At this time of year, we are continually reminded the Christmas season is about peace on earth. You see the word "peace" on Christmas cards, on Christmas decor, and even on Christmas wrapping paper. As we look at the beautiful lights, decorations, snow-covered yards (in places other than the South), we like to think that we have embraced the concept of peace. We envision curling up in fuzzy socks under cozy blankets with a warm mug of our favorite drink seated in front of a crackling fireplace while snow gently falls outside. And we think to ourselves, "This is what peace feels like."
But then we snap back to the real world to find our children whining again about what they did or didn't get for Christmas and fighting with each other simply because they are bored. We know there are family members who refuse to speak to one another over some grievance from years past. We turn on the news to see ruthless and hateful political arguments, protests, wars, global poverty, and abortion still taking the lives of innocent babies. Where is that peace now?
After all, the notion of peace isn't just some nicety we write on Christmas cards. It was the very message from the angels on that first Christmas described in Luke 2:13-14: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'” How is the world still in so much turmoil? Were the angels mistaken? How does this make sense?
1. We must understand what "peace" the angels were talking about
When the angels announced there would be "peace on earth" they were not talking about peace between men on earth, they were announcing that with the birth of Jesus there could be peace between man and God. Sin entered into this world through Adam, and now we are all born as sinners -- and therefore are enemies of God. As Paul says in Romans 8:7, our natural state of sin is "enmity against God," which means we are "being actively opposed or hostile to" God.
Now if you're not sure if you are a sinner, ask yourself if you have always been kind to those around you; if you have ever been jealous; if you have ever lied; if you have ever desired someone other than your spouse; if you have ever hated someone.
As children we show our sin nature as we are disobedient to our parents and even turn the concept of sharing into something selfish. From birth we must be taught how to be kind, considerate, and selfless, which means those things are contrary to our natural selves.
With those sins within us, we are unable to be in the presence of God on our own. There is not peace between us and God - there is open hostility and opposition to God. Many people may not think they are openly hostile to God, for many people are just apathetic to God. They think if they aren't worshiping Satan then they're not opposing God. Or maybe they acknowledge there is some Higher Power and think that is not being in opposition to God.
But Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, "He who is not with Me is against Me." That means if you are not standing with Jesus declaring Him as Lord and Messiah, then you are against God. You are an enemy of God - hostile towards God - and unable to be in the presence of God. God's perfect holiness cannot tolerate the presence of sin, and sin cannot tolerate the presence of God's perfect holiness. It would be utterly destroyed.
Notice how even when God spoke with people in the Old Testament there was a separation because of their sin. Moses had to remove his sandals to stand before the burning bush because it was holy ground. When Moses asked to see God's glory, God said to him, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:18-23) Moses had to be tucked away in the rock and only see the back of God's glory.
When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on the throne, he said, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips!" (Isaiah 6:5) An angel had to touch his lips with a coal from the altar to purge his sin. If men like Moses and Isaiah were unable to withstand God's glory and presence because of their sin, do you think you will be able to?
This was the terrible predicament mankind was in; sin separates us from God and we can't fix that in our own strength. There was not peace between man and God -- until God came down in the flesh to live among us, to walk beside us, and to die for us. Only then could there be peace between man and God.
Although the angels announced peace on earth at the birth of Jesus, they were looking forward to when that peace would be realized at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The peace they announced was a peace between sinful man and holy God that can only be gained through the work done by Jesus on the cross.
This is why we celebrate His coming to earth. It is not just the miraculous birth, or the incredible fact that God took on flesh, it is because we now can be at peace with God.
2. There will not be peace on earth among men until Christ returns
Peace on earth among men is certainly something good to strive for, but we must be honest with ourselves. It is not attainable until Jesus returns -- and He promised us that. In Luke 12:51-53 Jesus says, "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Most people ignore this portion of Scripture. Jesus is warning that He did NOT bring peace on earth among men; rather, there will be division among people over who He is. Yet a few verses later He tells the people to strive for peace among each other. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers!"
He said the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. He said that His disciples would be known by their love. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How can He command that yet it not bring peace?
Jesus loves all people and desires for us to love all people. But He also knew His name would divide people. Believers from all walks of life - different nations, languages, ethnicity, socio-economic background - will be united under the name of Jesus as one in the body of Christ. However, the name of Jesus will divide those who believe from those who do not believe.
Like Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, "He who is not with Me is against Me," and thus against those who are also with Jesus. Jesus warned His disciples as such, the servants will not be treated better than the Master. And Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." (John 15:18) Why? Because His followers are not of this world. So there will not be peace between those who claim the truth about Jesus for their own salvation and those who reject Jesus.
The name of Jesus is divisive among people and it always will be until the day spoken of by Paul in Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Until then, let us sing, "Glory, hallelujah! Jesus has been born to bring peace on earth between man and God, an everlasting peace that will never fail."
Will you take part in the true, lasting peace between man and God brought by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?