By Mark A. Taylor
As Christmas approaches, a troubled world longs for “peace on earth” amid news of bloodshed, murder, and war. And one spot, not far from volatile Middle Eastern conflict, offers hope.
The site is called Bethany beyond the Jordan, at the Jordan River in the nation of Jordan. It is a place rich with recent archeological discoveries made possible only after Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994.
Until the accord, the area was rendered off-limits by buried explosives comprising 11 different mine fields. Once the mines were removed, archeologists working there uncovered evidence to convince them this is the place where Jesus was baptized.
“Now we have traded thousands and thousands of mines for thousands and thousands of pilgrims,” says Rustom Mkhjian, assistant director for the Baptism Site Commission. He hosted a group of writers I was privileged to join on a press tour of Jordan last month.
But peace seemed incomplete as we arrived at the river under the watchful eye of a Jordanian soldier dressed in a camouflage-colored uniform and carrying a submachine gun. Across the water, which today is but a narrow stream, an Israeli flag flutters from a tall pole. A fragile peace is bounded by this sure border. Everyone hopes it will last.
But one treaty does not make peace any less elusive. In fact, conflict could be called the signature of our times. Not only international discord but office politics and church disputes frustrate many. And even Christians cope with the turmoil of private doubts and fears.
But this week we celebrate the birth of a Savior who told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you . . . I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Later his most famous spokesman, the apostle Paul, advised first-century Christians with words that have become an anchor for every generation of Christians since:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6, 7).
Wars and rumors of wars may never end. Disappointment and disease may always threaten to tint our days with discouragement. But the birth we remember this week brought a Savior to overcome evil and still the unrest in our hearts. His death, according to the prophet, “brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5).
By submitting to him we can discover this promise of a peace the world cannot manufacture or destroy. Can you imagine a better reason to celebrate?