As we look at the candle of hope, the candle of love, and now the candle of peace, Let us hold fast to the words of the Lord who said, “The days are surely coming when I will fulfill my promise to my people. Justice and righteousness will fill the land, and all will live in peace and safety.”
In the glow of this light, I am reminded that God’s peace is available for those who want it. And who wouldn’t want peace in their life? Some peace and quiet? Or peace of mind, knowing that you have whatever it takes to get through the difficult times. Tis’ the season to put our peace to the test. As we hustle for the last-minute gift or make our way home for the holidays…peace can be in short supply.
Since October 9, 2001 I have spent an enormous amount of time and energy searching for peace in my life. That was the day Fiona was born. The day was amazing. That first night, not so much. As most babies do, screamed and cried for most it. And to be honest, she hasn’t stopped since.
I imagine Jesus came into the world screaming and crying. It’s good for a newborn to let out some big bellows at birth - filling their lungs with their first big breaths of life. Through Jesus, God continues to scream divine life into a world that is anything but peaceful. No matter what you’re facing today, God’s peace is yours if you want it.
READ: Matthew 2:13-23
Like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph is a dreamer. However, his dreams are really more like nightmares. In the first dream Joseph is warned that King Herod wants to kill his son. And he knows Herod has both the authority, and the means to do it without impunity.
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When Joseph awakes, the nightmare isn’t over. In a frenzy to get out of Bethlehem as fast as they can, Joseph hustles to gather their belongings and whatever supplies he can get his hands on before the gates of the city shut. In this moment, I imagine Jesus is restless as babies often are. I suspect Mary is sleep deprived as nursing mothers tend to be. And I am sure Joseph’s body tenses up every time a soldier passes by as they make their way to Egypt to escape a politically motivated hit job.
They escape just in time. Before them is the great unknown. Behind them the land darkens with the blood of innocent children. Echoing across the sky are the inconsolable cries of wailing mothers who fell victim to the injustice of an insecure and out of control king. Where is the peace and good will the angels promised the night Jesus was born?
Robert Gundry suggests it’s on its way because the one who is to usher peace into the world has escaped. This is the Kingdom of God. And in this kingdom Christ will reign. There will be no more murder or violence perpetrated ever again. Peace is coming, but we have to wait.
I know how hard it is to find peace when you’re rushing to make your connecting flight or taking your final exams or looking for a parking space at the mall.
But what about Mary? How did she find peace knowing her son was in danger? It’s a mother’s job to worry about her children – but she shouldn’t have to flee from her home to save their lives.
Or Joseph? Still a teenager himself, he has to protect his family in a foreign country. Peace is hard to find when you’re afraid or can’t find a job because you don’t speak the local language.
Jesus understands the plight of the refugee because his life began as a refugee. He knows our pain and suffering firsthand, because his body still bears the scars of human cruelty. Jesus spent his life moving from one danger to the next. Through it all, he embodied God’s perfect peace by practicing a ministry of kindness, mercy and radical inclusion of all people.
Where’s the peace we all seek? The same place it’s always been since the beginning of time - in the Christ, the very heart of God.
While in Egypt, Joseph has his second dream. Herod is dead. And the family can return home to Judea. As a father, I understand why Joseph hesitates to go back. Herod’s son is in charge now. And a rotten apple never falls far from the tree.
Joseph’s fear is confirmed in a third dream which sends the Holy Family further north to Galilee. They will make their home in the town of Nazareth, a despised place in Jewish lore. For nearly thirty years, God will hide Jesus in an area where nothing good ever seems to come.
The bible doesn’t give us much info about those years, outside one story in Luke’s gospel when Jesus is twelve. But the way I see it, if God can protect this baby from hurt, harm, and danger, from even the most despicable people in the despised places, so too will God protect you in whatever uncertainty or nightmare you’re facing today. Through the birth of Jesus, peace has come. And by his resurrection we know that peace will come again.
As we wait for Christmas, for Christ to be born in a dark and smelly stable, we do so by standing outside the dark and empty tomb of Easter. It was there peace greeted Mary who ran off to proclaim the good news. And it’s here today if you want it. What the world isn’t able to give you, Jesus is able, and willing.
By living out a radical, all-inclusive love, Jesus showed us how to walk peacefully in a troubled world. It’s up to you and me to see and do as Jesus did, so peace can prevail. It’s up to us to embrace love like it is the most powerful weapon we have at our disposal. If we want to feel God’s peace in our hearts, we need to be the light of God’s hope, God’s love, and God’s peace in the world for one another.
This week, a pastor friend of mine in Massachusetts touched on a similar note when he posted his Christmas wish list on Facebook. He wrote,
In our hearts let us plant peace, and with our hands let us manifest it in the world today. As you go out into the world today, I offer you the words of St. Paul who said, “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
Special thanks to Dr. John Tamilio III for his words posted to Facebook on Dec. 12, 2019.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 1. (Westminster John Knox: 2010) pp.164-169.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”