For some of you, this will be easy enough. Life is going well, and you have much to be joyful about at this time of year. Perhaps you will be surrounded by family and friends with food and drink and presents and lots of love. Yet some of you may not find it so easy to adopt. Life for you may not be marked by happiness, but rather sorrow, or stress, or anxiety, or fear, or loneliness, or anger, or… Christmas is for everybody, and the peace Christmas brings is available for everybody, too.
The very first Christmas – when Jesus was born – was an extremely tumultuous time for Jesus’ parents and all Jewish people in Israel. Their country hadn’t been their own for hundreds of years, which left them in a perpetual state of anxiety about the future. They believed God to be faithful, however, and that God was loving and graceful. As they hoped in God’s future for them, they discovered that peace comes alongside even in times of great uncertainty. The uncertainty was still there, but it did not rob them of their life. That’s peace.
Mary, the heroine of the Christmas story, also faced tremendous challenges. While we often focus on the blessing of being the mother of Jesus, the reality for her was that she was told her world was going to turn upside down. She was going to become pregnant apart from her fiancé, and that God was somehow involved in the process. Thrown into the role, she would face the scorn of her family and friends as they would struggle to believe her story (even though it was true). Peace comes alongside even when we feel conscripted, however, into roles we wouldn’t necessarily choose. As she sought God’s help, her role and struggle continued, but so did peace. That’s really hopeful if we feel like we’ve had to accept a life we didn’t sign up for. It’s not the end of us. We can still live with peace, because God is still with us.
Joseph was humiliated at the Christmas story’s beginning. By all appearances, his bride to be stepped out on him. Even though he was told by an angel that Mary was to be believed, he still had to live through what everyone thought and said. He probably felt emasculated. In trusting God, however, Joseph found that peace comes alongside even when we’ve been humiliated. Maybe you’re in a season of humiliation. Trust God, and get through it with peace.
Living nativity scenes paint a romantic glaze over the actual “birthing room” where Jesus entered the world. It was likely a cave where filthy animals ate, slept, and did their business – the last place anybody would choose for a clean, peaceful setting for childbirth. Peace comes alongside even when conditions are unhospitable, however, which we gather from the rest of the story. In that “mean estate” the presence of God powerfully came, which implies that our circumstances do not indicate or dictate God’s presence. God is present everywhere, no matter how dire things seem or how difficult the situation. Peace is.
The shepherds watching their flocks by night drew the short straw – nobody wanted the graveyard shift. It was boring, lonely, cold, and monotonous. A lousy job. Peace comes alongside even the most mundane situations, however, as was the case that first Christmas night. As they returned to their boring jobs that night, they kept connected to God, and stayed in Peace.
Wise men from a distant land who were always studying the heavens saw the signs and followed a star that led them to discover Jesus’ birth. As wealthy aristocrats, they were well aware of the complex and often ugly geopolitical forces at play in the world. They even experienced those pressures as they looked for the child they traveled to honor with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Peace comes alongside even the worst geopolitical contexts, however. These highly educated men traveled back home, and the ugly political realities remained. Yet peace stayed with them, too, as they stayed in tune with God.
Even though we may at times feel despair, or conscripted, or humiliated, or miserable in our circumstance, or like we’re dying of mundanity, or fearful of the political climate, the message of Christmas tells us that peace is there as well. Jesus was a physical representation of “God with us”. Alongside of us no matter what. There to give us hope, purpose, strength, comfort, encouragement, and direction, whether you are on top of the world, down in the dumps, or somewhere in between.
May you embrace the peace of Christmas. May you find the peace that is there, here, everywhere, then, now, and forevermore.