What do the words “Christmas peace” mean to you? The first thing that pops to my mind is the song “Silent Night.”
“All is calm, all is bright.”
“Sleep in heavenly peace.”
Christmas peace sounds wonderfully…peaceful.
Yet if you think of the story of Christ's birth as it’s told in the Gospels, it’s hard to find the heavenly peace of “Silent Night.” There’s actually a lot of cause for fear and anxiety. We have an unwed teenage mother who could, under the law, be stoned. We have her fiancé who is—to say the least—embarrassed. We’ve also got huge crowds traveling around an empire supervised by armed Roman troops, a human baby born in the unsanitary setting of a stable, a bunch of shepherds who fall on their faces in fear, three crazy men who travel great distances through deserts and over mountains to follow a star, and an insecure king who wants to find that little baby and kill him.
And if all that weren’t enough, it’s tax time.
Still, on the second Sunday in Advent, we light another candle and celebrate Christmas peace.
When Isaiah prophesied the birth of Jesus, he said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
When that child grew up, He told His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
For Joseph and Mary, heavenly peace came to them in the midst of chaos and danger because they trusted God. As Christians, our peace is found in Jesus, but the world keeps intruding on that peace, and our hearts are troubled and we are afraid.
We experience a lot of stress during the holidays. For many of us, though, that stress is artificial. We worry about buying the right gifts, finding time to bake and wrap and decorate, and fighting the crowds at Best Buy to get whatever i-gadget we absolutely must have under the tree because little Billy's Christmas will be ruined without it!
For others, however, the stress of the season is so very real. Perhaps someone is celebrating the season for the first time without a loved one...or the second or third or tenth time...and the pain of grief is fresh and sharp. Perhaps someone is suffering an illness or watching a loved one suffer. Perhaps a family is falling apart. Perhaps the economic recovery hasn't come to someone who is still under-employed or unemployed.
Real pain, real suffering...made worse by everyone else's joy.
How can we help those who are suffering during the holidays and throughout the year? Well, that stressed-out, dangerous first Christmas gives us a huge clue.
Notice how no one that first Christmas was left alone. An angel comes to Mary to prepare her. She has a belly buddy in her aunt Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the boy John who will grow up to prepare the way for the Messiah. Joseph stands by Mary's side through pregnancy and birth, and he flees to Egypt with her and the baby to escape Herod. The Heavenly Host appears to a number of shepherds who go together to see the baby and go out to share the good news together. Those crazy wise men have each other's backs.
No one is alone.
Every Christian is called to be with and support others in their pain. Sometimes, though, people worry about saying the wrong thing or being overwhelmed by other people's suffering. The worst, most hurtful thing you can do is ignore someone in pain.
Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. A priest and a Levite walked past a beaten, bleeding, naked man, but a Samaritan--his enemy--stopped and cared for him. How awful that victim must have felt watching his own people walk past and ignore him, and how relieved he must have been when his enemy stopped and helped.
If you're worried about following Paul's charge to mourn with those who mourn, it might help to remind yourself that it isn't your job to fix their pain or make their problems go away. Your job is to be with people in love and kindness, to listen, and to encourage.
You can help.
When you're the one who's hurting, please be open and willing to accept help from others. By doing so, you bless them far more than they bless you. When you refuse help or shut out kindness, you deny others that blessing of service.
That's part of the miracle of Christmas peace. Blessings abound and rebound and pop up unexpectedly, no matter the circumstances. When we choose to be a part of those blessings, when we trust Jesus, we find Christmas peace.
Christ's peace be with you today, this season, and always.