Peace is another one of those weird words.
If you think about it, “peace” is almost always used in conjunction with another word, one that kind of distorts its meaning in the biblical sense. Like, when it’s used in conjunction with “and quiet,” as in “Can’t you kids give me just one hour of peace and quiet!?” This makes me think of “peace” as not being bothered, of everything being calm and tranquil, being transported to some ethereal realm where no one bugs us, like in the old Calgon bath commercials-“Calgon, take me away!” (Bet I just lost everyone under 35 on that one!)
Or, when “peace” is used in conjunction with “war,” like “war and peace,” or when Miss America coos that her greatest dream is for “world peace”- here, peace means no fighting, no regional or international conflict, a world where everyone just gets along. How possible is that? How likely has it ever been?
Finally, when used with “love and happiness”, as in “peace, love, and happiness,” peace becomes a circumstantial, ephemeral state of affairs, a precarious, perfectly-placed equilibrium. That kind of peace is always one phone call, one email away from blowing up, changing one’s life forever.
When Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives you do I give to you. Let your hearts not be troubled, neither let them be afraid,” it was on the night before He was to endure the most traumatic suffering, separation, and death that any human has ever had to endure. When the angels announced, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased,” they announced these words with hardscrabble, impoverished shepherds and common folk, living in a backwater corner of a military-occupied war zone.
God offers peace where we least expect it, when we least expect to see it. Peace transcends our lives, overwhelms our circumstances. It is a calmness, a sense of God’s love for us and sovereignty over our lives that reminds us of who and whose we are, bringing internal rest no matter what’s happening around us.
Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II. It was said that he had a preternatural calm under fire, and that he was able to remain remarkably cool and alert as bullets flew around him and as others ran or ducked. When I think of biblical peace, that’s the image that always emerges in my mind: Audie standing there, preternatural calm in the face of fearful circumstances. But, motivated by an understanding that God is in control.
And, that’s really excellent news. Because on its face, the world is a scary place. There are as many threats to all of us, and perhaps especially to Christians, as there have ever been (although probably not more threats- after all, every generation believes they are living in the end times, as bad as it gets. You don’t live in Babylon, ruled by Nebuchadnezzar, no matter how much you think you do). As Christianity Today quoted James Forsyth, “apocalyptic and hysterical rhetoric is inappropriate for people who are children of the King. Christians should not be characterized by white knuckles of fear and terror.” God has hinged nothing on you; everything is unfolding exactly as He has planned.
The peace of Christ, the peace that Christmas brings, is the peace of never having to do anything to convince yourself that you are good enough, that you are worthy enough, or that your life has meaning and value. You matter; you matter so much that the God of the universe became a lowly creature so He could die a horrific, painful, and terrifying death, in order to restore you to Him, to rescue you. And, if it was just you, if you were the only one He had to save, He would have done it without hesitation. Just like you pushing your kid out of the way to take the oncoming car head on, without thinking. You matter like that. But, even more.
The peace of Christ promises you, although this world can bring tremendous pain, it can never really hurt you. Like you moms felt 20 minutes after holding that newborn baby, the first second of Heaven kills a lifetime of pain immediately, leaving behind only life-hardened character and grace and joy. The “scary” things of this earth are opportunities, chances for you to be used by Christ to take as many others with you as you can from the clutches of an arch-demon who has no power over you that you do not give him.
Each Christmas morning, this promise of hope, joy, and peace rings anew, like church bells in the distance. Emmy Arnold-“Only those who are reborn as children shall become children of the light. Wherever the Christmas child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins His earthly life anew-that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again.” Amen. Now, go enjoy your presents.