The dove has long been viewed as a symbol of Peace. Surely, the concept of peace is relevant to Christmas. After all, Jesus was born into the world to bring peace between God and Mankind. Consider the words of the angels to the shepherds on the day Jesus Christ was born, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” (Luke 2:14).
Though the good news of Jesus’ birth was said to be for all the people, it seems that the offer of peace was more exclusive; it was for men on whom God’s favour rested. There are a handful of distinct occasions in history when God made an offer of peace through specific men; special covenants were made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and interestingly, the dove played a symbolic role in each case.
In the days of Noah, the Bible records how all the people on the earth had corrupted their ways. God told Noah how He was going to send a flood to destroy everything on earth, but that He would establish a covenant with Noah to save him and his family through an ark.
After many days in the ark, the floodgates of the heavens were closed, and Noah sent out a dove to determine the state of the earth. After the dove’s second journey, it returned to Noah, and in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf. Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. Surely, God was offering peace to mankind through Noah and his family by giving them a fresh start on earth.
Several generations later, God chose to establish a special relationship of peace with Abraham and His descendants. Abraham would become the father of the Jewish people, a nation to whom God offered peace and relationship with Himself. In order to establish his covenant to give them the land of Canaan, God gave Abraham instructions for a ritual that involved a heifer, a goat, a ram, a pigeon and a dove. We will find later in history that each of these species was prescribed for sacrifice in the temple. These sacrifices were formally established many generations after Abraham through his descendant Moses.
Moses was born in Egypt at a time when the Jewish people were enslaved. God used Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and to establish a new covenant with them. As a part of this particular covenant, God revealed his laws to the Jewish people. Yet, knowing that they could not perfectly obey His law, God set up a system of animal sacrifices. Sin separated the people from God, and the sacrifices were designed to make peace with Him. Essentially, the animals took upon themselves the consequence of sin, which is death.
Yet animal sacrifices would never be sufficient in establishing a permanent peace with God. The Book of Hebrews, Chapter 10, Verse 11 says, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” The law was meant to reveal the need for a priest, Jesus, who could offer once and for all a final and acceptable sacrifice for sin.
Again, several generations passed before Jesus, another descendant of Abraham, was born. Before beginning His ministry on earth, Jesus was baptized. The Bible tells us that as Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11, Matthew 3:17). How fitting that since the Holy Spirit is a sign of peace between God and man, and since it otherwise has no physical body, it would take on the form of a dove.
Ultimately, Jesus gave up His life as a sacrifice for the sin of men. He made it possible for those who put their hope in Him to receive the same Holy Spirit that descended on Him, a sign and seal of peace between God and man.
Jesus paid the final sacrifice for sin by dying on the cross. He ushered in the final covenant of peace between God and man. When the angels spoke of the peace to men on whom God’s favour rests, they spoke of Jesus Christ and all those who believe in Him.
Doves are common birds with a very symbolic history. Many religions and cultures celebrate doves as a symbol of peace. The Christian religion uses the dove as a symbol of God, while other cultures release doves into the sky at ceremonies, weddings, and other important events.
The cool thing about doves is that they live all over the world, with the exception of Antarctica. They are pretty birds and can live in desert areas, tropical forests, mountains, and woodlands.
May the images of doves during the Christmas season serve as a reminder of the Holy Spirit, who is the seal of peace with God. After all, true spiritual peace was the purpose for which Jesus Christ was born into the world.