In St. Luke's Gospel, a multitude of angels appears to shepherds in the field, proclaiming: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14 RSV). The angels' words could be a proclamation of the peace of Christ who is born, or a prayer for peace on earth.
The proclamation of that peace at the announcement of the Messiah's birth makes it higher in importance than any mere earthly peace within the Roman Empire or any other political realm. Rome fell, and all empires fall. All kingdoms come to an end. The relative stability of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ's birth was broken by the deaths of the Holy Innocents under Herod, remembered just a few days after Christmas Day, and by the Holy Family's flight into Egypt.
Nor is the proclamation of the angels merely a social peace among individuals. St. Luke's Gospel later tells us that Jesus asked, "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth 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 her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." (Luke 12:51-53). However much we try to bring Christ's peace to those around us, there will be divisions amid that balancing act of having truth an love meet, our mercy and forgiveness always set in context of commitment to truth and obedience to God's will, which in turn entails adherence to Church teaching and commitment to a way of life. Amid the proclamation of the Gospel by the Early Church, the Roman government reacted with waves of martyrdom.
Christ was approaching the day of his crucifixion when he said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27). The peace of Christmas, proclaimed by the angels, is Christ's peace within our hearts that can enable us to take up our own crosses and follow him through turmoil and destruction, even if political peace, family peace, and peace between individuals fail.
Christ himself is our peace at Christmas and always. That is a peace within that dictates mercy and, at the same time, dictates that we must speak out and not keep silent in the face of evil, a peace that enables martyrdom and not a peace that quietly abandons duty to avoid a fight.
Pope Paul VI appealed to that peace of the Lord in 1968 in proclaiming January 1 as a Day of Peace, a peace among nations and individuals founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love that reflect the peace of Christ, and not the peace of a "tactical pacifism" that would manipulatively "smother" another person's commitment to duty and sacrifice:
Through His Sacrifice on the Cross, He brought about universal reconciliation, and we, as His followers, are called to be "peacemakers" (Mt. v. 9). In fine, it is only from the Gospel that there can spring forth true Peace, not in order to make men dull and soft, but to replace the impulses to violence and bullying in their minds, by the manly virtues of reasoning and heart characteristic of true humanism. We do so, finally, because We would not wish ever to be rebuked by God and by history for having kept silence in the face of the danger of a new conflagration between peoples, which, as all know, could take on sudden forms of apocalyptic awfulness.
Men must always speak of Peace. The world must be educated to love Peace, to build it up and defend it. Against the resurgent preludes to war (nationalistic competition, armaments, revolutionary provocations, racial hatred, the spirit of revenge, etc.), and also against the snares of tactical pacifism, intended to drug the enemy one must overcome, to smother in men's minds the meaning of justice, of duty and of sacrifice - we must arouse in the men of our time and of future generations the sense and love of Peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love (cf. Pope John XXIII: "Pacem in terris").
In his message for the 46th World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI evoked the message of the angels and the words of Pope Paul VI in speaking of Christ's peace as the foundation, not of a superficial peace but rather a "positive reality which exists in human hearts," with Christ as our peace as we seek "the fullness of good" in another person's body and soul:
Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible. Our gaze needs to go deeper, beneath superficial appearances and phenomena, to discern a positive reality which exists in human hearts, since every man and woman has been created in the image of God and is called to grow and contribute to the building of a new world. God himself, through the incarnation of his Son and his work of redemption, has entered into history and has brought about a new creation and a new covenant between God and man (cf. Jer 31:31-34), thus enabling us to have a “new heart” and a “new spirit” (cf. Ez 36:26).
For this very reason the Church is convinced of the urgency of a new proclamation of Jesus Christ, the first and fundamental factor of the integral development of peoples and also of peace. Jesus is indeed our peace, our justice and our reconciliation (cf. Eph 2:14; 2 Cor 5:18). The peacemaker, according to Jesus’ beatitude, is the one who seeks the good of the other, the fullness of good in body and soul, today and tomorrow.
In that same message, Pope Benedict XVI said that peace is both God's gift and the result of human effort. Pope Francis says the same thing in the introductory paragraph to his message for the 49th Day of Peace. In applying that principal of active peacemaking rooted in the gift of God's peace, and reflected in acts of mercy, he says, "The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself." Like Pope Paul VI and Pope Benedict XVI before him, Pope Francis speaks out strongly against indifference (the indifference of those "who close their eyes to what is happening around them, who turn aside to avoid encountering other people's problems")."
As we enter the season of the twelve days of Christmas, may the peace of the Lord be with you. It is not the peace of a fallible kingdom, nor a strategy to get one's own way, nor is it happiness maintained by turning our eyes away from other people's suffering. Rather, it is a reflection and a proclamation of Christ's peace that goes with us into turmoil, the message of the angels to the shepherds at Christmas. Christ our Savior is born, who is our peace and the foundation of our peacemaking.