The words are repeated every year at Christmas in word and song, “Peace on Earth, Good will to men.” It is a beautiful sentiment, but as with many Christmas proclamations for some its meaning has been lost after centuries of repetition. God gave the angels these words to describe the good news of the Savior’s birth so it seems they are important enough to reflect upon at Christmas.
In considering these words the first thought that comes to mind is that they do not appear to be entirely true. For most of human history there has not been anything close to “Peace on Earth.” War is a perpetual reality. A review of history reveals that at any given point in time there is at least one group of people trying to kill or conquer another group of people. One is left to wonder, “Where is this peace promised by the angels?”
Clues to the answer can be found in the source of the proclamation, the angels who appeared to the shepherds on Christmas night. Their nature and identity shed light around the shepherds then and shed light for us now.
Luke, in his gospel, describes the angels in this way-
“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!"
“A multitude of the heavenly host” appeared. A clearer description of these individuals is found in Wuest’s expanded New Testament, where he translates the phrase, “a multitude of the army of heaven.” Wuest was on to something. It was not a choir that appeared. The word “host” is a military term used to describe the soldiers of an army. Standing on the hillside that first Christmas night was no angelic choir. It was the army of the Living God. They were there for a reason. It was not by accident that God sent his army to proclaim “Peace on Earth.” Their presence on the scene has tremendous meaning.
The army of God is described in a number of places in scripture. In the Old Testament it appears on the scene to defend the prophet Elisha from the Assyrian army. (2 Kings 6) In the New Testament, this army returns at the end of the world to carry out God’s judgment. It is this last job description that is most significant with regards to the Christmas message. The message of peace was proclaimed by those who will one be the agents of God’s wrath. At the end of the age God will send His armies to wage war against not only the devil, but against all of disobedient mankind. The battle into which this army will be sent is God’s battle against sinful man.
The presence of the Army of God reminds us of the conflict addressed by the birth of the Savior. Since the fall of man, the original sin, Mankind has been at war with God. The universal peace lacked by all was peace with God. Unless something happened to restore this peace the wrath of God would fall on all people.
On that first Christmas night the solution to the conflict was proclaimed. The one who would resolve the conflict had been born, the Prince of Peace. The army of God arrived on the scene and with their presence reminded all of the wrath that was coming and that was deserved. In their words they proclaimed the reality of how the wrathful hand of God would be stayed. In response to the birth of Jesus they laid their weapons down and proclaimed, “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”
This is the message of Christmas. Our world is sinful and fallen, deserving of destruction at the hands of a holy God. As deserving as we are of such punishment, we need not experience it. For on that day, in the city of Bethelehem, was born a Savior. The One who would one day take the wrath of God upon himself and open the door to everlasting peace.