Peace on Earth, and Good will toward men.
Well, not really.
This is actually a mistranslation of the real text. The Scripture verse states, and what the Angels actually proclaim, is: Peace on Earth to Men of Good Will.
I know I'm going to get comments saying: why be so detailed and critical? It means the same thing. But that's just it - it doesn't. These two statements are very different and actually mean the opposite of each other.
At face value, they seem similar enough, but let's break them apart.
Peace on Earth, and good will toward men is pretty much just a statement, a declaration of peace and good will to men – all men. What the scripture actually states, though, is Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace to men of good will. This is enormously different. This statement announces that peace will come to men of good will, it is not simply wishing peace and goodwill to all men.
The King James version gets it wrong. Many of our Christmas poems and songs get it wrong. It speaks to the heart of the thing that all beauty contestants hope and wish for - world peace, right? Actually, wrong.
Peace on Earth is something that will never exist in the temporal time and space of this Earth, and it isn't what this Scripture verse is promising or announcing. What this scripture verse speaks of is a kind of peace that transcends any kind of Earthly peace we seek. It is the peace of Christ within our very hearts and souls. It is an announcement to those who seek Him, and to those who then go and seek Him.
It is an answer to the longing in our hearts that only Christ can give us, and it only comes to the heart who knows and seeks good will of Christ himself. It is the kind of peace that most reject. Why? Most reject this kind of peace, because it requires surrender - a surrender of our will.
What is good will? It is serving and willing the good of the other. We do this through sacrifice, just as Jesus did and does, each and every day on the altar. This is where we find peace; the peace in our hearts that comes with being a person of good will. It is not a promise of peace and good will to all – or in a way it is, but it does not promise this peace to those who reject the good will and surrender it requires.
One phrase, taken out of context, changes the entire meaning of the Christmas message and season. One message taken out of context leads us toward sin and vice with its presumption that God’s gifts and virtues are bestowed upon all hearts, whether they possess His good will or not. This is erroneous and heresy. It’s the same as the presumption that all men go to Heaven, and we can all have reasonable hope that all will be saved. This message is dangerous and soils the charity and goodness found within the gift Christ was born to give us if we accept it and accept Him.
We know the end of the story: the cross. Men of good will did not send Jesus to the cross - those men represent you, me and our sins. Our sins work against the goodness of the cross and the peace that is found there. Once we accept the cross, we find peace, because it comes to those with good will in their hearts and to those on whom God's favor rests. The peace of Christ depends on His cross, as well as our own crosses, and whether or not - and how - we accept them.
I encourage you to reflect on this throughout the Advent and Christmas season. It may ruin a few Christmas songs and phrases on Christmas cards for you - but that’s okay. It is an important distinction to understand - perhaps the most important - as our salvation essentially depends it.
Merry Christmas and peace to all of you of good will and on whom God's favor rests!