Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! — Luke 2:14
This declaration by a multitude of the heavenly host to the shepherds in the field is one that can easily be misunderstood. For example, with their song Peace on Earth from their 2001 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 sing:
Jesus this song you wrote The words are sticking in my throat Peace on Earth Hear it every Christmas time But hope and history won’t rhyme So what’s it worth? This peace on Earth
When looking at human history and our near constant state of war against each other, it is easy to sing these words; however, the angels were not speaking of the kind of peace created by treaties. Although Bono and company make the erroneous assumption that the angels are speaking of worldly peace, they do ask an important question: So what’s it worth, this peace on earth?
In his Sermon XXVIII on the Nativity, St. Leo the Great states:
in the general ruin of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the Divine plan which could succour the fallen, and that was that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression.
That original transgression was eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17) all that is good in the world comes from God because God is Good:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For his mercy endures forever — Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1
Therefore, evil is the absence of God. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they knew a world without God. They pulled all of creation away from God and back towards the nothing from whence all of creation came. This is why our world is full of death and decay. There is a gulf that exists between creation and God because humanity has chosen a world without Him. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, no peace existed between creation and God.
God created humanity in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27). Since God is ultimately free, we who He made in His image are also free. This is why Adam and Eve were given the choice to reject God. This is why we are given that same choice today. It is why, as St. Leo points out, that in order to protect that image within us, God was willing to send us His Only-Begotten Son to become a son of Adam, born free and innocent of original transgression.
When the angels declare “peace on earth,” they are declaring something much grander and greater than anything we might gain from a peace treaty. God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, has crossed the gulf and taken on our humanity. Emmanuel! God is with us!
So, what is this peace on earth worth? God has given us a path across the gulf that exists between Him and His creation. He has given us His Son in swaddling clothes so that we not go the way of a world without God. He has allowed us, in our freedom, to choose to be with Him, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.