It wasn’t the kind of scene one would expect with the birth of a King. A couple entering a small town, the only place available a barn behind an inn. A manger for a birth place. The first visitors were the ones least expected to greet a King: lowly shepherds who have neglected their duty to see the thing told to them by angels. It is all very different than what I would have plotted out.
Soon after his birth, he was visited by others: Magi and Astrologers from the East, a pseudonym for Babylon or Assyria, and what we know as Iraq and Iran today. These weren’t the kind of people who would have met the approval of the religious leaders of that day.
And then the violence. Herod ordering the death of all boys under two just to protect his own throne. Joseph and Mary fleeing to the place where Israel had been enslaved for 400 years, where again many first born died when the Pharoah had hardened his heart. These events don’t fit with the images we seek to celebrate and portray today.
The baby who was born that day lived the rest of his earthly life that way—contrary to that which the culture of the day would have expected from a King, a promised Messiah, a leader. He openly took on the religious leaders in power and challenged some of their core understandings, especially in regards to their expectations for the Messiah.
The expectation of the Messiah was that he would bring a new peace to them, victory over their oppressors so a new peace could reign. And yet in Matthew 10, he quotes the Old Testament prophet Micah when he says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth. I didn’t come to bring peace. I came to bring a sword. I have come to turn, “ sons against their fathers. Daughters will refuse to obey their mothers. Daughters-in-law will be against their mothers-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own family.”
Our lives today are in many ways caught in the same paradox.
We want peace in our lives to be a freedom from disturbance; we hope for quiet and tranquility. And yet we feel busier and our lives are far from tranquil, filled instead with noise and anxiety.
We pray for freedom from, or the cessation of, war and violence. And yet we are inundated with news of violence and death. San Bernardino and Paris are just the latest names to symbolize the violence of terrorism. I don’t want to see another image of a young child dead on a beach, it is all too overwhelming.
And yet the Angel’s call to the Shepherds on the hill side that evening was, “May glory be given to God in the highest heaven! And may peace be given to those He is pleased with on earth!”
In the gospel of John we get a sense that the peace that comes to us is different than tranquility or freedom from violence: “I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you. I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid.” The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans indicates a difference in definition also, “We have been made right with God because of our faith. Now we have peace with him because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again in Ephesians Paul gives us another glimpse, “Christ himself is our peace…
As you make your way through the busy schedule of Advent and all its activities, as you deal with the stress and anxiety of the things to come, I urge you to focus on the place where you will find true peace. Focus on the Son, know that in him is found true peace.
As I was writing this piece, a respected colleague of my mine sent me the link to a blog from 2010, written by Kevin Gesch, that gets at my sentiments, “The good news, the “what can I make of these events” is that Christ came, and still comes—especially to these awful, horrific places. In my world, Christ doesn’t most clearly come to a gilt-Hilton or a cozy Bed and Breakfast (though I suppose he certainly could…), he crawled through death and filth and to bring healing and cleansing. That’s what Christmas is. Praise God that Christ still comes.”
As you celebrate Christmas this year, find your peace and hope that Christ the King comes to us each and every day fully present in our lives, in all circumstances, and it is in His presence that true peace is found. Truly, Immanuel, God with us, is our full experience of peace.