The gospel of Luke records that two thousand years ago, God made a groundbreaking announcement.
The very night Jesus was born, “a great company of the heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:13-14).
Peace. And not just an ethereal or theoretical peace, either. God’s announcing peace on earth.
But here we are more than two thousand years later. Coming up to another Christmas, which means the end of another year. And just like the years before it, it’s been a year full of conflict. On the global scale, there’s been war & famine. Here in Australia, we’ve got political division and strife.
And closer to home, even in our family and personal relationships, we don’t experience the peace and harmony that we might like.
So it’s easy to wonder: where is this peace God promised?
The Line Between Good & Evil
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian historian who lived through two world wars and after that suffered under the oppressive regime of the USSR. He spent eight long years imprisoned in the horrific gulags, and has seen first-hand more evil than you or I could ever imagine.
And one of the striking things about the atrocities of these times is that for the most part, they were committed by ordinary people like you and me – just in very different circumstances.
One of the things he came to realise is that the source of all this conflict and evil he saw is not somewhere out there, but within each human heart.
He writes, “I have come to realise that …the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart.”
He goes on, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
And he’s got a point, doesn’t he? The lack of peace we experience in this world – whether through global conflict or in our own relationships – stems from an internal problem within the human heart.
While we can quickly and easily point out all the reasons why others are to blame (and often they are), often part of the blame lies with us too. There’s selfishness and pride in my heart too.
Although it’s sometimes hard to admit, the line between good and evil runs right through my heart. That’s part of the human condition, whether we like it or not.
Peace On Earth?
And this brings us back to our question: if Christmas is about God announcing peace, where is it? If God is really all-powerful, why didn’t He sweep in, destroy the conflict and chaos in this world at the source, and bring about true and lasting peace once and for all?
Surely that’s what we’d all want, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no. Yes, we all want peace. But there’s a problem with that scenario, isn’t there? God destroying conflict and chaos and evil at the source?
Because as we’ve seen, the source of all those bad things is in us! It’s in our hearts. As Solzhenitsyn said, “…the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
You see, that’s the problem. If God simply came and destroyed every obstacle to peace, He’d have to wipe us out too. I mean, maybe you’re a saint. But he’d certainly have to wipe me out.
So we’ve got a bit of a problem. We want peace, and if that’s what God’s offering, we’ll happily take him up on it, but how can that happen without something in us being destroyed?
Well, Christmas is God’s solution.
Peace Now, Peace Later
You see, that source of darkness and evil, the source of conflict that is in each of our hearts, the Bible’s word for that is “sin”. And Christmas is God sending Jesus to solve the problem of sin in our hearts, to give us peace with Him now… and to pave the way so that one day, when Jesus returns again, He can bring about true world peace without having to wipe us out in the process.
So when the angels declared peace on earth (Luke 2:14), they were being very serious.
The angels were announcing that Jesus was born as one of us, so that He could grow up and die on a cross as one of us. Through Jesus God was working “to reconcile all things to himself… by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).
Through Jesus, we can experience peace with God now. And through Jesus, we will one day experience peace on a global & cosmic scale, when the nations will beat their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4), turning instruments of war into instruments of peace and prosperity.
So where is the peace God promised? It’s in Jesus. And it’s a peace that no earthly conflict can ever take away.