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, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:13-15 (NKJV)
This year, more than in any recent years, these words from Luke’s Gospel have resonated in my heart. Non-Bible students may recognize them as part of Linus’ classic monologue in a Charlie Brown Christmas as he spoke the words of Scripture to the world—accompanied only by his trusty blanket.
Some 50+ years after experiencing these words for the first time, I am still amazed by the angelic message to the shepherds. The fact that they proclaimed glory to God in the announcement of Jesus’ birth is a no-brainer. However, the declaration of “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men” can be problematic given the context of the day. In the Roman world, “peace-by-intimidation” would have been the norm in the land of Israel on the night Jesus was born. Current high unemployment, high taxes and mistrust of an occupying pagan army could have challenged the shepherds to naturally wonder if the angels understood the meaning of “peace” or “goodwill!”
It would have been an interesting journey from the fields where the sheep were grazing to the little village of Bethlehem. Only moments before, the silence of the night had been broken by a heavenly choir proclaiming not only the birth of a Savior, but a message that would change God’s relationship with mankind forever. Now, accompanied only by the sound of their own voices and the bleating of their sheep, they eagerly pursued the one part of the angels’ announcement they were able to understand—find the Savior who has come to earth.
On any given day, we can be overcome by the circumstances of life and wish we could have an answer from heaven that fills the night sky. That’s probably not going to happen. But the angels’ message remains timeless—God’s ultimate expression of goodwill to men came in the birth of his Son that we might eternally experience His ultimate peace on earth.