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 among those with whom he is pleased!” …. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:13-14, 20)
Well. Here it is: the day after Christmas. I don’t know about you but the day after Christmas is when you get back to “real life” and its mundane details and there’s the news as usual, mostly bad as usual, and the afterglow of celebration fades into the incessant strife and violence borne of hatred between peoples, and sickness and warfare and want continue unimpeded.
Into what wretched black hole did the “peace on earth” of the angelic choir go the day after Christmas? After the shepherds went back to their sheep, they were still the despised and wretched lot they had always been economically and socially. Israel was still under Roman occupation as the omnipresence of Roman garrisons made clear.
The truth is, there wasn’t much peace in the world on that first Christmas day either. Christ was born in a stable because his parents had been forced by a burdensome governmental decree to leave their home at that crucial time. Soon afterwards, the poor couple had to flee with their child to Egypt to escape a murderous tyrant who sought to kill him and in that tyrant’s unresolved quest, his soldiers ended up massacring all the newborn sons (up to the age of two) in Bethlehem.
What then did the angelic announcement of “peace” actually mean? What peace did Christ’s birth in fact achieve?
It wasn’t the peace that meant cessation of war and all hostility between men, and the eradication of sickness, poverty, and injustice obviously.
The Greek word for peace, eirēnē, used in Luke 2:14 is used in the New Testament 92 times and is used in the Septuagint for the Hebrew word shalom.
And eirēnē/shalom signifies a heavenly peace that is more precious and hard-won than there are words to describe as well as the promised peace of a new earth free of sin and death, free from all evil.
Shalom for the Christian today means wholeness, well-being, and, most importantly, a restored relationship to God, a shalom that was broken when sin entered into the world, but now, because of Christ’s birth, life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension, means a new life of fellowship with Him and all the attendant blessings, mercies, and graces that bestows.
Christ is our shalom, the promised “prince of Shalom” of whom Isaiah prophesied in the Old Testament:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Is. 9:6-7)
Through Christ, his active obedience and life of perfect righteousness as well as his atoning death for our sins, God established his “new covenant” as foretold in Jeremiah 31:31, a “covenant of peace” (Is. 54:4) extended not only to the house of Israel but to the entire household of man.
Without Christ this peace would have been impossible. He came to earth for this very purpose, so that we might have shalom! Jesus had told his disciples the night before his crucifixion, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
This peace could only begin with a restored relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins through Jesus and will, one day, culminate with his return and the creation of a new heaven and new earth free from sin and death.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)
This is the eirēnē, the peace, the shalom, that caused the shepherds to rejoice and continue rejoicing even as they returned to their sheep pastures, this “good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” on that day “in the city of David” when our “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” was born.
This shalom, given by God through His Son Jesus Christ, nothing and no one can take away, not the world, the devil nor the flesh, because it is from everlasting to everlasting.
So rejoice, praising God, and give “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
To every Christian man, woman, and child, the day after Christmas and forevermore, “Shalom, shalom!”
“Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 57:19-21)