On Earth, Peace

"The Blue Marble." Western Hemisphere. NASA photo.
Luke 2:1-14

Jim Moore, writing about our passage for this entry, begins by recounting an old Christmas legend. One day, God called the angels of heaven together for a special choir rehearsal. He told them He had a special song He wanted them to learn, a song that they would sing at a very significant event. The angels went to work on it. They rehearsed long and hard, with great focus and intensity. In fact, some of the angels grumbled a bit, but God insisted on a very high standard for His choir.

As time passed, the choir improved in tone, in rhythm, and in quality. Finally God announced that they were ready, but then, He surprised them by saying they would sing the song only once and only on one night. There would be just one performance of this great song they had worked on so diligently. Some of the angels protested saying, “the song is so extraordinarily beautiful and we have it down pat!” Surely, they could sing it many, many times. God only smiled and told them that when the time came, they would understand.

Then one night, God called them all together. He gathered them above a field just outside of Bethlehem. “It’s time,” God said to them. And the angels sang their song. Oh, and did they sing it! “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will to those on whom God’s favor rests.” And as the angels sang, they knew there would never be another night like this night, and there would never be another birth like this birth in Bethlehem.

When the angels returned to heaven, God reminded them that they would not formally sing that song again as an angelic choir, but if they wanted to, they could hum the song occasionally as individuals. One angel was bold enough to step forward and ask God why. Why couldn’t they sing that majestic anthem again? They did it so well. It felt so right. Why couldn’t they sing that great song anymore?

“Because,” God explained, “My Son has been born and now earth must do the singing!”

Once each year, Christmas comes around again to remind us of that: God’s Son has come to earth, and now we must do the singing! And look at how we have tried. Without question, one of the best and most beloved parts of the celebration of Christmas is the music! The good news of Christmas is so awe inspiring, so full of wonder, that it’s not enough to just talk about it. We have to burst forth in song. We have to sing it.

Think of all the powerful anthems of Handel and Beethoven and Mozart and Rutter and Bach. Think of all the beloved carols like O Little Town of Bethlehem, Joy to the World, The First Noel, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Silent Night.

A few days ago, I was in the car listening to a radio station that plays continuous Christmas music, and along came Natalie Cole’s rendition of “My Grown-up Christmas List.” I’ve heard the song a zillion times, but—for whatever reason, for the first time—I tried to sing along with it and the words really touched me.

In the song, singer Natalie Cole reminisces about how, when she was young, she sat on Santa’s knee and told him about her childhood fantasies. And then she sings about how now that she’s all grown up, she still has dreams, things she would like for Christmas, not just for herself, but for our very needy world. And then she offers her “Grown-up Christmas List”:

“Lives that won’t be torn apart
And wars will never start,
And time will heal the heart.
Everyone will have a friend
And right will always win,
And love will never end.
This (she sings) is my lifelong dream, My Grown-up Christmas List.”

The final line of that song is the longing for the peace of Christmas, and the place to find that peace is in the miracle of Bethlehem. When we go back to Bethlehem, we discover that real peace means being set right in all our relationships. It means being right with God, right with ourselves, and right with other people.

First of all, if we want to find the peace of Christmas, we need to be right with God. That’s the starting place because that is, indeed, what Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ came into this world to set us right with God. Jesus Christ came into the world to save us and to bring us back to God.

There was an elderly couple driving down the street one day. They were listening to the radio as the man maneuvered the car through the busy Christmas streets. As they listened to the beautiful music of Christmas, the wife became nostalgic and said, “Herbert, do you remember how, when we were younger, we used to sit so close together as we drove along? It was so wonderful back then. What happened?”
“I don’t know about that,” said Herbert, “All I know is that I haven’t moved.”

Well, Christmas comes each year to remind us that God is not the one who has moved away from us. No! We are the ones who move. We are the ones who drift away from Him.

One Saturday morning, a man took his 5-year-old son Christmas shopping. It was just a day or so before Christmas and the store was packed with shoppers. The man told his son to stay near him, to not wander off because he might so easily get lost in the crowd. After they had shopped together for a while, he was buying something for his wife at one of the department store counters. When he completed the purchase he looked back, and his little 5-year-old son wasn’t there. He’d drifted off! The man began to frantically search for his son. He called out to him; he rushed through the crowd looking for him everywhere, but no luck. He couldn’t find him. He moved quickly to the candy counter and then to the toy department. He must be there! But no, he wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Just as the man was about to go into a panic, he heard an announcement over the department store loudspeaker: “We have a lost boy here! If you’ve lost your little boy, please come to the service desk.” The man anxiously and hurriedly made his way there and, sure enough, there was his lost child! The reunion was one of great celebration with lots of hugs and words of love. They had been apart, but they had found each other again! They had been brought back together.

Now, think about this. The one who spoke over that loudspeaker, in a sense, served as a reconciler between the boy and his dad. They had gotten lost from each other because the little boy had wandered off, drifted away, but the one at the service desk got them back together again.

In the same sense, Christ has come to earth to get us back together with God who made us and who loves us. That’s what the word Emmanuel means in our text: God with us! God comes in the Christ Child to seek and save the lost. That’s what Christmas is all about. This is the only way we can have the peace of Christmas. The only way is to let the Christ of Christmas bring us back to the Father who loves us so we may be set right with the One who made us.

The first step toward the peace of Christmas is to be set right with God.

Second, we need to be right with ourselves, if we want to find the peace of Christmas. More and more psychologists are telling us that we can’t feel good about life and other people until we feel good about ourselves.

Have you heard the story about the man who wrote a letter to the Internal Revenue Service? It read: “Dear Sirs: I underpaid my tax bill for last year. I can’t sleep at night and my conscience is bothering me. Enclosed please find $600.” He then added a P.S.: “If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.”

Some years ago when Rick Pitino was the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, he did a noteworthy thing (at least noteworthy in this day and age.) He suspended three of his star players and wouldn’t let them play in one of the most crucial games of the season. The reason: he had noticed them laughing and snickering as they watched the film of the previous Saturday’s game.

What was so funny? He studied them and he noticed that they were always laughing when one of the Kentucky players was shooting a free throw, a foul shot. Suddenly, he realized what was so funny to them.

They had tricked the referees and the other team by slipping someone to the foul line who had not been fouled. In other words, one player had been fouled, but another player (who was a better foul shooter) had slipped to the line to take the shots—a clear violation of the rules of basketball.

Coach Pitino said that the players thought it was all a big joke, that they had put something over on the officials and their opponents, but Pitino didn’t think it was a laughing matter so, to make his point, he suspended three of his best players and made them sit out of a very important conference game. “They’ll never do that again,” said the coach, “and they’ll never joke about that again. I want to win games for sure, but I also want my players to know the meaning of integrity.”

Let me ask you something: do you know the importance of  integrity and honesty and ethics and virtue and morality? Do you feel good about your life right now? Do you feel good about who you are? Let me underscore a point right now that is so full of Christmas: the only way we can be at peace with ourselves is to welcome the Prince of Peace into our hearts and lives. The only way we can be right with ourselves is to be made right by Him.

One of the best gifts we can give our loved ones at Christmas this year is to be at peace within. If we want to find the peace of Christmas, then we must be right with God and we must be right with ourselves.

Third, and finally, if we want to find the peace of Christmas, we must be right with other people.

Perhaps you’ve seen those kooky headbands that have mistletoe above them on a spring. When you wear them, everywhere you go, you’re under the mistletoe. Do you know where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe came from? Actually, it came from the Druids in northern Europe. They believed mistletoe had curative power and could heal lots of things including separation between people. So when two enemies happened to meet under an oak tree with mistletoe hanging above them, they took it as a sign that they should drop their weapons and reconcile. They would drop their animosities and embrace one another under the mistletoe.

When missionaries moved into northern Europe they saw this mistletoe custom as a perfect symbol for what happened to the world at Christmas. At Christmas a new day dawned, it was a time of peace, a time of healing, a time of reconciliation, a time for embracing one another.

If you want to have a “peace-full” Christmas, go in the spirit of love and do all—in your power—to fix those broken relationships in your life. If you are alienated or estranged or cut off or at odds with any other person, go in the spirit of Christmas and make peace. You may be rebuffed but you will, at the very least have made the effort. Don’t put it off any longer. Drop your pride, drop your resentment, drop your grudges, and go set it right. Go and God will go with you. That’s what mistletoe is about and that’s what Christmas is about.

God comes to us in the Christ Child so that we might be set right with God, set right with ourselves, and set right with other people.

I pray you may find the peace of Christmas.
"The Blue Marble." Eastern Hemisphere. NASA photo.

(Note: this meditation was constructed from materials I have collected over the years. I have attempted to provide appropriate attribution, but may not have credited all sources. I apologize for any errors of omission.)

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