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The Impossible Dream: The Angels' Song – Luke 2:14

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Sermon 2 of 4 from the The Songs of Christmas series

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December 1991 – It was 3 A.M. and as the fleet moved through the darkness of the Pacific Ocean men on every ship began to stir. This was the hour, this was the moment of truth. The waiting was over. The battle was about to begin. From headquarters came the signal-"Climb Mount Nataka.” That meant the attack was on.

For one man it was the greatest moment he had ever known. The long years of training had paid off, the countless hours of drills repeated over and over again. He was the man chosen to be the leader.

When Mitsuo Fuchida woke up, he dressed, ate breakfast, then pulled on his heavy fur-lined flight jacket. Then he went to the operations room for a last-minute intelligence briefing. Tying a white headband with a red circle around his flying cap, he jumped into his plane. At 5:30 A.M. he took off, the first plane in a squadron of two hundred planes. From the carrier decks of the Hiryu, the Soryu, and the Atsugi, plane after plane followed him in two waves until the total reached 350, the largest airborne naval assault in history.

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As the planes sped across the 230 miles that separated them from the island of Oahu, not a word was exchanged among the pilots. The die was cast, the decision had been made. And as Mitsuo Fuchida came across the final mountain that separated him from Pearl Harbor, he cried out the prearranged code word that meant total surprise had been achieved. In his excitement he repeated the word three times-"Tora! Tora! Tora!”

The first bombs fell at 7:53 A.M. Pearl Harbor time. As battles go, it was over quickly. Within an hour and a half the second wave had returned to the carriers. The damage was done. Behind them, the Japanese pilots left a sea of flaming wreckage. Before it was all over, the death count would reach 2,403. To this day it remains the single greatest naval defeat in American history.

The End Of Innocence

That day-December 7, 1941, a day that lives in infamy-one world died and another world was born. It was the end of the Age of Innocence. Innocence was gone forever, and in one tragic moment America was jerked into the modern era. Up until that hour, America had basically been a sleeping giant, taken for granted for the other nations of the world. After Pearl Harbor, we would never be taken for granted again. But from that day, and the things that followed from that day, America became and still remains a superpower. Seen in that light, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the single most important event in the 20th century. It was a catalytic event, one which would change the entire world history.

Because Pearl Harbor is so well-known, many people don’t realize that there were two other epochal events that took place that same week. One of the events took place on the outskirts of Moscow, when, after a desperate battle, the Russians decisively turned back the German army. The Russians stopped the Nazis at the very edge of the city. Little noticed at the time, that German defeat changed the course of World War II. Up until that moment, Hitler’s grand design had been to quickly defeat Russia, sue for peace with England, and thus keep the United States out of the war. Once he knew he could not conquer Russia, he knew his only choice was to go west, even though that meant America would eventually enter the war. Thus the course of history was changed two days before Pearl Harbor.

But that’s not all. The other great event, totally unnoticed and unreported at the time, took place in Washington the day before Pearl Harbor. On December 6, 1941, a new U.S. government committee, code named S-1, met in Washington. Its subject: the feasibility of constructing something called the atom bomb.

What happened in three events-bunched into a tiny three-day window of time-not only galvanized a nation but also changed the balance of power and ultimately redirected the course of human history.

From Pearl Harbor To Baghdad

What happened at Pearl Harbor led directly to World War II, the bloodiest war in world history. Before it was over some 25 million people would die. If you take the long view of history, you can see that what happened at Pearl Harbor led eventually to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and set the stage for the Cold War, which itself led us into the Korean War, and ultimately to the War in Vietnam and the crisis in the Middle East. To put it another way, there is a dotted line that stretches from Pearl Harbor to Baghdad. What started 50 years ago yesterday has ramifications that are with us a half-century later.

I’m sure you recognize the name Leon Trotsky. He was a well-known leader in the early days of the Russian Revolution. But he ended up on the short end of a power struggle with Josef Stalin and was banished from Russia in 1929. He ended up in Mexico where he was assassinated by Russian agents in 1940. In the years of his exile he made an interesting comment: “Anyone looking for a quiet life has picked the wrong century to be born in.” Whittaker Chambers made an apt comment on Trotsky’s observation. Chambers noted that “the remark must be allowed a certain authority, since the century clinched the point by mauling with an ax the brain that framed it.”

Quicker, Faster, Cheaper

So we come to Christmastime, 1991, in what has been and continues to be a bloody violent year. We come not only to the end of this year, but in just eight years to the end of the 20th century-which has been, by all accounts, the bloodiest century in human history. More people have been killed in more wars by more sophisticated weapons than in any other century since the creation of the world. We like to talk about our vaunted technological progress, and we like to brag to ourselves 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

And the angels sang out on that night so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14) 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 of times. No, thousands of times. These are among the most familiar words in all the Bible.

This week I’ve been pondering these words of the angels against the backdrop of the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and all that it means. As I thought about these oft-repeated words, I tried to look at them with fresh eyes, as if I had never heard them before. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were not a Christian and someone quoted these words to me. My conclusion was this: If I heard those words for the first time, they would strike as nice sentimentality that has nothing to do with the real world. I would conclude that they could not possibly be true. For if anything seems obviously true, it is that we don’t have peace on earth today and we don’t have goodwill toward men. And in fact, it doesn’t seem as if we’re getting any closer to peace or any closer to goodwill.

As I thought about it further, I realized that these words contain three promises that are directly connected with the coming of Christ to the earth. The first is Glory to God in the Highest. The second is Peace on Earth. The third is Goodwill Toward Men. It’s entirely possible, I suppose, if you analyze things from a purely human perspective that only one of those three things is true. There may be glory to God in the highest. After all, we’ve never been to the highest realm of heaven. Since we have no access, we have no way of knowing what goes on up there. It’s entirely possible that God is being glorified in the highest. We can’t see that, so we don’t know for sure. That’s no concern of ours.

It’s the other two that we have to think about. Peace on earth-where is it? Goodwill toward men-I don’t see it.

13 Years Of War – 1 Year Of Peace

According to an article in the Canadian Army Journal, a former president of the Norwegian Academy of Science, aided by historians from England, Egypt, Germany, and India came up with some fantastic figures and findings:

Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this period there have been 14,531 wars, large and small, in which 3,640,000,000 people have been killed. The value of the destruction would pay for a golden belt around the world 97 miles wide and 33 feet thick. In addition, since 650 B.C. there have been 1,656 arms races, only 16 of which have not ended in war. The remainder have ended in the economic collapse of the countries concerned (something we are seeing in the current disintegration of the Soviet Union).

To put it another way, in world history we have seen 13 years of war for every year of peace. Since the beginning of time, more than 8,000 treaties of peace were concluded. Although meant to last forever, the average time they remained in force was 2 years. (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, p. 1571)

Joy To The World

“Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Is it just an impossible dream? There are many reasons to answer Yes.

“Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”

This week we were treated to the spectacle of the William Kennedy Smith rape trial where a woman made terrible accusations about what happened that night in Palm Beach. Some of the things were so graphic that they made the Clarence Thomas hearings sound like a Sunday School picnic.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Newborn King.”

They say that Alann Steen was beaten so badly around the head by his captors that he will have brain damage forever. And Joseph Cicippio suffers from permanent frostbite because for two long winters his captors left him chained outside. That’s treatment you wouldn’t dare give to animals.

“O Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant.”

This week Richard Speck died. He’s the man who brought the term “Mass Murderer” into common usage. He may be the most notorious criminal in Chicago history. Richard Speck-who killed those eight student nurses 25 years ago-was so alone at the end that his family refused to take his body when he died.

“Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright.”

From the front page of the Sun-Times: A state senator was convicted of taking bribes. He now faces a jail term and a fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Away in the Manger, No Crib for a Bed, the Little Lord Jesus

Lay Down His Sweet Head”

Buried away in all the other news was a disturbing report from Russia. They say that famine conditions now exist in many parts of the Soviet Union. And some army leaders are openly predicting another coup. Anatoly Sobchak, the Reformist mayor of St. Petersburg, agrees and says that this time the coup will succeed because the people will support it because they are desperate for food, clothing and shelter against the winter cold.

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, Let Nothing You Dismay”

On Friday, in a bizarre love triangle, one Chicago policeman shot another policeman to death, then drove to a parking garage in south Chicago and shot himself.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem, How Still We See Thee Lie”

This week in Chicago two little four-year-old twins were locked up in a tiny closet, left alone by their mother and grandmother. Somehow they found some matches and burned to death. The mother and grandmother were arrested for criminal negligence.

Peace on Earth-Where is it? Goodwill Toward Men-I don’t see it.

If you ponder the words of Jesus in the light of what is actually happening all around you, they appear to be a classic example of enthusiastic overstatement. It’s a typical salesman’s mistake. You overpromise and underdeliver. It happens all the time.

Sure, he’ll bring peace on earth. But we’ve been waiting for 2,000 years.

Sure, he’ll bring goodwill toward men. Oh, if it would only happen.

That brings us to the ultimate question. These words that we sing and say and repeat so glibly at Christmastime. Are they really true? Can we really believe them? Or 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?

These are not merely the questions of a belligerent skeptic. These are good, honest questions. They demand thoughtful answers.

Two Possible Answers

So that’s what I’ve been doing this week-pondering these questions and wondering how to answer them. Honest questions deserve honest answers. And I have two answers that I would like to share with you.

I. Peace Does Not Come to the Earth Because of the Condi-tion of the Human Heart.

Jeremiah the prophet said it this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) That means that your heart is wicked and so is mine. It means that all of us left to ourselves will do the most terrible things imaginable. We will cheat, we will lie, we will steal, and yes, we will murder. Oftentimes the only thing that holds us back is nothing more than the fact that we fear getting caught. Or it may be nothing more than our cultural training that holds us back from displaying our true nature. Or 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. And 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.

That leads me to a crucial point, crucial for this particular day. If you think that the real lesson of Pearl Harbor is that we ought to hate the Japanese because they are somehow worse than we are, you have missed the whole point. The problem of violence and warfare is not a Japanese problem. It’s not an American problem. It’s a human problem.

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.

On a day like yesterday, we like to look at ourselves and say how good we are, and how bad they are. But they are not worse than us because they are no different from us. We are much more alike than we are different. We share the same basic human nature.

When you sort through everything, the answer is clear: There is no peace on earth because we are not peace-loving people. We are not peace-filled people. We are anger-filled, and hate-filled, and 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

These are the familiar words of Romans 3:10-17.

There is no one righteous, not even one.

There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

All have turned away, they have together become worthless.

There is no one who does good, not even one.

Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit.

The poison of vipers is on their lips.

Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.

Their feet are swift to shed blood.

Ruin and misery mark their ways.

And the way of peace they do not know.

If there is no peace on earth today … the problem is not with Jesus. The problem is not with him. The prob-lem is with us. We are the reason there is no peace on earth. The ultimate problem is the universal condition of the human heart.

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.

There’s a second answer that helps us understand why, after 2,000 years, the promise of Christmas is still unfulfilled.

II. 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. God’s plan is not to reach people in the masses. His plan is to reach people one by one.

In that sense, there is no such thing as institutional peace. 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.

God is a perfect gentleman. If you decide you want to be angry, he’ll 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. As a perfect gentleman, God respects the freedom of your will.

That’s why the message of peace doesn’t come through peace conferences, as good as those might be. The message of peace is spread one heart at a time, one person at a time. Do you remember that song from the 60s that said, “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.

Someone may object, “That’s an awfully slow way to bring peace on earth. Isn’t there a better plan?” The answer is simple. It is a slow plan, but God’s way is the only way that works.

He Hated The Japanese

We’re back now at Pearl Harbor. It’s a few months after the attack and America is trying to come back from the great defeat. We’re re-arming and getting ready for all-out war in the Pacific. A man named General Jimmy Doolittle is chosen to lead a daring daytime bombing raid over Tokyo. Militarily the bombing raid has little affect on the war, but it has a profound affect on both the Japanese and the American mindset. It boosts our morale and sends a signal to the Japanese that they are not safe on the island fortress. Unfortunately the bombers run out of fuel and are unable to make it to friendly Chinese airstrips. Most of the pilots are forced to bail out over hostile Japanese-held territory.

One of the men who bailed out was Jake DeShazer. He was held in a prisoner of war camp for nearly four years. During that time he was beaten, mistreated, and nearly starved to death. By his own admission, he hated the Japanese with a fierce and passionate hatred. He hated the little Japs with their creepy yellow skin. He hated the way they looked. He couldn’t stand their language.

When the Americans in the prisoner of war camp asked for some reading material, they were given an English-language Bible-14 months later. The Bible was given to the officers first, but eventually was passed to Jake DeShazer. For the first time in his life, he read the Bible. As he read the story of Jesus, the message of forgiveness seemed to overwhelm him. And there, in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in China, Jake DeShazer gave his heart to Jesus Christ. By his own testimony, in that one transforming moment, all the anger was gone. All the hatred was gone. All the animosity was gone. He even started loving his Japanese guards.

After the war was over, Jake DeShazer came back to America, enrolled in Seattle Pacific University, and later returned to Japan as a missionary, where he preached and wrote gospel tracts.

“I Was A Prisoner Of Japan”

The year is 1945. And the Japanese people are trying to put their lives back together. Mitsuo Fuchida was discharged from the army and returned home to work on the family farm. His fighter pilot days were done forever. For a while, he thought he would be tried as a war criminal, but instead he was called as a witness but he was never accused of any war crimes.

In 1950 Mitsuo Fuchida rode the train to Tokyo. As he was 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. He thought it was another story of Japanese atrocities.

It wasn’t. It was Jake DeShazer’s story of how he had come to Christ. As he read the story, 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 Fuchida 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 story of crucifixion, and most especially by the words from the Cross-"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

These are the exact words of Mitsuo Fuchida:

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. (Moody Monthly, December, 1971, p. 29)

As the news of his conversion spread, his friends and family members were shocked. There were huge headlines which read, “Pearl Harbor Hero Converts to Christianity.” His old war buddies came to see him, to try to convince him to give up this crazy idea.

But they couldn’t. And so the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor became a Christian, and a flaming evangelist for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Gomenasai”

My story is not yet over. We’re back in 1941 again. This time we are on the ground with a nineteen year old kid from Brockton, Texas named Joe Morgan. He was 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 attack came, he was paralyzed at first but then 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 back to seminary and he too became a preacher. Where do you suppose his first church was? In Hawaii.

By his own testimony, he struggled for years with hatred for the Japanese. He simply couldn’t forgive them for what they did at Pearl Harbor. He hated them for all the atrocities in the Pacific. He said, “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 still a pastor on Oahu, 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 Harbor.

With great skepticism, Joe Morgan went to hear him. Afterward he confronted Fuchida and told him he had been on the ground at Pearl Harbor. 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. Let Joe Morgan tell the rest of the story in his own words:

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. (USA Today, Friday, December 6, 1991, p. 2A)

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.

My Enemy, My Friend

–Jake Deshazer who hated the Japanese found Christ in a prisoner of war camp.

–Mitsuo Fuchida who led the attack at Pearl Harbor found Christ after reading Jake DeShazer’s tract.

–Joe Morgan who was on the ground at Pearl Harbor found freedom from hatred when he met Mitsuo Fuchida.

It is a testimony to the power of Jesus Christ to reconcile former enemies and turn them into friends.

One last point. Whatever happened to Joe Morgan? In his later years he became a chaplain for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. And yesterday-exactly 50 years after the attack-when President Bush spoke at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Joe Morgan gave the invocation.

Is there such a thing as peace on earth? The answer is Yes. But the peace Jesus came to bring is not won around a conference table or at the point of a bayonet. His peace goes from heart to heart to heart.

The angels’ message is true. There is such a thing as peace on earth and goodwill toward men. It comes when Jesus Christ comes into a life.

Is it possible to have his peace at Christmastime? Yes it is.

It is possible for former enemies to be reconciled and for people who once hated each other to love each other and to forgive.

The Ghost Of Christmas Past

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 closet this time of the year. Peace is the farthest thing from your mind.

If you will ever 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.

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