|Posted on December 9, 2020 at 11:20 AM|
As we approach the Christmas season, I’m a little confused by the angelic message given to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. In Luke 2: 8-15 we have the story of an angel appearing to some lowly shepherds and announcing, “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people”. The angel further explains the “good tidings” as the nearby birth of a savior he calls Christ (the Messiah) who is the Lord. After telling them they could identify this savior as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger there suddenly appeared an entire army of angels praising God with him saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
The King James translation of their praise is what confuses me because it seems to imply that the birth of Jesus would glorify God in heaven and bring peace and goodwill on earth. The glory to God in heaven part I understand, but where is the peace and goodwill toward men on earth? Maybe it’s just that we have higher expectations during the Christmas season, but there seems to be more conflict, suffering, and violence during the holidays than other times of the year. The “good tidings” seems to lose some of it’s “great joy to all people” when we correlate the increase of social ills with the Christmas season.
A literal translation of the angelic praise, however, both lowers my expectations for the season and eliminates my confusion and disappointment. A better translation of verse 14 would be, “Glory to God in heaven and on earth peace toward men of goodwill.” The phrase “men of goodwill” can also be interpreted as men in whom God is well pleased. This translation makes more sense to me considering the historical conflicts and violence since the birth of Jesus. In fact, his birth caused an increase in conflict in the spirit realm which spilled over to the political realm as the puppet king, Herod, sought to kill the child. Jesus himself said that his coming into the world would cause conflict even in the social and family realm.
The miraculous birth of our savior glorified God in heaven by displaying his true character of love. For the Creator to take the form of his created beings so that he could personally demonstrate his love for them is amazing love. To so identify with fallen humanity as to be born of a woman and experience this life with all its conflicts and sorrows is a love beyond our comprehension. Truly, God was glorified in the highest heaven for all to behold. And the effect of such love on earth was not the removal of conflict and violence but the peace of God that passes all understanding when “men of goodwill” receive his love. In the midst of all the turmoil, conflicts, and sorrows the peace on earth will be within those who have received by faith the love of God through Jesus.
The only time we will see peace on earth is when the Prince of Peace establishes his kingdom as he promised he would do. That kingdom will be established by Jesus when he comes again into this world. His first coming was as a suffering savior, but his second coming will be as a conquering king. Although the complete fulfillment of that promise is yet to come, he graciously gives us inner peace here and now as we believe on him. This “peace on earth toward men of goodwill” is good news to all who live in a fallen world of conflict and violence as they trust that babe in a manger as the Lord of all.