Peace on earth, good will toward men.

So sang the angels one starry, starry night to shepherds abiding in the fields near Bethlehem. The promised peace child had been born.

Let’s all climb on the peace train. It must be running late.

No sign yet of the peace train in Bosnia, Kosovo, Armenia, the Middle East, the Dallas School Board, or many of our families.

Does that mean it isn’t coming? Is the Christmas peace promise a dream dreamt by dreamers with angel dust in their eyes?

Biblical deliverers Moses and Jesus birthed promises of peace. The powers-that-be thought them a threat from infancy. Pharaoh and Herod issued decrees to kill all boys under age two.

Peace without justice always requires some kind of violence to maintain. But violence can never bring lasting peace.

No spear was tossed in Israel’s deliverance from unjust powers in Egypt. No sword was wielded in Jesus’ deliverance from the grave or his deliverance of others from every unjust power. God works wonders with sleight of hand, out of sight, over time, and just in time.

Peace takes its time. Violence makes news at six.

Mystery writer P.D. James once said that goodness is hard to write about because it emerges over a lifetime of little noble deeds that no one notices at the time. Wickedness is easy, sleezy and sells.

Moses, Jesus, and all their heirs know that peace comes at a terrible personal price. Ask Ghandi, King and Mandela. Only those willing to suffer by righting wrongs will find the powerful peace of God that liberates – finally.

No justice, no peace, they say in the streets. Like a rusting car that you can’t fix only by painting over the problem, you have to set things right underneath before peace can shine for long. Do right, and the peace train works up steam.

The new movie Three Kings probes the soul of America through three soldiers just after the Gulf War. They set out to steal gold that Saddam had stolen from Kuwait. Along the way they are changed by encounters with Iraqis – both those who fight for the dictator and those who fight for his ouster.

The soldiers see the injustice of their personal greed and the vanity of violence in liberating rich Kuwaitis while deserting desperate and dying Iraqis in the name of a peace treaty. They find more than gold: They find their hearts.

Peace within and without is a gift of the Prince of Peace to those who repent of sin and turn to God and neighbor with liberating love.

The angels of heaven are still singing peace, but they are waiting for men and women of good will to join the chorus on earth.