The usual Christmas greeting we will hear today and tomorrow is the wish for "peace on earth." It has become the Hallmark theology of the left and the right in our time. It is even the greeting of many who are quite secular. After all, who could be against "peace on earth" anyway? There is only one problem with this popular greeting and oft quoted statement. It is not biblical.
The text comes from Luke 2:14 where the angel, speaking from the heavenly host who came to attend to Jesus’ birth, says, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." This brief hymn has been traditionally called "The Gloria in Excelsis Deo," because of the first words of the Latin Vulgate translation of the words: "Glory to God in the Highest." This text does not assure peace on earth to all people. It actually assures peace to all of those who are of his good pleasure (cf. Luke’s use of "pleased" and "good pleasure" in 3:22; 10:21; 12:32). The Roman world knew the Pax Romana, a peace which brought about external tranquility and the absence of widespread warfare. But what the angels proclaimed at the birth of Messiah was not international peace. They proclaimed a deeper, more lasting and eternal peace of mind and heart brought about by the Incarnation of the God-man in Jesus Christ.
Peace with God, this Christmas and every other Christmas, comes only by being found in God’s favor. This comes only by being "in Christ." He is the "Prince of Peace" for all who make their peace with him. For those who do not the same Scriptures warn of a fearful judgment. You will not hear this story, at least not completely, from most pulpits in America over the next few hours but it is the biblical story nonetheless. The fact is this—Jesus came "to bring a sword" and that sword divides people to this very day. Witness the hatred for the Church the world over, especially in the clash between Islam and Christianity in Africa and the Middle East.
We must pray and work for peace. Peacemaking is the work of God’s Spirit in and through those who know him. But we must also realize that there will never be peace between Christ and his avowed enemies. He is the king and sovereign of the earth and saying so will not bring about peace in the world so long as the evil one continues to attack the people of God. This will not end until the king comes to complete what he began in his first advent.