Updated: Nov 18, 2019
I’ve heard the Christmas messages on TV and social media through recent days. They intimate that the message of peace lies in the Christmas story. I’ve heard it too from busy shoppers, bemoaning their lot as stressed and sweaty from their efforts, even in the middle of winter, they hurry to buy the advertised accessories to peace.
We moan about commercialism, but it doesn’t stop us from joining in, big time. We scurry, along with everyone else, to buy last minute presents, and make sure we have enough food! Enough food! I think these kinds of scurriers generally have enough food.
The message of peace comes from the child in the manger…
I used to think that. I used to say it too, but I don’t believe it anymore.
Peace doesn’t lie in the manger. It never has.
For the first time in 4 years, the courageous Christians of Aleppo last week celebrated Christmas with carols and a tree in the midst of the city. A city at war and almost destroyed. And the peace? Where was it?
Julie Baird speaks of the God for whom we celebrate Christmas as a naked, poor, newborn refugee. She speaks of God coming with the utter absence of power. Read her perceptive words here
Despite the lights and the carols and the warm, fuzzy feelings, the big surprises and the hope for a better day this time, there are wars and rumours of war. Anger. Hatred. Fury. Despair. Starvation. Loss. Broken hearts. Depression. Fear.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a powerful commentary on Christmas. It’s not on the hit parade of carols, yet its capacity to address the ongoing issues of Christmas has so much impact. Check out the words as he writes of carols drowned out by canon fire.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men! It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Longfellow wrote these words after experiencing one of the worst seasons of his life. His son had run away from home to join the Union to fight, becoming permanently disabled from his wounds, Longfellow becoming his carer. His dearly loved wife was badly burned in a fire and died as a result. He had his fair share of broken hearted Christmases, not to mention the war that was raging at that time.
It’s not your average carol, but maybe we have an unreal idea of Christmas. So many families have one less seat at the table, facing the first, or second or third Christmas without one they never imagined not being with at Christmas. Many people are alone, and not of their own doing. They listen to all the Christmas cheer around them, the plans others have made to be together, and wish it was December 27. Some are battling with health issues that override the festivities, and many are just plain over it, more worried about refugees and gunfire and whether homeless people are sheltered.
Maybe we have an unreal idea of Christmas, which is why we fight so darn hard to make it be what its publicity says it should be.
Jesus was born into a world at war. Jerusalem was occupied by a foreign power and his parents were forced to escape to Egypt to keep him safe. Not so fortunate were the hundreds of other mothers and fathers whose baby boys were murdered by a despotic ruler, determined to ensure his continued rule over his nation.
Peace on earth?
Peace cannot be found on the outside.
It is not resident in a celebration, even the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. Peace is not encased in religious rites or seasonal holidays. It’s not found in lots of money spent on family and friends and food.
Peace is an inside job. It can only be found in the heart and if it is not found there, it can not be found.
Only when Jesus, the Prince of Peace, takes centre stage in any heart, does peace become a reality that lasts every day of the year.
IMAGE FROM VISTAVISION