This year I’m going to pay close attention to celebrating Advent. I think that Advent could be a powerful tool to remind us of the real Christmas Message- Peace. Love. Joy. Messiah.
Ahhhhh, ‘peace’. As any good Evangelical, I know that ‘peace’ means calm, tranquil, quiet. Imagine the lake like glass up North. Or the loons calling at daybreak. How about a long walk in the woods just before sunset. Yes, the little baby Jesus came so that we could softly sing our Christmas Carols and watch the fireplace glow.
Wikipedia (and the rest of the world) say that “Peace is a state of harmony, the absence of hostility. This term is applied to describe a cessation of violent international conflict; in this international context, peace is the opposite of war. Peace can also describe a relationship between any parties characterized by respect, justice, and goodwill.”
Harmony, cessation of violence, justice, and goodwill stand out to me as I reflect on Luke 2:8-15.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The shepherds to whome the angels appeared were poor, common, marginalized folk- possibly even children. This fascinates me. In our day, wouldn’t you think the angels would appear at the Superbowl, the Whitehouse, or on CNN? Notice that the angels in Luke chapter two didn’t appear to Caesar or King Herod. Caesar always got all the big news, this message was for E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E.
I think that Peace is part of the Christmas message as one of God’s great dreams for mankind. But if peace is only calm, tranquil, and quiet, then we miss out on the bigger dream. And how would you understand peace differently in another person’s shoes?
Picture an Iraqi family that lives in the heart of Baghdad. Daily life feels hopeless to them as they fear suicide bomb attacks, US troop home raids, or Al Qaeda kidnappings. Survival is a part of every day. Every evening is spent listening and fearing. One night a man of great glory appears. He proclaims, “I have unbelievable news. A savior has been born for you. The violence will end. Harmony will be restored. Justice is coming. The Messiah will show us how to live. Glory to God in the highest, Peace and goodwill to all mankind!”
Picture a family in poverty stricken North Minneapolis. Five children, no health care. Thanksgiving dinner comes out of the microwave. Broken windows outpace the outdated furnace. Drug deals, prostitution, and gang violence hold the neighborhood captive. Survival is a part of every day. Sleep is interrupted by the slightest noise. One night a man of great glory appears. He proclaims, “I have unbelievable news. A savior has been born for you. The violence will end. Harmony will be restored. Justice is coming. The Messiah will show us how to live. Glory to God in the highest, Peace and goodwill to all mankind!”
Could you imagine their newfound feeling of hope when hearing those words?
Then I picture myself. I can hardly relate to the latter stories or the countless peaceless scenarios that we could come up with. My lack of peace is found in small things like getting pissed at a slow driver in front of me, arguing with people who disagree with me, anxiety, or depression. I still need the Peace of Jesus, but in a different way.
But I’m filled with empathy, compassion, and a desire to do something about the lack of Peace around me. I think that working for Peace in myself, in my neighborhood, and in the world around me is the best way to celebrate the Holidays. To me this work is the only good that could possibly come from my white middle-class American privilege. This is the Christmas message that melts away my cynicism and gives me hope for the future.
Peace to you, peace to the Middle East, peace to my Northside neighbors. And may God give us the resolve to join in proclaiming his dream for “peace on earth”.