When was the last time you were truly at peace?
And I mean deep-breath-not-a-care-in-the-world kind of peace. When were you last free from worry? Totally secure in your identity? Surrounded by the people you love?
My guess is, it’s probably been a while. Maybe you’ve never felt that way.
If we are willing to admit it, true peace is often a bit hard to find these days.
But what if I told you that real, genuine peace is exactly what the birth of Jesus brought into our world?
Welcome back to Christmas at Grace Church. All month we’re exploring common phrases and ideas which show up every December.
Today we’re looking at the phrase, “peace on earth.” What does it really mean and why does it feel like true peace is often so hard to come by?
Let’s talk about where we get the phrase. In the gospel of Luke, right after Jesus is born in Bethlehem, we hear the story of some local shepherds who get an unexpected visit.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Did you notice our memory verse for the month in there? Verse 10. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior has been born!”
And as this massive army of angels shouts in verse 14, part of that good news includes “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
But what exactly does that mean? Haven’t there been an awful lot of wars over the last 2000 years? Did the angels just mean “peace on earth… some day?”
Let’s talk about that…
Peace is a theme you see all throughout the Bible. It’s something the people of God are always longing for and something only God can really give. Like in Psalm 29:
The LORD gives his people strength. The LORD blesses them with peace.
Now, the Hebrew word for peace is “shalom.”
But shalom - biblical peace - is way more than just an absence of war. The word carries more depth to it.
The same thing is true of our English word, “peace.” It can mean a period of time without violence. But if you say something is “peaceful” it means it’s calm or still. If you say someone is “at peace,” it means they’re experiencing inner harmony.
And if your grandma tells you, “peace, child!” she wants you to be quiet. So there’s lots of different meanings for the word peace.
Shalom, however, goes even deeper than that. Shalom doesn’t just mean a lack of fighting or noise. It means wholeness, prosperity, fulfillment, satisfaction. It means Creation is set right - God’s intentions for the world coming to fruition.
Shalom means humanity returning to Eden in the way that they live.
An abundance of food, an absence of violence, and harmony with all created things.
The kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.
And according to the angels, this kind of peace - of whole life shalom - has now entered to our world because of Jesus. The birth of our savior brought peace on earth.
THE SHALOM OF JESUS
But again, I hear you saying, “if that’s true, then why is our world still such a mess? Why is there still so much violence?”
The answer to this, from my perspective, has to do with how Jesus taught about his kingdom - his rule and reign - showing up in our world.
He taught that the kingdom of God was like a tiny mustard seed that takes time to grow or yeast working through a big batch of dough. It ultimately affects everything, it becomes a huge garden plant, but it works gradually.
Everywhere Jesus went, he planted seeds of shalom. He helped a blind man see, he gave dignity to an outcast woman, he fed 5000 people with some kid’s lunch.
There’s a reason we call him the “Prince of Peace.“ Life and love and abundance and harmony spread everywhere he went. And he called his disciples - his followers - to do the same thing.
No, he didn’t snap his fingers and fix everything, but the moment that baby was born in Bethlehem, the spread of shalom had begun. The angels were right. Peace on earth was now possible.
And even though our world is still a mess, the shalom that began with the birth of Jesus is continuing to spread, even today. Do you know how? Through you, and through me.
Because we have God’s Holy Spirit within us, we are the body of Christ. We’re continuing the work he started. Wherever we go we should be planting seeds of shalom as well.
Healing broken lives, sharing our abundance, living in harmony, spreading joy.
When we truly follow Jesus with our lives, peace on earth is the result.
Not just the absence of war, but restored relationships. Love replacing hatred. Justice rolling like a river. Even our relationship to the creation itself in harmony and abundance.
And most importantly, when there is peace on earth, humans can live in a restored relationship with their Creator. No more shame. No more fear.
You and God can take a walk together in the garden in the cool of the day. It doesn’t get much more peaceful than that.
This Christmas season, in the midst of the noise and the gifts and the craziness, I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on the seed of shalom that was planted the moment Jesus was born.
And I invite you to think of ways to plant your own seeds of shalom in his name. How can your life and the lives of those around you look a little more like Eden? Like the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven?
Grace Church, I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior has been born!
And because of that truth we celebrate every December, we can now confidently declare:
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”