The truth about Christmas peace

I woke up too early this morning. But it's Christmas Eve! I didn't want to miss anything that would happen today, so I got out of bed. I was the first one up, and I had the chance to be with God in the spirit of this day. I turned on the Christmas tree lights and spent some time quietly strumming carols on my guitar. Then I made hot tea and settled down to read the Scriptures. Here's what stood out to me in Luke 2:1-20, the story of Jesus' birth.

I stopped at the word "peace." It washed over me like a wave of warm contentment. It is cozy. It is relieving. It is freeing. Peace. Is there any greater word that can be spoken?

The angel choir sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

The pronouncement of shalom comes to us across the centuries. I receive it today just as fresh as it was that clear and quiet night. I welcome peace. I drink it in like a man parched with thirst.

And yet there is more to the story of Christmas than a simple pronouncement that “it’s all good.” It wasn’t all good. It’s still not all good.

The angels proclaimed peace to those on whom his favor rests. That means peace is not universal. It is given only to some. Is God being selective? Is he being cruel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “For those who are great and powerful in this world, there are two places where their courage fails them, which terrify them to the very depths of their soul and which they dearly avoid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”

A lot of people can embrace the manger. The manger is quaint and full of potential. It is easy to imagine something special would happen through a newborn baby. The manger enlivens us with hope.

The cross on the other hand, is a repulsive scene that drives away the vast majority of people. The manger is tinged with the blood of new life. The cross flows with the blood of torture and death.

Bonhoeffer helps us remember that we can’t choose between the manger and the cross. They are intertwined and cannot be pulled apart. Together they express God's limitless love for people. However, the unity of the manger and the cross is precisely what drives away most people in the end. We are called to connect with God’s presence through the manger and die to ourselves through his cross. For those of us who do, there is peace. Rich, tranquil, blessed peace.

All this brings us back to the words of the angelic choir: “And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The birth of the promised one would bring peace, but only to those who would receive it. Or rather, only to those who would receive the one who brought it. As one of our favorite Christmas carols says, “the hopes and fears of all the years” would be met in Bethlehem that night… but adds, “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” On this Christmas Eve, let’s receive the dear Christ – whether that be all over again or for the first time. And let’s pray for more people to receive him and the peace he brings.


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