You know it well. It is probably the most famous greeting of Christmas — on more Christmas cards than any other — “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Or the shorter version: Peace on earth; good will to men. That’s what we’ve heard. Well, there’s only one problem: it’s wrong. That is based on the King James Version of the Bible which has stood since 1611 as the standard for the English-speaking world, but of all the translations that now exist, it is the only one that reads that way, proving that it is not the most accurate rendering of the most early manuscripts from which all the newer versions are taken. What it really should be is: “Peace on earth among men of good will.” Big difference.
It’s not a blanket peace and good will over the whole world, which leads to a kind of general mushy good feeling toward everybody at Christmastime; instead, it is a statement directed to the whole world, but fulfilled specifically by certain people — people of good will. Yes, Christ brought peace and good will to the world, but He brought it to be exhibited through His followers.
Does that mean that we get the peace because we’re exceptionally good people? No. It means that we get the peace because we have put our faith in Christ, and as a result, the Holy Spirit has been born in us, and we have received the power to become sons and daughters of the living God. He is changing us and creating a heart of good will in us. So that, yes, we do become people of good will; but solely through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
And here’s the exciting part: none of this would have been possible had not Christ been born in Bethlehem that night. His birth started a chain of events which ends in you and me being the fulfillment of the angelic announcement! We become the people of peace and good will in the world because Christ came and left His Holy Spirit behind to live in us and empower us to that end.
And believe me, at no time in history has that peace and good will been more needed in the world than now. We live in a time of mean-spirited ill-will from anybody who disagrees with us. That’s just expected now. Everyone’s taking sides.
Good will is openness to anyone and everyone. It is the gospel of welcome — welcome to all. It is refusing to take sides. Good will is loving your enemies, empathizing with those who are different, building bridges, lifting up (not tearing down), creating respect for all, resisting the temptation to find fault even when you’re among people who all agree, choosing not to take part in criminalizing anyone, speaking well of people who are not in your presence, giving everyone a second chance — then a third, and a fourth — up to 7 X 70 (Matthew 18:22), in fact, it is about being a catalyst, a peacemaker, a healer. Being a person of good will means standing in the gap, embracing people on all sides. This is what it will look like with the Holy Spirit living inside you. God’s grace to you, and God’s grace through you. It’s surely grace turned outward.
Did you ever realize that when the angel declared peace on earth among people of good will on that starry, angelic night, that he was talking about you?