“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14 ESV)
Doubtless you’ve heard those two lines before, for they make up the verse that everyone hears at Christmastime. If you search the book of Luke for the word “peace”, this is one of the top results.
Yet this shout, once so thrilling and overjoyed, hardly means anything to us anymore. We have become tempered to the joyful shouts of “Gloria in excelsis Deo” and “peace on earth”, much like the frog who was slowly boiled to death. (Oh, what a terrible comparison that was.) Somehow the Christmas story has lost its luster.
Furthermore, when you think about the real meaning of the angels’ song, it seems disjointed from reality. Glory to God? Peace on earth? Have you even watched the news lately? We live in the real world, an earth filled with war and hate and insanity. Shootings and bombings are old news. Word of threats and furious dissension fill newspapers and online magazines.
Yet the angels still sing, “Peace on earth!” It sounds like a fairytale to us, full of magic and beauty and sparkling joy, but it seems little more than just that- a fairytale by Perrault or Disney. Our story sounds like it was written by the brothers Grimm. We will never actually experience that happily-ever-after ending. Luke’s story is lovely, but it’s too good to be true.
Yet the story doesn’t end with that, for another search for “peace” in the book of Luke reveals a quote from Jesus (hence the red-letter) which is closer to reality:
Not Peace, but Division: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51 ESV)
What to do? We all want to trust the angels’ happy song, but Jesus tends to be more reliable. Seemingly, we arrive at a contradiction. Well, I would argue that you don’t need to choose between them, that we can indeed trust both; for both messages come from God, who never lies. And before you write me off as a nutjob (the non-candied kind), allow me to explain. Peace on earth is indeed coming- just not right now.
Jesus Himself said that peace on earth was not yet coming, but division and trouble were. The nature of following Jesus on earth is not necessarily relaxing and peaceful, but rather painful and sacrificial. How can we have peace on earth?
One more verse will show us the answer.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)
As Christians, we have hope. Hope is one small word with huge power, for it often means the difference between life and death, whether physical or spiritual. We get our hope from God’s promise in the Bible that he has a plan and is faithful and capable to execute it. He will return for us one day and put an end to all this trouble, wiping away tears and causing even lions and lambs to become friends. We aren’t looking forward to tomorrow or next year, for we know that the world can offer no lasting hope; read the book of Revelation if you think things can only get better from here. God gives us His peace and hope in His promises, which never fail. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus returns.
And when we know that God is coming again with peace that will never end, our hearts will be at peace on earth.