Thus rang the voice of the Angels as they made proclamation to the lowly shepherds about the birth of our Messiah, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
In this moment, Roman oppression of the Jewish people had grown to such a point that it would have been difficult to find the word “peace” on the lips of any Jewish individual. Herod was struggling with paranoia concerning his rule and concerning what he thought were threats against it. The Pax Romana created a ‘peace’ so to speak by holding all people as subjects to Caesar, imposing Roman traditions and culture upon them and discouraging them from worshipping any gods that excluded worship also of the divine Caesar. Outside of the Roman borders, wars raged the earth was in peril. After Christ’s birth, peace between men would not increase. Still today, war abounds and people struggle for power. Even Christ admitted during his public ministry that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
This being said, Scripture has either contradicted itself and reality and should therefore not be trusted as true, or men have misunderstood the proclamation that the angels made to the shepherds. Let us, together, examine the statement that the angels made concerning peace on earth and good will to man.
Peace on the earth
The statement begins, a praise to God from the angels, after the announcement is made concerning the birth of the Messiah.
“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Dont be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough. Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:”
It is because of the birth of Christ, the Messiah, that the angels were praising God concerning peace on the earth, which means that God’s purpose for the Messiah was peace between Himself and mankind. What it did not mean was that mankind would no longer fight one another or, themselves, declare war against God. What it did mean was that mankind, because of the Christ child, now had the option of absolute peace with God and that only God could accomplish such a task as that. The sword Christ claimed to bring, then, was a sword against separation from God.
Scripture lays out for us the story of a God who created people to bear His image. Those people denied God in order to create an image for themselves. God punished them, covered their shame and promised a future messiah that would end the separation that mankind brought upon himself. Christ was born into human flesh that He would end that separation. This is why, in order to be saved, one must deny self-rule and deny the godship of others in order to declare Christ as Lord and must believe that God really did have the power to raise Christ from the grave. Though there can be peace between God and man, it is unlikely that peace on an earth ruled by selfish humanity will ever be experienced. It cannot be, at least not until Christ rains as king with His people.
Good will to man
I have often wondered what the phrase, “good will to man” actually means. “Will” is a word used to describe the actions that someone wishes to take. For instance, we may will that our families should wake up early on Christmas day in order to open Christmas presents. This means simply that God desires something good for mankind and that those doing as God wills (namely declaring the lordship of Christ) will have God’s favor and will be the ones who actually experience peace with God.
This Christmas, I hope you will experience such a peace with God. For, it is the greatest peace that can be experienced, and the only peace that matters in the scope of an eternal existence. No matter who you are or what you have done, the birth of Christ was, and is, for all men. God desires to return you to himself. If you do not have peace with God, that gift is available to you. All you need to do is ask God for it. Know that Christ is King and believe that God did raise Him from the dead and you will have such a peace! As for those who already have such a peace, take today and remember that peace, praising God for what He has done!
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.