Taken from the words of the angels to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, these words are frequently excerpted and repeated this time of year. It is as if they are associated in the public’s mind as the reason for Jesus’ birth, and now given to us as a responsibility to practice and keep in a world wrought with unrest and hatred. Somehow, if we can all unite and agree on this, peace on earth and goodwill to men will happen.
This is about as far from the reason that Jesus was born as the expectation placed on the Messiah by the Jews of Jesus’ day. They waited for the day that the Messiah would come and prevail as king over Israel, defeating the Romans and making Israel great again.
Presently, is our hope that somehow at Christmas warring countries will suddenly declare peace? Do we think by remembering that the angels sang “peace on earth” the night of Jesus’ birth, that indicates we should work for world peace? Peacemakers ultimately do win, and every knee will one day bow before Jesus and pronounce Him King of Kings, but it will be too late for those who failed to recognize Who He was at His birth. And that is why as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “There is no peace on earth,” despite our pleading for it most loudly at this season of the year. “For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on Earth, good will to men.”
God does want us to be peacemakers. There is no biblical indication however—even with all of us working together—that there will be total peace on earth before Jesus returns. That we should spread peace and good will is certain. But the how is what gets overlooked in our culture. In fact, we spend a lot of time disagreeing, even fighting, about how to have it. Divisions among us are everywhere. Even divisions about how to do good.
The thing that Jesus came to earth to give is peace. Peace in our hearts. Peace in our minds. Peace in our souls. Thereby causing us to be peacemakers and promoters of kindness to one another. As in love He laid down His life to ransom us from the evil grip of sin on our lives, so then, we, having experienced this redemption are to love one another, willing even to lay down our lives for His sake.
We shouldn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth without remembering His purpose for coming into our world—His death and resurrection. His life to bring peace on earth was costly. Far more so than we are accustomed to acknowledging during a season of glitter, lights, and gift-giving. Too often we forget His words. We send cards of blessings to each other but do not stop to consider who Jesus counted the blessed to be:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:3-11).
Our blessings come as we come to Jesus, seeking Him, worshipping Him, much like the shepherds the angels spoke to. Shepherds were the lowliest of society’s line-up. The put-down, the nobodies. As each of us is. As I must be to see Jesus, to come and worship Him. Broken, poor, contrite, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, persecuted, pure of heart. Not proud, self-righteous, arrogant, know-it-alls, greedy, ambitious, selfish, self-centered.
Humility is the opposite of the hatred, blaming, and victimizing we find ourselves so encumbered by today. I’m not just talking about politics, our nation, states, and local communities. I’m talking about our churches and families. Thoughts about ourselves and what concerns us are large. We want what we want foremost. Thoughts about the welfare of others are often small. Sometimes we merely do for others what is expected, what looks good. Thoughts about God are smaller still. He is our last thought. An almost non-existent thought in some cases. This is evil, backwards thinking. Nevertheless, we cry for peace. And we believe God should grant it.
Making peace with Jesus is the answer. Each of us. In knowing Him we find the answers to peace and good will. In obedience we practice them. Through Jesus only. Our striving to be right, to make things right—they are in vain without Jesus. With the peace of God permeating our hearts, even the most volatile situations can be turned around. Yet even if we face a firing squad, or whatever dire situation lies before us, nothing can take the peace from our hearts. It is there to stay. Always. Therein is our peace on earth. From such peaceful hearts flow goodwill to men.
“Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him” (1 John 2:5).
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:22-25).
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).