It’s too late for this year. But if you’re looking for a Bible verse for next year’s Christmas card, I have a suggestion.
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)
Your card is sure to be a hit, though it may get you disinvited from some parties.
What About the Angels?
In seriousness, this passage in Luke 12 raises some difficult questions. We’re used to reading and singing about “peace on earth” at Christmas. And for good reason!
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 among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13–14)
As we read closely, we see that the angels were praising God and praying as well. They both sought and heralded peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased. So, the angels weren’t declaring an immediate, universal peace with the arrival of Jesus, but they were calling for a peace among his people.
Because the birth of Jesus was a definitive, declarative step in the victory of God, and because this victory brings believers peace with God, peace among God’s people is possible. We can rest in our acceptance by God, our common adopted status as his sons and daughters. We can stop tearing each other down and start building each other up. We can love each other as brothers and sisters.
Not Now But Later
I read that portion of Luke 12 and I think, Why not, Jesus?
Why didn’t Jesus come to bring peace on earth? There’s a deep part of me—maybe it’s within everyone—that cries out for true peace on earth. Now.
But Jesus came to bring division.
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49–53)
Jesus’s “baptism”—likely his crucifixion—will kindle a fire. That fire will bring division based on allegiance and worship, and these fault lines will shoot through households and families.
Sons and daughters of the king will necessarily divide from those outside the kingdom. We love and work and sing and pray and plead for our neighbors, but eventually everyone’s heart follows their treasure.
But among God’s children, there should not be such division: “Peace among those with whom God is pleased.” Though peace will come imperfectly, it should come.
In this aspect as in many others, the church points ahead. We have God’s presence with us now, but we will have it fully in the age to come. We understand dimly now as we look forward to crystal clarity. And we aim now for the peace that will one day extend in all directions, forever.
No Peace for Jesus
We long for that future day without death or pain or any sign of the curse (Rev 22:3). It is coming as surely as the sun rises. But it comes at a cost. We will have peace because Jesus had none.
During his earthly ministry, life for Jesus was chaotic. He had nowhere to stay, no one who understood him, and a growing crowd of accusers. His life ended with betrayal, loneliness, pain, and disgrace.
But most peace comes through conflict. The peace that Jesus secured for us came through the anguish of the cross. God the Father focused his wrath against Jesus, who stood in our place. We can have peace now in part, and we can look forward to perfect peace, because Jesus knew no peace on earth.
The reason for Jesus’s birth doesn’t lend itself to foil-stamped greeting cards. The Incarnation wasn’t about warmly-lit, soft-focused images to make people feel cozy.
But it was about love. It was about peace.
Remember Jesus’s purpose this season. He came to bring peace within the church, division with the world, and a sure hope that sustains us until he returns.