Luke 2:14 (NKJV)
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
As we approach the Christmas holiday, we are looking at the attempt of the world to co-opt certain elements of Christmas while trying to eliminate or minimize others. All over the United States for the last decade or so repeated challenges have been made against nativity scenes in public places. The term “Happy Holidays” has been promoted over “Merry Christmas” as the greeting of the season.
An attempt has been made to replace the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ with an economic holiday which tries to include all religions while effectively excluding all. The gods these people celebrate at Christmas are the gods of mammon and political correctness. Those of us who understand that the birth of Christ is the most important event in history will continue to fight against this kind of thinking.
What I find interesting is the attempt to keep key elements of the celebration of Christ’s birth in the current celebration. The announcement made by the angels to the shepherds includes two things that remain in the secularized celebration of Christmas. Yesterday we looked at Joy. In the current holiday, we mistake happiness and pleasure for joy.
We give and receive gifts and we are told by advertising that the greater the gift the more joy we will have. We enjoy holiday parties where we engage in behavior that would not be acceptable at other times of the year with the excuse that “it’s Christmas!” We enjoy the company of family and friends, which is a good thing but not the joy that Christmas really represents.
The joy the bible connects to the celebration of the birth of Christ is the deeper inner sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing that the Father loves us. It is a force that flows from our spirit man because of the reality of salvation in Christ. This joy is felt at Christmas because without the birth of Christ there could be no salvation.
Today I want to talk a little about the second thing that the secular “Holiday Season” has tried to incorporate with little success. That is the power of peace. I hear today’s scripture quoted during the this time of year perhaps more than any other verse. The idea of peace on earth is desirable to any rational human being. War is terrible even when it may be necessary. No one wants war. We all desire to live in peace with those around us so that we may carry on life.
Using the “Holiday Season” to speak about peace on earth is noble. Using this time as an opportunity to practice peace with our neighbor is something to be emulated and admired. However, that is not the peace the angels speak of in Luke 2:4.
We think that the problems that lead to war and conflict can be solved if we simply decide to treat one another better. If I am nice to the warlike person, surely he will be nice to me. That depends on his reason for aggression. The truth is that the reason for conflict between people is that there is conflict between God and man. In the Garden of Eden, a conflict began that changed man’s nature.
According to Ephesians 2:3, humanity became by nature a child of wrath or the devil. Man was not created to be a child of wrath but a child the love of God. This nature change caused a gulf between God and man. Man’s new nature inevitably led him into contact with each other. We see this continuing until this very day.
I have heard the term “brotherhood of man” used to describe how we should act towards one another. The problem is that we are all brothers by the same Father. When we reject the Father, we reject the brothers as well. We will come together with those who have the same goals as we do. We will come together with those who think and act as we do or who have the same beliefs and culture. Man is at war with his Father. That is the real problem in the earth.
When the angels made their wonderful announcement to the shepherds, they were not talking about governments or even better relations between people. The announcement was about an end to the war between God and man. The angels did not speak of good will among men. They spoke of good will toward men.
Good will among men is how we tend to interpret their words. That is why we think that a celebration every December 25 can somehow make a difference in how people relate to each other. I do not say we should not treat people nicely during the Christmas holiday, but if that is all we do, we are missing the power of the angels announcement.
Good will toward men is something else entirely. Who has good will toward men? The answer is that God does. The angels are declaring that something has happened that will enable God to have relationship with his children the way he always intended to have relationship. God was never at war with man. It has always been man at war with God. God has always been at war with the devil and the fall of man aligned him with the devil.
God never stopped loving man, but he needed a way to separate man from the devil. The birth of Christ was the beginning of a process that would accomplish this for any person who desired it. Peace could be achieved on earth because God’s “good will toward” men could finally be realized.
There is only one hope of ultimate peace and the manifestation of the brotherhood of man. That hope is the birth of Christ in a simple manger in the town of Bethlehem of Judea. That birth opened a door that the devil cannot close. Peace among men will come because of the goodwill offered toward man in Christ.
As with our discussion of joy, peace must also be considered in the context of salvation. The birth of Christ was the beginning. The resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of what began in the manger. The salvation the Father offered to his children did not mean a change in religion or philosophy. That would not produce peace. The salvation the birth of Christ initiated was far more than that. It was the change of his nature from a “child of wrath” to a child of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
The real message of Christmas is that we can be new creatures in Christ. The old nature passes away when we receive the sacrifice of Christ as the payment for our personal sin nature. When we receive him as the Lord of our lives, we become fully reconciled to God. With this reconciliation, we have the power to be at peace in our own hearts. Inward peace can enable us to be at peace with those around us.
The other message of the angel’s announcement is echoed in verse 18 above. We have been given the same message the angels gave to those simple shepherds. We now carry the message of peace on earth due to goodwill toward men. Paul calls this message the message of reconciliation. It is the message that tells the world, “There is no more need for war amongst you! God has made a way for you to have true peace. Peace with him!”
Tell someone what the birth of this baby in a manger really made available. Tell them the war is over!