Advent: Christmas Day – Monday, December 25, 2023

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 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.”

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!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Luke 2:1–20

Merry Christmas!

Today, on Christmas Day, our passage is a very familiar one. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you probably know this piece of scripture. Personally, my mind immediately goes to Charlie Brown when I hear this passage. As a kid we watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special every year on Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition that Sarah and I have continued with our own kids.  

Within this well-known passage is one of the most famous lines of scripture — “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” Interestingly, if you ask people on the street what Christmas is all about, a common answer would actually be the right one. A lot of people would say that Christmas is about peace on earth. It’s a rare example where a person-on-the street interview would actually yield the right answer!

But, of course, the critical question is what kind of peace. What kind of peace are we actually talking about? When Jesus comes on Christmas, what kind of peace does he bring?

The most common misperception is that Christmas is about political or international peace. There is a whole slew of Christmas pop songs about peace on earth — from John Lennon singing “so this is Christmas, war is over” to Amy Grant’s “Grown Up Christmas List,” wishing for “no more lives torn apart, that wars would never start.” But this isn’t the kind of peace the angels were talking about. And that’s obvious just by the plain fact that here we are 2,023 years after the first Christmas, and war isn’t showing any signs of abating. To be clear, God will one day bring this kind of peace, as promised in the book of Isaiah. It’s just not the kind of peace He brings on Christmas.

So, we assume then that if Christmas peace isn’t political peace, it must be about inner peace. It must be that when the angels declare peace on earth they are talking about some kind of internal, phycological peace. But anyone who has been a Christian for any length knows that, yes, sometimes we have an internal “peace that surpasses understanding,” as Paul talks about in Philippians 4. And yet, other times following Jesus brings us the complete opposite of inner peace.  

The very next story in Luke 2 describes an episode where Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him to God. This wise prophet Simeon comes to bless the child. He looks at the baby, and then he looks at Mary and says, “a sword is going to pierce your soul.” In other words, Jesus is going to bring anything but internal psychological peace into your life. He’s going to bring great pain and suffering into your life as you try to raise this child that you don’t understand, and watch him be tortured and suffer and die. 

So what kind of peace are the angels talking about? The answer is found in the next line of that verse (Luke 2:14) – “goodwill toward men.” On Christmas, God comes to earth and brings His goodwill to us.  

That’s a big deal, because we first rejected Him. And God isn’t the kind of guy you can blow off without repercussions. Which is why all throughout the Bible, when God shows up the first reaction people have is fear. That’s precisely the reaction the shepherds have here. And the angels basically say, “I understand why you’re afraid, but we have something we want to show you, and when you see it, you’ll realize that you no longer have to be afraid of God.”

God has to enter into the world in a way that can get past our fear. So He comes in disguise, in the form of a baby — “veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” 

And He comes to bring peace. Not political peace. Not inner peace. But peace between us and God.

As you celebrate with family and friends today, may you celebrate that God has come to earth to get back what He lost — us. He’s come to restore peace between us and Himself.

Matthew A. Scogin is the president of Hope College.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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