December 23, 2022

What Does the Christmas Message "Peace on Earth" of the Angelic Hymn of Bethlehem Really Mean?

By Archimandrite Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

Few passages of Holy Scripture have been so bitterly misinterpreted as Luke 2:14.

It is about the Hymn that was sung by the Angels during the most divine night of the birth in the flesh of the Eternal Word of God, the Lord Jesus.

This misinterpretation by many Orthodox is certainly not willful and intentional (only heretics misinterpret willfully), but is due to the all around ignorance of the meaning of Holy Scripture. As a result of this ignorance, every year on Christmas day we hear sermons or read publications of many teachers of the Gospel of our Church, clergy and laity, being rejected because the wars have not yet ended and the weapons have not been abolished and the peace of the Angelic Hymn has not yet prevailed on earth.

Even in official Ecclesiastical Encyclicals we see such positions expressed, as well as pleas to God to finally allow this peace to prevail on earth "because for almost two thousand years it still remains far from reality, a simple hope, just a dream, a simple and agonizing expectation."

These unfortunate ones are unaware that the peace of the Angelic Hymn is already a reality and has prevailed on earth since the incarnation of the Lord. Falsely and out of misunderstanding, we perceive this peace as external, as a state of friendship between people, individuals to individuals and peoples to peoples, as a cessation of wars and battles. This peace was never preached in the Gospel.

The peace of the Gospel is internal, it is the state of peace that reigns in the soul of the faithful individual, the individual who has friendship and communion with God.

It is peace between man and God and not man with man.

It is the destruction of the "intermediate wall of the barrier" which separated earth and Heaven, man and God; it is the end of rebellion, the end of the creature's rebellion against his Creator.

The Son of God brought this peace to the world. And since then everyone who believes in Jesus Christ Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen, now has God as a friend, is in filial communion with Him. He is no longer a rebel, no longer an apostate, no longer an enemy of God. He was reconciled and "dedicated" to Him through the Eternal Mediator the Lord Jesus Christ.

The state of rebellion and enmity towards God due to Adam's transgression now belongs to the past and is, for the faithful man, a mere bitter memory. From the time of the Lord and by virtue of His Sacrifice on the Cross, man entered a new period, a new situation; a situation of Grace, Friendship, Adoption. Regarding peace, the promises of the Gospel refer to this peace and not to external peace.

"Peace I leave with you", said the Lord to the Apostles, "My peace I give unto you". And to emphasize that this peace is a different kind of peace, He adds: "Not as the world gives, do I give unto you" (John 14:27). And after other words about external peace, He says that He does not bring such peace.

On the contrary, He predicts that faith in Him will be the cause of differences and wars between people. The unbelievers will persecute the believers of Jesus and thus the wars will not only not decrease, but will increase, since the opponent of the new faith will be added to the existing ones.

"Do not think," He says, "that I have come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matthew 1:34-35).

And before He was voluntarily led to Golgotha, to drink the terrible cup of death, He provided the Apostles with inner peace, so that they would not be affected by the myriads of external sorrows and persecutions. Despite the fact all these would one day take place, peace would remain precisely because it was internal:

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Peace was granted to the Apostles, even though they knew that painful deaths awaited them, even though He explicitly said that they were sent as "sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matthew 10:16). So was it possible to provide external peace? Definitely not!

And Saint Paul is the herald and apostle of this inner peace towards God. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" he writes to the Romans (5:1). Writing to the Ephesians, he says that the Lord Jesus Christ is "our peace", He is the one who "redeemed people to God" through the Cross, by whom came "the gospel of peace..., that through Him we can approach the Father (Eph. 2:14-18).

Conclusion: The "peace" of the Angelic Hymn is man's peace towards God and not an external one. This peace indeed prevails "on earth", since we are now reconciled to heaven through the humiliation even unto the Cross by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.