FOR A VARIETY of reasons, this Christmas season has been a stressful one so far. Situations and circumstances have turned the time of year I usually associate with “ho ho ho” to one of “uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh.”
Which is pretty appropriate, really, when you consider the first Christmas. There was no room for the holy family in Bethlehem, and back home in Nazareth there were negative whispers about their situation. In Mary and Joseph’s human terms, Jesus’s arrival wasn’t great timing. However, in God’s view, it was perfect.
The first recipients of the news were scared by it: the angel of the Lord had to tell the shepherds, “Fear not” (Luke 2:9). He went on to offer them reassurance to pass on to others who might be similarly freaked out by their circumstances. Together with the heavenly host, he proclaimed “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
Clearly, from the way the rest of the story of Jesus’s life turned out, this peace wasn’t merely the lack of difficulty. Indeed, He reminded His followers that troubles were a part and parcel of everyday life on planet Earth (John 16:33).
And yet, as He prepared to face crucifixion, Jesus was able to tell His closest followers not to be afraid, nor to worry, because He was leaving them His peace (John 14:27). This was not the kind of peace the world gives, however, He went on.
So, what’s the difference?
Well, notice how the world searches for “peacekeepers”—folks who can stop bad things from happening. But God’s kingdom is all about “peacemakers,” or people who initiate good things.
Seems to me that the world’s peace is about absence and avoidance. Absence of problems at best. If not that, then at least the absence of overt conflict. Or absence from the challenges by checking out through denial, distraction, or dependency of some kind.
Jesus’s peace, in contrast, seems to be about presence. God’s presence. Knowing His stillness in the middle of the storm—just like when Jesus snoozed in the back of the boat while the disciples feared drowning was imminent.
Awakened to their distress, He knew that the circumstances that scared them—the waves—were not the real problem. The issue was the unseen cause—the wind. So He rebuked the wind, and then turned and spoke peace to the waves, commanding: “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39).
The result: “a great calm.”
May the same be yours this holiday season. If you find yourself battered and bruised, I hope you find the best Christmas present: His presence.