Is There Really “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”?

By Jeanne G.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising god, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-24).

Growing up I, like so many others at Christmas time, read the account of the Lord’s birth as recorded in the book of Luke. However, whenever I reached the annunciation to the shepherds, I was always left with a rather hollow feeling. In some ways, I identified more with the poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow after the tragic death of his wife, which reads: “I heard the bells on Christmas day their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men. And in despair I bowed my my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

I would ask myself if there has ever been peace on earth. As far as I could see, the answer was no. There has always been hatred, strife, violence, war. . . Even Christ did not experience this kind of peace on earth, as many attempted to kill him throughout his life. The shepherds heard the great news of the Savior’s birth, but this kind of peace, a world without strife, has yet to come.

However, the Lord taught me a valuable lesson regarding peace on my very first Christmas Eve in Boston. My husband and I were at the time just poor college students. We had no car, nor really any money. We purchased a very small tree at Haymarket and brought it home via the subway. We only had enough decorations to cover just a small section of that tree, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.

Some friends of ours, Ken and Sue Allen, invited us to go Christmas Caroling with them on Beacon Hill. It was a long standing tradition at the time to go to Louisburg Square Christmas Eve to carol. When you arrived, you would get with a group of people and start singing around the square. At any one time during the evening there would be 100-150 people, all caroling. Sometimes there were even bell ringers or a brass band performing. Louisburg Square has some of the richest properties on Beacon Hill and often you could see holiday parties in the windows.

Following our caroling, we went over to the Allen’s home to warm up and read the Christmas story in Luke. My husband had just recently returned from France and Ken had just returned from Germany, so we decided to read the story first in English and then again in French and German.

The French translation is very similar to that which you read in the King James version of the Bible. It was the German translation that amazed me. It was really just a word order change, but what a difference it made! In the King James version we read, “Peace on Earth, good will to men.” In German it reads, “Peace on Earth to men of good will.” Just a small change, but so profound. Here then was a peace that all of us can obtain while we are here on Earth. We can have this kind peace even in the midst of chaos. The Lord himself said, “A peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

A few years later, my husband found a quote from Confucius that we liked so much we framed it and put it on our wall. It not only describes exactly this kind of peace, but also how we can obtain the elusive peace on earth. It reads:

If there be righteousness in the heart,
there will be beauty in the character.

If there be beauty in the character,
there will be harmony in the home.

If there be harmony in the home,
there will be order in the nation.

If there be order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.

As we align our hearts with our Savior’s, he will comfort us and we will find peace. I hope that you will be able to find peace in your life, the kind of peace that comes only by drawing closer to Christ and in doing good to others.

Happy Holidays!

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