Terrorism coming to our cities, political posturing while solutions evade us, and religious profiling amid accusations of racial hatred…
Oh, and “peace on earth, good will toward men”. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it?
That famous tagline of Christmas, copyrighted by God 2000 years ago, seems simply bursting with irony this December of 2015. Do we know of any time when the threat to world peace was so great? The conflict we face will not likely be over anytime soon, and will not stay conveniently on some foreign shore. It is even now at our doorsteps.
So how do we celebrate the “Prince of Peace” when peace is in such small supply? As war wages around us, is talk of God’s peace just a sick joke?
No. The first Christmas indeed brought peace, but not to the world.
To be fair, that misunderstanding started 2000 years ago. When God said He was sending them a King, His chosen people presumed it would be n military ruler who’d kick out their oppressors and turn their political world right side up. Instead, God did a cosmic head-fake, opting to destroy the true oppressors of mankind: sin, death and hell. His Son set up shop in the human heart instead of a government office. As He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world”.
There will be a house-cleaning one day, and peace will finally reign upon the earth. But that will come only after the Messiah’s second visit. Then He will come in power and subdue the unruly nations of this world, once and for all.
But until then, it’s going to be tough. He promised, “in this world you will have trouble.” Then He adds another promise that sounds a bit glib during this dark Christmas…”But cheer up, for I have overcome the world!”
He may have overcome it ultimately, but right now we’re still stuck in it.
But Christmas was always been about the ironic juxtaposition of peace alongside chaos, joy surrounded by heartache, faith smack dab in the middle of doubt. Just look at how dark our best Christmas stories are…
Scrooge is visited by Marley and three other ghosts, who warn him to change his ways or be forever damned. Just to raise the stakes, Tiny Tim (not he of the ukulele) is destined to die unless Scrooge repents. Sounds more like a fire-and-brimstone sermon than a Christmas story.
George Bailey’s about to go to jail for embezzlement, and decides to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. Do you remember the scenes of George with his family right before he runs to the bridge? He’s completely unraveled, screaming at his piano-playing daughter (understandable – the kid was irritating and needed lessons) and leaving his wife to pick up the pieces from his tirade. It’s raw, devastating, and more like a scene out of Eugene O’Neill than Frank Capra.
O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi has a couple so poor they sell their most treasured possessions just to buy each other gifts. And don’t get me started on The Little Match Girl – a child freezing to death on New Year’s Eve? Breathtakingly dark stuff.
The first Christmas story is no less brutal. A young couple is forced to travel by their oppressive government while the girl is about to give birth. After delivering the baby in a barn, the family flees to Egypt to avoid Herod’s mass slaughter of male babies.
Not so much “Peace on Earth” as “all hell breaks loose” on earth. So Christmas has always been the juxtaposition of joy amidst sorrow, giving amidst loss, hope amidst despair.
That story illustrates the greatest irony of Christmas: that goodness, manifest in its weakest form, a baby, is more powerful than the direst evil. God at His weakest is more powerful than darkness at it’s strongest. The Incarnation of Christ was our Heavenly Father showing off for His kids, proving there’s more power in His little finger than in all of hell.
Let Christmas remind you that any moment God can reach down and invade the darkness of your circumstances with brilliant light. Endure that darkness knowing it’s a prerequisite for sharing the Nativity with the likes of Mary and Joseph. And in the midst of chaos, embrace the peace of Christmas where it was meant to reign all along…your heart.
No matter the evil surrounding it, in the heart ruled by God “…all is calm, all is bright”.