Monday, December 03, 2012

peace and the Christmas crazies


8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
      14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth
           peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:8-15

Peace is one of those holiday buzzwords. You’ll find it on the front of countless Christmas cards; you’ll see it in big, red, inflatable letters in your neighbor’s yard. It’s from the story of the angel appearing the shepherds in Luke 2, but it’s vague enough when taken out of context that everyone, Christian or not, can get on board with it. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men! That’s something we can all agree on.

And sometimes it really seems like the Christmas season can bring out the best, most peaceable qualities in all of us. You hear stories about Christmas time in the trenches of World War I, when soldiers, for just one day, would stop fighting, maybe even share some rations together. Of course, on December 26th the bullets would start flying again, and the blood would start flowing again. Maybe the world hasn’t seen the kind of peace the angels were talking about yet.

Personal peace can be hard to find in the Christmas season too. Shopping, decorating, travelling—it can all be pretty stressful, pretty crazy. I’m sure a lot of children miss the peace of Christmas day while they’re speeding from Christmas lunch with Mom’s side of the family to try and catch Christmas dinner with Dad’s folks. Or the kids won’t leave you at peace until they know that you know the difference between this video game and that one, this doll and the other one. There can be all sorts of pressure on us around Christmas.
And maybe it’s not the family and friends we’re celebrating with who deflate our peace. It could be the ones we aren’t celebrating with, the people we’ve already had our last Christmas with. The ghosts seem to wake up around the holidays, stirring memories and making old woes new again. There’s just no peace to be had.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…
Where’s the peace to be found?

I have no doubt that the peace we couldn’t find in the trenches is going to elude us until Christ’s second Advent to the world, when all things are made new, and all wars cease. That’s the day when the ghosts and loss will finally fall silent too—when we’ll know the peace of eternal life, with no more mourning or crying or pain, and all of God’s people will worship Him together in the Kingdom. There is some peace that only Jesus can really bring. And he will.

But what about that special Christmas busyness and anxiety? What about the personal peace this holiday above all can wrestle away from us?

One of the great devotional books in all Church history is The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. In the book, during a long, imaginary dialogue between Jesus and a disciple, Christ offers to teach “the way of true peace” to his followers. He goes on:
Try, my child, to do the will of another rather than your own. Always choose to have fewer riches rather than more. Always seek the lowest place and desire to be subject to all. Always wish for and pray that the will of God be accomplished in you. Such a person enters into the abode of true peace and inward rest.

This Christmas season, I hope you can find some peace. Not in presents or good food, or even in loving company, but in following Jesus—denying yourself, taking up the cross, and following. On that road, whatever else happens, you can know that your real aims and desires are being fulfilled. God’s using you as a light to the world. Give all your other worries and fears and anxieties to Jesus. Then you can rest easy in the busyness and hurry because none of the Christmas crazy will keep the Father from using you to shine that light of his love and peace to others.

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