When I originally interrupted your Christmas with Hannah’s story I promised to look at Hope, Comfort, Peace, and Joy. We have already looked at Hope and Comfort so today I interrupt your day with some peace…
What is it about Christmas that tugs on our heartstrings more than any other holiday? I become filled with such a sense of nostalgia, trying to make new memories that are steeped in the traditions of the past. If there was any doubt about the sentimentality of Christmas, look at some of our most beloved Christmas songs, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know,” “Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” Back when snow and mistletoe were the only things we needed to make Christmas. Christmas specials on tv were special because they were on once a year, not playing on a continuously looping cable channel. Where have those days gone? We sing the songs and try to chase down the feelings that go with them, running from store to store after the elusive, trying to buy Christmas. It has become a watered down holiday that starts at Halloween and ends for so many people anti-climatically in an exhausted heap on Christmas morning. Did our mothers and grandmothers keep this pace or did they understand something that we don’t? The world today is a fast-paced, immediate gratification, need, need, need, bigger, newer, shinier place. But at Christmas, with a soundtrack featuring Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, I can close my eyes and picture my Norman Rockwell painting of Christmas. But the reality is more often a fighting, noisy, grouchy, to-much-to-do-not-enough-time production that stretches our patience and our bank accounts, accompanied to the tune of Dominic the Christmas Donkey. (How is that even a Christmas song by the way?) So how can we break through the chaos and the noise of this season and rediscover the wonder?
Here’s where it starts…
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)
A baby is born, but not just any baby, a baby who injects peace and joy and love into a broken and hurting world. When the angels sang about peace on earth that first Christmas night I have to wonder if they had any idea what kind of promise they were making.
You know, one of my very favorite times at Christmas is late at night, when everyone else is in bed. I love to sit in the rocking chair with the lights off, bathed in the soft glow of the Christmas tree. The quiet, calming peace wraps around me like a soft blanket. It stands in such sharp contrast to the bright merriment of the day and gives me an opportunity to reenergize my goodwill on days when its spread thin. CF Richardson said, “If peace be in the heart, the wildest winter storm is full of solemn beauty.” Christmas is kind of like that wild winter storm but if we have peace in our hearts, Christmas, even in all of its demanding chaos, is beautiful. The key is peace. And peace is found on this night, wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by farm animals, lying in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Is that what we do sometimes? Have we hung a no vacancy sign on our lives, whether or not we even realize it in our busyness and self-sufficiency? Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the obligatory visit to the manger, most often it happens on Christmas eve, but is it just a short layover between dinner and Santa or is it something more?
It is so easy to get caught up in doing Christmas the way the world tells us Christmas should be done and lost in the expectations that we put on ourselves to create the perfect holiday, that we don’t spend time kneeling at the manager, allowing ourselves the gift of peace.
I love Christmas, I love the traditions, the baking, the presents, I love Santa. I am not suggesting that we remove those things from our celebrations. If anything think about how much more beautiful they would be when infused with peace and a deeper purpose to the season. Peace on earth, come to us. If you find yourself stressed out, and in search of the ever elusive peace we sing about, then I would venture to say that you have hung that no vacancy sign.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. We don’t need to have an austere, stoic, fun-stripped, boring holiday, quite the contrary. Let me try to explain this in another way. I really, really, enjoy running. I didn’t always feel this way so I get that it might be a little bit sick. But let me share with you why I love running. I am at peace when I am running. The faster my feet the quieter my mind. This is where I worship my King, where I cry out to God my Father, where I find the centering force to remain at peace no matter what my crazy exterior or set of circumstances may look like. Peace, in my heart.
Don’t we all want that? Peace in the midst of the crazy? Peace that extends beyond Christmas day into our families, our marriages, our jobs? Peace from an illness. Peace from pain. Sometimes it feels like we are engaged in a great battle and all we want is a break, an opportunity to say “Time out!” so that we can catch our breath before re-engaging, especially during craziness of the holidays. Max Lucado says, “We cannot have the peace of God until we have peace with God.” Looking for peace without God is like trying to swim upstream, it is exhausting, a constant battle. We can’t fight our way to peace; it’s not something you “do.” This peace, a lasting heartfelt peace, is a gift from God.
“For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)