“Peace on Earth.” We hear this a lot at this time of year. We read it on Christmas cards or decorative displays. We even sing these words in a few of our most beloved Christmas carols. But it seems that most of us don’t understand what the angels were talking about when they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Once again, we read into the text what we want it to say, missing what it actually means.
You see, God didn’t proclaim peace among men. Don’t get me wrong; that is a beautiful thing to work toward. To some extent, God did make it possible for men to be brothers, for in Christ “he broke down the wall of hostility that separated” Gentiles and Jews. But Jesus made it quite plain that, among the masses, his coming would be divisive. To his disciples in Matthew chapter ten he said, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”
If Jesus is such a controversial figure, even today, then what is this peace that the angels proclaimed at his nativity? It is the result of Jesus’ death, not his birth—“God made peace through Christ’s blood, through his death on the cross. At one time you were separated from God. You were enemies in your minds because of your evil ways. But because Christ died, God has brought you back to himself. Christ’s death has made you holy in God’s sight.” [Col 1:20b–22a] This is what’s at the heart of God’s “goodwill toward men.”
That’s something to think about.