The following article was intended to be posted earlier, but with the ice storm that blanketed New England and five days without power, there was a natural delay.
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When Jesus was born in the dusty village of Bethlehem, there wasn’t much of a stir. Not even the animals took much notice when He was lovingly laid in a manger. Truly it was, as the hymn says, a “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”
But out on the hillsides just out of Bethlehem where a bunch of shepherds were tending their sheep, there was anything but calm. The night’s sleep was shattered by the blinding light of an angel revealing all the glory of heaven. The angel had come to make an announcement – a most important announcement – the most important announcement of all history. This was no ordinary birth.
Luke 2:10-12 record that announcement:
“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’”
This is the greatest of all news. This baby born into poverty like billions of others on this planet was not like any of the others. This was the Savior. This was the one child of them all anointed to be the Savior. The rest of the Gospels faithfully record His life lived in complete harmony with God’s law, and they faithfully record His death on a cruel Roman cross where the Son of God was executed as a common criminal. But they also record the reason for that death. The penalty for all our sin was charged against Him in God’s court, and He died as our substitute. His death in our place paid the judicial penalty for our sins so we could be offered eternal life paid and purchased with the blood of Christ. All this is wrapped up in that announcement to the shepherds.
But that was far from the only announcement made that night by the angels. Luke 2:13-14 records the rest of the angelic words spoken:
“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!’”
God through the angel choir is obviously announcing peace. After salvation, that is our greatest need. What we long for most is peace on earth. Yet, that is the one thing that always eludes us. History is soaked in the blood and death of war upon war. Planet earth continues to be a dangerous place. The Cold War that I grew up in has been replaced by the War on Terror. We live in fear of Iran getting Nukes. Iraq and Afghanistan are fresh in our collective conscience. And our friend Israel is surrounded by enemies determined to push her into the sea.
What has gone wrong? Were the angels mistaken? Or could it be we misinterpret what they said? Even Jesus seems to contradict them. This is what He said in Luke 12:51-53:
“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.”
That scenario is more familiar than peace on earth. Sinful men cannot seem to get along. Their self-centeredness gets in the way. Jesus even predicted that the signs of His second coming in Matthew 24:6 would include “wars and rumors of wars.” Someday He has promised peace on earth, but not today. Now, we must agree with Jeremiah the Old Testament prophet, who cried repeatedly, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
No, the peace that Jesus came to bring now is not peace among men. It is peace with God. The apostle Paul explained that to us in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace came as Jesus took our sins upon Himself and redeemed us by paying the judicial price. The wages of sin is death, so Jesus died for us. Not after we deserved it, but, according to Romans 5:6, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” He did it to reconcile those who were God’s enemies, meaning us.
Once we come to God through faith in Christ, then we can begin to find peace with one another. From the words of “O, Holy Night,” we sing, “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love, and His Gospel is peace.” This is why the angel could announce, “On earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
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Rev. Daniel Packer is pastor of the Orrington Center Church in Orrington, Maine. He is an active proponent of Biblical morality. His e-mail address is email@example.com.