Every year around Christmas time people occupy themselves with talk about peace. Religious folk who profess to be Christians experience a jump in warm wishes for peace on earth. At Jesus’ birth, the shepherds in the field heard a heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” Lk 2.14 KJV.
The KJV translation, say some, tends to lead people to a bad conclusion about the possibility of peace on earth and good will toward, or among, men. There’s no doubt that people use the verse in a sappy, wishful sense. Better manuscript evidence points to a slightly different reading, with a far different meaning: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (NET).
The peace the angels sing about is not something the U.N. brings about or some Beatle-inspired movement, but the deeper salvation of man’s reconciliation with God. It is what the Messiah brings at his coming, the full blessing of God’s presence. Certainly, it has no political, social, or economic ramifications, apart from the church of Jesus Christ as the present manifestation of the kingdom of God.
It is this coming King of whom Micah wrote: “He will give us peace” Mic 5.5a. Literally, he will be peace. (Sounds much like “God is light” or “his commandment is eternal life,” doesn’t it?) It was this spiritual and heavenly peace the angels sang about. This peace has come already. Jesus “is our peace” Eph 2.14.
And that good-will phrase? BGAD says its probable meaning refers to “persons upon whom divine favor rests.” And who would they be? Those who seek his face and who submit themselves to serve the Messiah. In a word, the people of God. “God’s favor rests on those who accept His salvation” (R. Earle, Word Meanings in the NT).
Is it not ironic that the vast angelic host singing such praise is called an army? Lk 2.13. Aren’t armies all about war and destruction? Doesn’t the presence of an army mean a threat to peace? However you view the political side of a nation’s army and efforts toward world peace, the spiritual lesson is clear: God is sovereign, the Lord Jesus Christ has all authority, the angels serve his pleasure as his heavenly powers, and those who enter the divine kingdom enjoy peace and sing praises to the King with the angels.
That happens every day, all year round.
¶ Several good brothers have reminded us that during festive times, some don’t feel festive. It happened in Israel, after the return from exile, Ezra 3.10-13. Some shouted for joy, others wept. With so much noise people “were unable to tell the difference between the sound of joyous shouting and the sound of the people’s weeping.” It sounds like the weepers got drowned out.
Let us be sure to be sensitive of those who are hurting during our happy times. “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises” Jas 5.13. Let each one do what is appropriate.
¶ The word behind James’ phrase “in good spirits” (euthumeō) is also found in Acts 27.22, 25, where Paul tells people aboard a doomed ship to keep up their courage. He’s telling them to cheer up. (Does anybody like being told to cheer up?) Nobody’s going to die. They’ll lose everything aboard ship, but they’ll be spared. Isn’t that a reason for cheer? Well, they did cheer up. They felt encouraged (adjective here: euthumos) enough to eat, Acts 27.36.
¶ Cannot a Christian then always find room for cheer, even in the darkest moments? Even if he loses his life, his soul is secure. God gives to his people the “treasures of darkness” Isa 45.3 ESV. Or as the CEV puts it, “treasures hidden in dark and secret places.” Don’t we often discover the fuller presence of God and his blessing in “the valley of the shadow of death”? Psa 23.4.
¶ Ah, yes, there is also the adverb “cheerfully” (euthumōs) in Acts 24.10, where Paul stated before Felix the governor that he made his defense cheerfully. Paul wasn’t worried about his imprisonment, his sentence, or his situation. He preached the gospel. He did such a good job of it that he left Felix trembling, but he refused to repent.
Isn’t that they way we ought to fulfill our mission and present the gospel to others, cheerfully? No doubt about it.
¶ So some are singing, “’Tis the season to be jolly!” Others, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” But we share Peter’s perspective about the future coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the glory of his angels: “when his glory is revealed [we] may also rejoice and be glad” 1 Pet 4.13. And Paul said that “we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory” Rom 5.2. (See also Rom 12.12.)
This rejoicing is constant, not seasonal. There’s no letdown to such joy, no post-glory depression, no exhaustion or tiredness to deal with afterwards. The rejoicing grows, the expectation expands, the love swells, until our Lord comes.