Advent Week 4: Peace - Defiantly Peaceful
Written by Caleb Thomas
I’ve never witnessed a baby being born. One day Sydnie and I hope to have kids of our own, but for now I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the subject. Still, after some “intensive” research gathered through conversations with friends and family as well as scenes from movies, I conclude that birthing a child is probably not the most physically pleasant for the mother. Thank you for coming to my TED talk…
Obviously giving birth is painful! Even with modern medicine this remains a universal truth. Not only is the actual birthing event painful, but the build up and aftermath of giving birth are too. Ever since Genesis when God said to Eve “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” (Genesis 3:16 NIV) we have known this to be true. It’s for this reason that I have a problem with many people’s conception of Jesus’ birth.
If, like me, your vision of Jesus’ birth was shaped by your childhood growing up with a nativity set atop the mantle each year from December 1st through 31st, you too may have fallen victim to the ploys of Big Christmas. Big Christmas, the annual institution established by mega corporations to capitalize on the birth of Jesus. They would have you believe that Jesus was born into a family of talking vegetables, teddy bears, or even rubber duckies! More significantly, the proponents of Big Christmas would have you think that the birth of Jesus was an idyllic portrait of the forces of nature coming together to awe over the arrival of a newer, smaller figurine.
All jokes aside and to avoid the risk of being excommunicated for dissing veggie tales, I want to explain my perspective of what happened during The Nativity.
Joseph and Mary are exhausted by their multi-day journey and had anxiously looked for an open room yet were forced to bunk with animal roommates. (Luke 2:1-6 NIV)
Jesus is born and Mary endures all of the pain a mother goes through during labor. (Again, Genesis 3:16 NIV)
Sometime later, the shepherds arrive to see baby Jesus and I imagine Joseph and Mary to be initially alarmed at the sight of several hairy, unbathed men wanting to see their child. (Luke 2:8-18 NIV)
Later an angel of the Lord tells Joseph in a dream to flee down to Egypt because Jesus is a fugitive of the king. (Matthew 2:13-15 NIV)
I can’t speak for you, but I read the story of Jesus’ birth and struggle to feel that peace is a central feeling. What about the circumstance of Jesus’ birth would signal that Joseph and Mary were, as the Google dictionary describes peace, “free from disturbance”?
That’s when I realize I need to rethink what my understanding of peace is. When I think about peace, my mind creates an image of a solitary monk somewhere on an isolated cliff overlooking a tranquil valley. Incense is burning, birds are occasionally chirping, there’s a waterfall in the distance, all is well.
Conversely, Jesus says “[I]n me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV). He does not say, “In your uninterrupted plans you may have peace”, or “In your relationships with your family you may have peace”, or even “In your financial success you may have peace”. Instead, Jesus acknowledges that there will be hardships we face in this world. There were hardships that surrounded Jesus’ own birth! Yet we know that amidst these and our own hardships He remains our “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV).
If Jesus himself is peace, we can rest knowing that regardless of the situation of His birth, peace reigned. And just as peace reigned when Jesus was born in a manger, peace reigns in the presence of Jesus today. Jesus is Peace, not a result of privileged circumstance or of your own doing. Peace is the Spirit’s presence (John 14:26-27 NIV) and we can’t obtain true or lasting peace without the Spirit of Jesus.
It’s not Big Christmas's fault that many people like me have misconstrued the source of peace in The Nativity as coming from the circumstances of Jesus’ birth instead of Jesus himself. In fact, Big Christmas is right in showing the nativity scene in a peaceful way, with its innocent-looking dolls, because it was a peaceful event. Whenever Jesus officially arrived on Earth, there for the first time people could be in the presence of true peace, peace Himself. From that point on, every person Jesus interacted with would get a taste of this peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).
If you’re anything like me, Christmas can be a season where the traditions of our culture and environment distract you from celebrating Jesus. You may be caught up with buying gifts, decorating, or planning time with friends or family. You may be fretting seeing a family member or dreading the annual reminder that a loved one won’t be with you around the dinner table on Christmas day. Whatever your individual circumstance may be, however uncomfortable or brutal, we are encouraged to seek Jesus to find peace. I exhort you as I exhort myself to draw near to Jesus Christ so that we may know peace in whatever setting we find ourselves this Christmas season.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16 NIV).