Do you ever feel guilty at Christmastime? You look around. You see all the smiling faces. You smell the delicious aromas of peppermint, gingerbread, and cinnamon. You hear the carols and other music telling you, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And you are reminded of all the emotions that you are “supposed” to have, the “right” way to experience Christmas, but for you, your experience is different.
You can fake those emotions publicly, but on the inside, you feel like you would just like December 26th to get here as quickly as possible. Inside, you feel like you have lost Christmas.
There is an aspect of Christmas that, to me, can be even very difficult to find this time of year. It is splashed across the front of Christmas cards. It’s on banners in malls. The carols proclaim it. And at the very first Christmas, the angels sang about it. Peace on earth.
In Luke’s gospel, we find a very familiar passage, probably the most familiar telling of the Christmas story. Even if you’ve never read the Bible before, if you’ve seen A Charlie Brown Christmas, you know this passage. Luke chapter two takes us to that special delivery so many years ago. And in verse 8, after Mary had given birth to Jesus, we read of a birth announcement like none other.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15 NIV)
Peace on earth. It’s easy to read that phrase and make some assumptions. One assumption is that the birth of Jesus, the coming of the Messiah, was to usher in an era of peace on earth. And Christmas and peace…together in the same sentence. seems oxymoronic to most of us today.
Because instead of peace. We see images of people trampling one another to save a dollar on a flat screen TV. We see frantic people wandering through shopping malls. There doesn’t appear to be peace there.
Zoom out just a little bit and look for peace there. In Ferguson, Missouri. In New York City. Two cities that have recently had incidents between cops and black men that both ended in the death of the black men. Grand juries were convened and both came back with not indictments of either police officer.
And then protests and riots ensued. The images of looting, burning buildings, tear gas, people being arrested. Where is peace there?
Zoom out even wider and look at think about the angels statement, “Peace on earth.” The Middle East with ISIS. Iran. Afghanistan. Countries in Africa dealing with civil wars. Unrest in Hong Kong. Am I missing the peace?
How is this possible? Did the angels not get a memo changing things? Did they miss something? And if they missed something, how could they miss something so big? Peace on earth? Where?
What Peace Is Not
When we think of Christmas peace, isn’t this where our minds go? We begin by looking at the political conflict all around us. And in all fairness, if someone were to look at us and say, “Jesus and his followers have been around for about 2,000 years now. This message of peace has been out there for a long time. It’s obviously not working!” Could we disagree? Did the birth of Jesus mean the end of war, bloodshed, oppression, injustice? Simple logic and our eyes tell us that couldn’t have been the case. That can’t be the type of peace that the Bible is referring to.
Well, does it then mean a more therapeutic, internal feeling of peace? This idea that since Jesus was born and the angels declared peace must mean that I will never experience unrest, inner turmoil in my own life. Right?
As Christians, we can be our own worst enemies on this one. We feel stress, tension, unrest in our souls, and we think, if I know Jesus, I should never feel this way. I am supposed to be “at peace” all the time. Nothing should ever rock my boat. And there may be times that we actually feel that way. We feel a few moments of peace and life is great…
Until the next crisis hits. And the cancer diagnosis is given. Or the spouse says they are done and leave. You lose your job. Your child flunks out of school. You name it. But that “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” the Eagles love to sing about evaporates. And we are stuck wondering what’s wrong with me? Jesus came to bring peace and I find little or none.
If the coming of Jesus was meant to bring about peace, what kind of peace is it? If it is not political or international peace? If it is not the absence of armed conflict or peaceful coexistence? if it is not the absence of conflict within me internally? What is the biblical idea of peace?
If it is not peace between us or peace within us, what’s left?
What’s left is the true peace Christ came to bring. And that is really the most important kind of peace. It’s not the peace between us or within us but the peace between God and man. The peace between God and you.
Too often we want the other type of peace. We want the end of war. Love and harmony. All of us sitting in a circle singing kumbaya. The end of men being killed in the streets and the end of riots. The end of war. We want peace on earth. But there is a peace that must come before peace on earth, and that is peace in you. Peace between you and God.
What do I mean by peace? How is this peace defined? This peace is reconciliation. It’s what Paul talks about in Romans 5 when he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:1,10 NIV)
Reconciled – where there was conflict, that conflict is now gone. Where there was war raging, hostilities between mankind and God, there is now the potential for peace and reconciliation. And this is made possible through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the peace the angels sang about. It is the words to the Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that we sing, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” It is understanding what Christ has done for us and resting in that. Knowing we cannot get any more right with God than what Christ has already done.
And the potential for peace that wasn’t there before is now announced and the angels tell the world the full implications of Jesus birth. Sin separated us from God. We set ourselves up to want to be him, to throw him off his thrown. We wanted to be God. And the sin that made us God’s enemy is now going to be dealt with once and for all, by this little baby that has just been born in Bethlehem.
The problem for some is a denial of the conflict that exists between humanity and God. We hear it expressed in phrases like, I am ok. I’m doing enough good for God. God surely won’t hold it against someone if they chose another way to peace, another way of salvation.
But we can’t miss the magnitude of what is happening here in this passage. The conflict between us and God was so intense that he sent his Son, his one and only son, who emptied himself of his glory, who was fully God, who was there and involved at creation. The strife was large enough that he sent his son into the world so that you and I would have peace.
We cannot diminish the magnitude of the war. We were enemies of God. It wasn’t that God sent us a note and said I like you do you like me check one. Yes or no. And we checked no. We were his enemies. Not just not for him but against him. And he sent Jesus into the world to be born so that this could be resolved. So there could be peace.
Peace for All
And the peace he offers isn’t just for a select few. In the Old Testament, God very clearly played favorites. He said to the Jews, I am picking you as my chosen nation. I am picking you to reveal myself to and for you to reveal me to the world. But now, he is saying I am revealing myself through Jesus Christ. If you want to know God, look no further than Jesus. And the peace that I am offering through him, it is offered to as we read earlier “to those on whom my favor rests.”
Well, who is that? Who does now favor? Because we want to be in that group. Who is that? It is the world. His desire for peace is for those who will see and recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior, those who will respond to his grace. And this is available to all. John 3:16, “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave us Jesus.”
The angels announcement didn’t come to the elite. It didn’t come to a select few. They weren’t told to keep it secret. This announcement was to ordinary, everyday people. As one commentary wrote, “The announcement of the child’s arrival to everyday folk shows his commitment to the mass of humanity. Those “on whom God’s favor rests” include those whose claim to fame may be nothing more than that they wake up each day and pursue a living in service to God.” (Darrell Bock, NIV Application Commentary, Luke)
God’s desire is for all people to experience peace because everyone is impacted by the birth of Jesus. Peace with God, true peace, available for all, announced by angels, found in the babe lying in the manger.
The Contrasting Peace
What I find very interesting about this story is what is taking place outside of Bethlehem and the contrast between what God is doing and what is happening in society at the time. When Christ was born, the Roman empire was the ruling, dominating empire of the area. Rome was ruled by Caesar Augustus. And when he was born, his birth was announced as good news. He was announced as Savior. And as he reigned, he brought peace to Rome.
Similarly, as Jesus was born, it was heralded as good news. He was called Savior. And as we have seen, he was to bring peace.
When Christ was born, Rome was in the middle of a period of unprecedented peace. You may have studied it in history. It is referred to as the Pax Romana, a 200 year people of peace and prosperity throughout the Roman empire.
But as the peace the Christ birth brings about is reconciliation, the Pax Romana needed enforcement. And enforcement it got, by the most powerful military on the earth, And to maintain peace, any dissension was quickly put down.
The peace of God that is reconciliation with those who are his enemies. However, the Pax Romana was far from peace or tranquility. Augustus’ enemies would be dealt with swiftly and harshly. And what we see is the forced peace man tries to make as opposed to the offer of peace by God.
But don’t we still find that today? Aren’t many in the world searching for peace, some even trying to force peace by any external measure possible, when God’s offer of true peace and reconciliation is still available?
There is a final aspect of peace on earth I think I need to quickly mention. And that is once we know the peace that God offers, we are called to be agents of peace and reconciliation in the world. We need to know peace so we can be peace to others.
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said several different types of people would be blessed. And one he specifically mentions is in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (NIV) When we work toward peace in the world, when we work toward reconciliation of others to God and even towards others, we reflect the heart of God and we reveal his kingdom of peace.
We must know peace so we can be peace to others.
Will You Find Peace?
There is no question that Christmastime has something to do with the coming of peace. But we need to be sure we are looking for peace in the right place. Yes, we can read the announcement the angels made about the birth of Christ and that can cause of frustration or even confusion as to why there is not more peace on earth since Jesus has come. But it is important that we know where peace is found.
Our desire for peace causes us to look in many different places. Places where we think it may be. Places others even tell us to look. We want it but go about it, look for it, try to force it in many different ways. We can’t reason our way to it. We can’t fight our way to it. We can’t even force it.
Peace will not be found in religion. It won’t be found in good deeds, right living, social justice, or the like. It will only be found in Christ. As one writer this week put it, “The world is obviously not at peace because human hearts are not at peace.” But we know the only way for the heart to find peace is for the heart to find and know Jesus.
And then may we see “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Do you need peace today? Christ has come so that you might know peace. It isn’t a promise of an easy life, or no difficulty. But it is a promise of a life with God.
Maybe you’ve known peace, but life has not been easy and you’re angry with God. And you want that peace, that reconciliation with him.
The amazing thing about God is that the announcement made so long ago of peace on earth still rings true today. His offer of peace is available for everyone here today.
Are you struggling? Looking for peace? Cry out to the God who has done everything possible for you to have peace with Him.