Luke 2:13-14: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”
Scholars have debated for centuries the exact meaning of the words written in Luke. What exactly did the angels mean by “on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Or is it “Peace on earth and good will among men?” Of course, since the shepherds to whom these words were spoken were probably illiterate, they didn’t write them down. They most likely were repeated and repeated until they were written down in Greek some time later. The Greek texts are open for interpretation as to exactly what the words written meant. We are left to wonder about the song sung by the angels.
The Middle East was not a peaceful place when Jesus was born. Israel was an occupied nation. The Romans ruled with fear and oppression. The Hebrew rulers collaborated with the Romans and the people looked to the heavens for deliverance. The shepherds might have assumed the angels message meant the end of the Roman Empire and an end to war.
The land of the shepherds, however, is still not a peaceful place. There is strife around the globe. According to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law, there were at least 38 armed conflicts in 24 nations and territories in 2012. The organization is not even sure how to count and define an armed conflict.
Conflict within and between countries mirrors the conflict we daily experience with each other. How many days do we feel our blood pressure rising as someone says something to us that seems condescending, mean, or rude? Do we angrily type an answering email and hit “send” in response to something we perceive as an insult? Do we post emails and share Facebook posts that depict politicians with an opposing view as evil and corrupt? Do we feel self-righteous anger when friends post and repost offensive material? Do we post offensive material which supports our point of view? Do we write anonymous comments which contain a single letter and *** to denote swear words or derogatory expletives?
The angel chorus’s “peace on earth” applies to the world and to each of us. Peace is not possible if we always assume the worst about others. Does anger toward those who cheat and steal and take advantage of us solve the problem? If someone says hurtful things to us, how does wallowing in our hurt and anger heal us? What have we got to lose by asking the other what they meant and if they are aware of the pain they have caused us? Do we feel better if we return hurt and insult to those who hurt and affront us? What if we are wrong about their motives? What if we have misunderstood what they have said? Who, then, is in the wrong? Are we willing to hear that we have unintentionally hurt someone else with careless words or actions?
Seeking peace does not mean that we excuse abuse or intimidation. We need to protect the vulnerable and to stand up for ourselves and others. Seeking peace means following the commandment no not bear false witness against our neighbor in our conversations with others or in our own thinking. The majority of what sends our blood pressure over the top is neither intentional or deliberately cruel. By far, what makes us live outside of the peace wished for us by the angels is misunderstanding, carelessness, and differences in points of view.
It is not easy to put the best light on others’ actions and words. It is hard to let go of being right, of being indignant and to give up the self-righteous, self-pitying urge to hold on to grievances. It takes courage to confront those who hurt us. It takes grace to accept their apology or to simply assume they meant no harm and to move on.
Peace on earth begins with finding peace in ourselves, in our lives and with our neighbors.
Copyright © 2013 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains