On the night of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. “Glory to God in the highest,” they proclaimed, “and on earth peace, good will toward men!” These days, many of us may think of peace and good will as rather abstract virtues. Nevertheless, they are the secret ingredient that give Christmas traditions their meaning.

Can you imagine trying to enjoy a special Christmas dinner in the middle of a family quarrel? Or receiving an expensive Christmas gift with a note scribbled on it, asking for its equivalent in return? A Christmas tradition may be followed for centuries, but it is the peace and good will behind the tradition that mean the most.

In the face of approaching deadlines, mounting stress, conflicts between coworkers, financial problems, family troubles and inner turmoil, where can we find this peace and good will that we long for? Although moments of relaxation and recreation can provide us with temporary relief, where can we find truly lasting inner peace and good will, that isn’t dependent on certain events or outward circumstances?

People living at the time of Jesus’ birth may have faced similar issues. It is not hard to imagine that on a lonely hillside, several ragged shepherds keeping watch over their sheep may have been contemplating their current situation in life: their poverty, the cold weather, the threat of wild animals, sicknesses of their children, their low status in their community, and wondered if they could ever hope for a better future.

The light that shone down from heaven that night brought the answer. The angels’ triumphant message of peace and good will was for those shepherds as it is for us today. Through Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we can find inner peace. A peace that enables us to stay calm in the midst of difficult circumstances in our uncertain world; a peace that comes from knowing that we have Someone who is always with us, loving us, encouraging us and guiding us through our unique path in life.

Through loving and connecting with Jesus, we find good will. Good will between ourselves and God. Good will that helps us to reach out to others. When the good will in our hearts is combined with practical action, it allows those we interact with to have a chance to feel a touch of Jesus’ love and concern.

Jesus’ love and the peace and good will He gives are at the heart of what makes Christmas meaningful. Without them, no other perfectly wrapped present would make much of a difference at all.