Every morning, I read the news. Bad news so often that I have almost become numb to and immobilized by it all. The violence and turmoil are overwhelming. So many are suffering, so many hearts are broken, and so many are grieving losses that are more painful than they can endure.
O, Lord, where is your peace?
As we reflect on the old, old story, and as we creep ever closer to the manger, the question resounds: where is peace on earth? We sing about it. We read Scriptures that promise it. We long for it. We search for it.
Sometimes we grasp just a bit of it, but it seems to slip away into the frenetic, painful, relentless rhythm of the world just as quickly as it came.
We are overwhelmed by what we see and hear in the world around us. We feel buried by our endless to-do lists. We feel disappointed when things don’t measure up to our expectations. We experience loss, grief, and heartbreak, all while we sing about silent and holy nights, where all is calm, peaceful, and bright.
When we sing about peace while peace seems far away, have we missed the point? Are we refusing to face reality?
Or, could it be that in our defiant songs of peace we realize something paramount about peace: that peace will have the final word, even when it seems temporarily defeated.
Every year I watch A Charlie Brown Christmas with my husband and two kids. Every year, while the jazz music plays and while the Peanuts kids plan their pageant that is going all wrong, and Charlie Brown seems to be ruining everything including the Christmas tree, I re-learn something about peace on earth.
Charlie Brown yells out in frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” And then, in perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie, Linus steps into a dimly lit spotlight to tell the story of Christmas.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not.'”
And then, Linus does something I had never noticed until recently: he lets go of his security blanket.
“‘…for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.'”
In the frenzy of putting together the program and through the sadness and frustration Charlie Brown feels as he struggles with what Christmas means, Linus quotes Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. The story of Christmas didn’t erase the sadness, but for a brief moment, the light of peace shone through.
And Linus let go of his blanket.
Do not be afraid. Even though peace seems far away and darkness seems to be covering over us, do not be afraid. And somehow, though there is still chaos in the world, though there are still things that may make us afraid, we are able to rest in God’s peace and lay down the desperate pursuit of security of our own making, even if only for a moment.
And on earth peace. Peace where there was no peace.
Peace to the shepherds who were afraid in the presence of God’s messenger.
Peace to Mary and Joseph who had been searching for shelter to no avail.
Peace to a world where Caesar was counting all his people to show his strength.
Peace to those who would soon have to live in fear of Herod’s order that all boys under the age of two be killed.
How can there be peace in moments like these? Where can we find peace on earth when everything seems to be falling apart?
The heavenly host praised God, saying, “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” The word translated “whom he favors” has also been translated as “goodwill” toward people. What does this mean?
Scholars have wrestled with how best to interpret this phrase, and of utmost concern has been what is meant by “goodwill”or “favor.” It has been argued that perhaps the “favor” in this passage is meant to highlight the compassion and goodness of God, rather than the necessity of people to behave well enough to be favored.
Only one chapter later, Luke uses a form of this same word at the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended like a dove. A voice from heaven said of Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Luke 2, peace on earth is promised to those “on whom God’s favor rests,” and in Luke 3, we see God’s extension of that peace to the world in the person of Jesus.
Into the pain and brokenness of the world, God opened the heavens and made a way for peace. And, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we have been embraced in the peace of God through union with Christ. Though the world may be groaning, and the violence seemingly unrelentless, and our heartache like an endless tunnel, somehow God gives peace to the world – peace to us – through Jesus.
We didn’t want to make room for him. We turned him away at every opportunity, but when a room wasn’t found, a stable would do. Meager lodging for God’s gift of peace to us, but somehow it was enough.
May we find the courage to draw close to the manger and behold God’s gift of peace on earth, and in beholding Peace, may we allow ourselves to be caught up in its dance, even if only for a moment.