere. And a few weeks ago the Chicago Tribune ran an article on American youth and the bomb that said, “65 percent of the kids thought a nuclear war would happen in the next ten years and they could not survive it.… Nuclear becomes the ultimate issue with them, the final injustice.”

In his book Life Against Death, Norman Brown says, “Today, even the survival of humanity is a utopian hope.” We know that things cannot go on as they are. History is about to reach an impasse. Many world leaders now feel that the world is on a collision course with catastrophe, both economically and militarily. Something seems about to give. The world crisis presses in around us, making us want to escape. We wish it were just a bad dream that will be gone when we awaken tomorrow—but there is no escape.

Christmas 1982 comes on such a world. With it comes its word of peace. Over and over we hear quoted the message of the angels to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

Yet even in Scripture there are two rarely quoted statements by Jesus that seem to contradict the message of the angels. How can we reconcile that message with Luke 12:49, where Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth” (NIV), or with Matthew 10:34, where he said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his … [family]—and a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” These two statements seem to contradict the announcement of the angels on that first Christmas.

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Probably thousands of people in Christ’s day did not understand when he said he would set fire to the earth. There were good-hearted, kind people anxious for a better world. Idealistic, they were ignorant of the deep-seated disease of human nature, and looked at the world through rose-tinted glasses. They were like the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, who said, “He was always such a good boy.” They were like the professors of Heidelberg University who praised the character of Joseph Goebbels when he was getting his Ph.D. degree. They were like the people of Buenos Aires who thought Adolph Eichmann was a model citizen. They were like the people described in the book While England Slept—they could see a crisis, but could not believe it was so deep.

Many people do not know the deep-seated evil within human nature. They do not know how deeply fixed are the roots of pride, greed, selfishness, and lust in human society. They cannot believe that Jeremiah was right when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). They cannot believe that the result of sin is spiritual death, and that a holy God judges sin in nations as well as individuals. Their understanding of evil in the world is superficial. It may seem to them that everything can easily be put right by better understanding between peoples, by better education, and by social solutions.

That first Christmas night when the announcement to the shepherds was made, it might have seemed to indicate that the optimists were right when the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” However, such optimists had ignored Isaiah 53, which declared that the Coming Servant would be despised and rejected by men. They had ignored the prophecies that the world would rebel against him. They could believe Jesus was the Messiah, but not that he would have to die—and die on a cross.

Today many well-meaning people, relying on a superficial knowledge of the Bible, are making this mistake. Jesus had to correct such easy optimism and warn people that his coming does not mean a quick utopia. He had to make clear to them that his coming, far from meaning peace, means spiritual warfare. Far from being a drug to soothe society to sleep—with man’s evil nature still smoldering and liable to explode at any moment—his message is a fire that will set society ablaze with moral choices, bringing divisions even in families. William Barclay commented on Matthew 10, “When some great cause emerges, it is bound to divide people; there are bound to be those who answer and those who refuse the challenge.

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“To be confronted with Jesus is necessarily to be confronted with the choice whether to accept him or to reject him; and the world is always divided into those who have accepted Christ and those who have not. The bitterest thing about this warfare was that a man’s foes would often be those of his own household.” Those who are dominated by selfishness, lust, and prejudice will fight the change that Christ wants to bring to their lives, to their family, and to their world. Thus, there will be division and strife. This is a fundamental truth not only of the Bible but of the conditions round about us this Christmas. We will only delude ourselves if we try to be more optimistic than Christ.

The basic problem facing our world is not just social inequity, lack of education, or even physical hunger. We are finding that highly educated and well-fed people have greed, hate, passion, and lust that are not eliminated by any known process of education. The roots of sin in our hearts are extremely deep, and this is the basic cause of the world’s problems. Only the fire of the Lord can burn those roots out.

This is precisely what Christ came to do. He did not come to treat symptoms, he came to get at the heart of man’s disease. That is what Good Friday and Easter are all about.

Christ’s own statements about fire and the sword are probably a shock to many who have missed them. I do not think I have ever heard a sermon on them. We have been taught that Jesus was the Prince of Peace, and indeed he was. We have been taught that he was the very incarnation of the everlasting love, and he was. But we have derstood the divine definition of peace, and we have misunderstood the divine definition of love.

How can this loving, peaceful Christ be reconciled with the flame-setting, sword-bearing Christ? There is no contradiction at all. John Wesley interpreted Christ’s statement as meaning, “I come to spread the fire of heavenly love over all the earth.”

In a sense, true love is a fire. It can never be complacent. The Bible speaks of it as a “refiner’s fire.” The man who loves his school most shouts the loudest for his team at a football game. The man who loves his country most will fight to preserve its freedom. The man who loves his neighbor most will fight against all that hurts, deprives, and oppresses his neighbor. “Who is led into sin,” shouted Paul the apostle, “and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Cor. 11:29).

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Think how Christ, with righteous indignation, criticized the Pharisees for plundering widows’ houses, rebuked those who wanted to stone a helpless adulterous woman, and drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Those who love our country will likewise do everything they can to work for social justice, law and order, and world peace.

Jesus warned that when we take sides against evil we will be opposed by those who do not understand the deep problem of human nature and a true definition of love.

When Abraham Lincoln was 22 years old, he visited New Orleans and saw a slave girl being pinched, prodded, and trotted up and down the room like a horse to show what good merchandise she was. Lincoln was deeply affected. It was on this trip that he formed his opinion of slavery. It ran its searing iron into him then and there. Lincoln touched the arm of his companion and said tensely, “Boys, let’s get away from this. If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard.” Lincoln loved people deeply, whatever their color. And because he loved them, his soul blazed against the slave trade with an intense and relentless hatred. He fought against it with a passion that finally burned it out of existence.

However, Lincoln’s love for men did not bring peace and unity. It did not bring him a high popularity rating. Rather, as his biographies show, it created strife and division. It took a war, a bloodbath, to wash away this tyranny. He was criticized more than any president in American history, and his stand eventually cost him his life. However, it brought him the inward peace of conscience that a man can know only when he is morally right. Ultimately it brought him the admiration of the world and made a place for him in history almost unparalleled by any other American.

Like Lincoln, Winston Churchill was faced with severe opposition. No man loved England more, but during the 1930s he was mercilessly criticized when he warned about the growing power and ambition of Hitler.

In the same way, the love of God will force us to take sides when we are confronted with moral evil. If we love the poor and underprivileged, we will want to destroy the slums and ghettos, which have no place in affluent America. If we love the young people of America, we will do everything in our power to destroy things that hurt their character and jeopardize their future, things such as drugs and pornography.

Love is never neutral. To preserve some things, it must destroy others. And that will inevitably stir opposition. So Jesus taught that love for God or love for neighbor (or love for country) does not necessarily bring peace.

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And the love God has for us is ten thousand times more intense than any human love. The Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” He came to burn out of the hearts of men and out of society the lust, greed, selfishness, and other evils rooted there. Yet he was despised and rejected—crucified! The blackest picture of the human heart portrays the cross, where evil Roman soldiers murdered him.

But they could not destroy the flame of his love. The Bible teaches that he rose again; this Christ is in the world today with his sword and his fire, fighting against all forms of evil: lust, selfishness, jealousy, hate, oppression. As we approach Christmas 1982, we have a tremendous responsibility to study the issues involved in this matter of peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

In pondering peace today, we have something new in history to contend with. Technology has created the most devastating weapons man has ever imagined. To find anything comparable to what we are now facing, one has to turn to the third chapter of II Peter, or to the Book of Revelation.

It is possible for man to destroy the planet within a matter of hours. I am not a pacifist, nor am I for unilateral disarmament. But I am for peace, especially when I think of the holocaust approaching. It could blaze upon us at any moment. And weapons of mass destruction that are on the drawing boards—and some even in existence—may be worse than the hydrogen bomb.

I have been calling for SALT X—an agreement among the nations to destroy all weapons of mass destruction. But even while I call for it, I know such an agreement is not likely. Why? Because of the human heart. James asked the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The technology and the bombs are not the problem. The problem is the heart of man.

Pope John Paul II has said, “Our future on this planet, exposed as it is to nuclear annihilation, depends on one single factor: humanity must make a moral about-face.”

I am praying that we will recover our moral courage in America. If God grants this, it will light a spiritual fire that must sweep the country. So we must, this Christmas, come to the cross and rededicate ourselves to Jesus Christ, who brought peace—and a sword.

World-renowned evangelist Billy Graham makes his home in Montreat, North Carolina.

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