Today is Christmas Day, the date we spend a month anticipating and celebrating. A day that marks the giving of God’s gift to us – Jesus – as well as gifts we may not have realized we were given by other characters in his birth narrative. While our focus is appropriately on God’s gift to us in Jesus, there have been many, many others in the Christmas story who gave us a gift, too. We need to take note of their attitude and behavior, because it just might make all the difference in our personal lives, our community of friends and relatives, and even all of humanity. After all, because the characters in the first Christmas story gave, we have been impacted along with the entire world and its history.
Mary was told that the Prince of Peace was on his way, which required quite a bit from her to pull off! Her magnificent response, in fact, makes it clear that she realized the peace wasn’t just for her, but for the whole world. Obviously, she realized that a lot was required of her to bring this peace to the whole world. When asked if she would join in what God was doing, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38). Peace was a verb for Mary. Action to receive the peace. Action to move it forward.
Joseph also had a tall order to fill. While not nearly as physically demanding as Mary’s role, his call was extremely emotionally challenging. At times, he surely must have felt humiliated. Yet he also understood that the peace that was coming was worth it not only for him, but for the entire world. After hearing the angel’s pitch in a dream, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25). Peace was a verb for Joseph. Action to receive the peace. Action to move it forward.
The shepherds heard the unexpected news that night from an angelic choir. To see the Prince of Peace for themselves required some effort – what to do with all the sheep? It was not easy for them to get there. When they left the scene, however, they naturally continued in their activity. “The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them” (Luke 2:20). In order for anybody else to have any clue about the peace that had come required someone to share the news with them. Peace was a verb for the shepherds. Action to receive the peace. Action to move it forward.
After Jesus was born, astrologers from the East visited Bethlehem – Magi, or Wise Men due to their education and social status. Once again, in order for them to experience the peace of Christmas, they had to do something to embrace it. At great expense in their case. When they left, they also intuited that they needed to be wise in how they moved the message of Christmas peace forward. After their visit, “they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod” (Matthew 2:12) . Going another route when they were told to return to Herod required risk on their part. Peace was a verb for the Wise Men. Action to receive peace. Action to move it forward.
We do not generate the peace – it comes from God as a gift. To enjoy the peace requires us to open the gift. It could be that we have not yet experienced the peace of God because we’ve done absolutely nothing to welcome it. Often it is as simple as being open to the gift and receiving it. It’s always there, like blue skies above the clouds. I believe that it can be found, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Have you received the Christmas gift of peace?
We just noticed that peace was a verb for the Christmas story characters. And it needs to be with us as well. The world will not know that the peace is available unless someone makes the effort to get the word out. Paul understood this when he stated as much to the church in Rome: “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 NLT). Action is required if we hope to see peace in our world and the whole world. We cannot expect anything to change if we do nothing to help it change. We cannot blame God – God has always been cooperative, calling us to join God in bringing peace into the world.
How will peace be a verb for you? What act of chesed (lovingkindness) can you offer someone with your words or deeds? How can you be a peaceful presence where there is hostility? Who or what situations can you pray for where peace is desperately needed? Who can you hug? Who needs a cup of hot chocolate? Who needs a phone call or note? Who doesn’t have a voice that could use yours for their very survival? Who needs an apology from you? Who needs forgiveness from you? Who needs time from you? Who needs your ear? Who needs your back? All of these are examples of what it looks like when peace is a verb, when we put legs on shalom. On this day, as you rejoice in the peace that has been given you, may you recognize the inherent invitation to move it forward as so many have since the very first Christmas morning.