Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)

Here are two short comments on this familiar Christmas verse.

The first concerns the more recent English translations of the verse. The NIV translators avoided the traditional translation “peace to mankind, presumably in an effort to be gender neutral and sensitive. This is fine (other modern translations do the same e.g. ESV, NRSV) as long as readers do not misunderstand the angels as proclaiming peace only for those persons on whom God shows special favour. No, the angels are praying for peace on earth for all people, for humanity on whom God’s favour rests.

Let us join our hearts and hands with the angels in praying for, and working for, peace on earth for all peoples, in all countries, all homes, all offices, all religions, all churches.

Secondly, it remains obvious that peace on earth remains elusive. The global pandemic exacerbates the despair caused by continuing violence and abuse in our world. We identify with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during a Christmas when the deadly American Civil War was claiming too many human lives. Longfellow wrote:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”1

Whilst the cynic that lurks within us threatens to overcome us with despair, let us pray that the Christ Child of Christmas will be born anew in all of our hearts; that we may not only not lose hope, but instead strengthen our hope in God’s promise of, and our desire for, peace on earth for all humanity.

So may we move, with Longfellow, beyond the despair caused by wars and pandemics, to receive and sing the hope of Christmas:

Then rang the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

May the Christ of Christmas, the Prince of Peace, grant us peace in the midst of this pandemic, and beyond.

1 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (1864)


Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020.
He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2012-2020.