By Mark A. Taylor
The spectacle stunned the shepherds. A multitude of angels lit up the black sky over a field outside Bethlehem, proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
Although we can only imagine what the shepherds experienced, the content of the angels’ song is as surprising and beautiful to us as it must have been to them.
Glory to God? Daily the news demonstrates that pride and self-promotion are the currency of our times. History tells us this has always been so.
Peace on earth? A nice thought, but self-interest breeds conflict everywhere: in families, throughout workplaces, among raging rival politicians, across borders, and between the great nations of the world.
These days the prospect of peace may seem more elusive than ever—and more desirable. Mariam Naficy, chief executive with greeting card company Minted gives us a clue to the mood in America. “Previous to this year, I couldn’t sell the word ‘peace’ on a holiday card,” she told Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen Byron. But her company reported a 14 percent increase in orders for “peace” cards (compared with last year’s sales) after the election this fall.
The Journal story appeared December 8, and one can only wonder if “peace” has continued to sell since then. Surely massacres in Syria, rancor in Washington, and racial tension in most of America’s cities kindles an urgent longing for a peace that seems unreachable.
But this should not surprise or even distress the Christian. The fact is that peace is not possible in the hearts of those who don’t know God. The Bethlehem angels promised peace, not universally, but “among those with whom he is pleased.”
“The LORD blesses his people with peace,” the psalmist observed (Psalm 29:11). And he later praised God with these words: “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165).
His prayer is echoed by the prophet: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all those whose thoughts are fixed on you” (Isaiah 26:3, New Living Translation). Likewise the apostle Paul: “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Peace on earth is not just another Christmas sentiment. It is not the same as happiness or pleasantness. It is beyond our concerns about health or security or reputation. Peace on earth exists only in the hearts of those committed to God and submitted to his Word.
This year we may celebrate Christmas with all its warm and wonderful traditions, surrounded by people we love, filled with good food and blessed by generous gifts. Or we may endure the holiday while we wrestle with grief, survive fragile finances, or cope with schedules too busy and expectations too high.
In any case, God’s Word promises us the possibility of peace greater and deeper than the message of even the trendiest Christmas greeting:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6, 7).