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Editor’s note: Please watch the official lyric video for Paul Baloche’s song “Peace On Earth” (feat. Madison Cunningham) from his most recent Christmas album, For Unto Us—Christmas Worship, Live From London (buy)| Let there be peace on earth… We hear these words every Christmas, the echo of the song of the angels to the shepherds. We find the words imprinted on greeting cards with pictures of gathered families and snow-covered landscapes. And we find ourselves thinking of “peace” as an ideal holiday with friends and family near. A moment when everyone loves one another, and no one is sick, sad or suffering.

But the first Christmas was nothing like that picture. A young couple was displaced, looking for shelter in preparation for the birth of a child. Their nation was living under the oppressive rule of the Romans. Most stunning of all, the song of the angels, proclaiming “peace” came to shepherds… people who were at the bottom of the social ladder; people on the move and on the margins. Definitely not the hot cocoa, hearth and home picture that we’ve come to associate with the “peace” of Christmas.

Maybe we’ve got it wrong. Scholars suggest that the wording of this famous phrase would be better expressed as, “On earth, let there be peace among the ones whom God favors.” Or as one translation says, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors.” Peace has come, and it has come to the favored ones.

And here’s where the good news gets better: the ones whom God favors are the unlikeliest of all. God shows His favor to the lowly, the outcast, the marginalized. He favors the hungry, the sick. The song of the angels becomes a theme in Luke’s gospel. It is a banner over Jesus’ earthly mission: Jesus came to announce God’s favor to the most unlikely people.

This peace, in the Jewish tradition of that word, is not just about a feeling of well-being. It’s about wholeness. To be at peace is to be put back together again.

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