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,
good will among men.”
Peace on earth. What peace on earth? Wars continue to be waged around the world throughout the centuries. Instead of compromising and seeking peace, the leaders of the world insist on their own ways, so that soldiers and even women and children are killed senselessly. And we can complain about these war-crazy rulers, yet they are cut out of the same cloth as all of us. Peace among the nations of the world, why don’t we try peace among the households of the world, or even peace in our own house? How many of you are not at peace with a brother or sister, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law? We don’t have peace among the nations, because we aren’t at peace among ourselves. And it doesn’t seem that Jesus’ birth has changed that. Even Jesus seems to have missed this sermon of the angels, when He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
Yet, the division Jesus says He brings to earth instead of peace is not His fault, but the fault of unbelief. Jesus brings a sword, because He separates the faithful from the unfaithful. We still see war and enmity on earth, even after the Prince of Peace was born, because of unbelief. The peace the angels preach can only be received through faith.
And this by no means belittles the peace the angels declare. This peace is the greatest peace imaginable. The Paris Peace Treaties have nothing on this peace. This is peace between God and the human race! While we were enemies with God, God sent His Son to join our human race and die for our sins, so that we may be justified through faith. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 5, “therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And this peace with God was made possible because God became a man.
Now, perhaps that does not impress you. It doesn’t impress most people. This is evident in how this holiday devoted to God becoming a man is no longer celebrated as such, but rather the focus is on the goodness of humanity, giving gifts, singing silly songs, eating junk food, and watching overrated movies. Yes, such pathetic and shallow things have overshadowed the fact that God became man to make peace with us sinners! But if you are one of those who is not impressed and does not marvel at this mystery that God has become a man, let me break some news to you.
You are not God. God becoming a man is not some inconsequential thing like Sally going over to Jane’s house for tea. You are not the almighty. You are not sinless, far from it! Yet, God, the Almighty, the holy, sinless, and eternal God joined our human race, being born to a poor young girl, who wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a feeding trough with hay for a bed. God grew up as a human, obeying His father and mother, whom He created. He submitted to wicked rulers, whom He placed in authority. He died, paying the wages of sins which He never committed!
God became a man! This affects all mankind! God has become our brother. He became a human being in order to save all human beings. From Adam to the last person born on this earth, God has joined Himself in flesh and blood. And He has done this to heal us from our sins and grant us everlasting life. God became a man, which means that His death on the cross wins salvation for all people.
We cannot express in words how wonderful this mystery is that God was manifested in human flesh (1 Timothy 3:15). The angels, who are much wiser and smarter than we, gaze into this mystery. They look into God’s deep heart full of love, and they can’t see the bottom. They cannot fathom how this can be, so they simply cry out, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
It is trendy these days to claim that celebrating Christmas on December 25th was originally done to take over pagan sun-worshiping celebrations on December 25th. However, that is a myth with no historical backing. Celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th was well established among Christians by the year 200 AD, and likely had already been celebrated on that day for generations before, before any pagans used the day to celebrate their own god. It is quite probable that Jesus really was born on December 25th, yet even if the date is just an early tradition, it serves us well. We’re in the dead of winter. The nights are the longest of the year. Yet, each day the sun makes a further advance into the night. Here in the darkest, coldest time of the year, we ponder God’s grace as He descends upon us to dwell in this dark, cold world. Yet, the darkness is receding. And the cold will give way to warmth. Jesus has come! His peace is spreading.
Yet, the darkest and coldest place on this earth is your own sinful heart. In Genesis 6, Moses writes, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Again, the Lord caused the prophet Jeremiah to write, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it.” (Jeremiah 17:9) And finally, our Lord Jesus says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) Yet, God became a little baby lying in a cold manger in order that He could dwell in your cold, dark, sinful heart and make it pure.
Perhaps more marvelous than that God would choose to live in poverty as a boy here on earth is that He chooses to live in your heart through faith. Where sin and evil dwell, there Christ wants to dwell, so to rescue you from choosing damnation. It is Christ who draws you away from your own pride, which combats peace and embraces sin, and draws you to live a life pleasing to God. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men. Good will among men. That means that God is pleased with us. How? How can God be pleased with us sinners, who’s hearts are filled with hatred? God is pleased with us for Christ’s sake. God became man, so that He might be pleased with mankind. For the sake of Christ, who pleases God and pays for our sins, God offers to us His good will.
This peace and good will can only be received through faith. Yet, Jesus no longer lies in swaddling clothes, neither in the manger nor in the tomb. He is ascended to heaven. So, how can we know Him? How can we believe in Him? How will we recognize Him? The angels gave signs for the shepherds to mark, swaddling clothes and manger dark. And Christ gives us signs to mark today as well: Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which grants us new birth and daily renewal. Absolution, where God’s voice of forgiveness is heard from a sinner, yet declared true in heaven. Christ’s body and blood given and shed for sinners to be eaten and drunk in remembrance of Him. And of course, the proclamation of the Gospel, which grants eternal life to all who believe. These are the signs that we should mark, so that we may treasure Christ in our hearts and be at peace with God and our fellow Christians.
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter two, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace.” Jesus is our peace, because He is our Lord and Savior, who became our brother and took away our sins with His blood. With Jesus dwelling in our hearts, we are at peace with God and we are at peace with those who are at peace with God, because God Himself has done away with all hostility. When we look away from Christ and dwell in the darkness of this world, we don’t see God’s peace. But when we look upon our Savior and pay attention to the signs He gives to us, we see we have a God at peace with us. And through that peace, God enables us to make peace with one another. Let us pray.
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart. Amen.