Our scriptures paint a picture of the birth of the savior that, if we allow, reminds us that contrary to the scenes of serenity our carols and cards often portray, Jesus came into the world during a time of incredible unrest in the life of Israel. As a country, they were occupied by a people with whom they shared little in common; a people who saw the world and those over whom they reigned through an “us-them” lens of nationalism and superiority. Power can do that.
The Israelites themselves had witnessed what they had always assumed to be their privileges as God’s chosen people rent asunder. They were hated and oppressed; consistently reminded of their “otherness” even in their own country. It was not a time of peace into which the Prince of Peace was born. Heaven came to earth amidst a time of tremendous turmoil and violence. Hatreds and prejudices, both petty and profound, ruled the day.
Well, everyone loves a baby…and we all love the idea of baby Jesus asleep on the hay, cattle lowing, Bethlehem being a little, still town. We respond in hope to the child that God has sent. We look forward to His peaceful reign “on earth as it is in Heaven.” It’s all good in the gospels until we get to the part where Jesus starts to talk. Then we begin to take sides. We begin to understand a bit more of what Jesus meant when he declared “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
The word of God indeed cuts and divides our hearts and minds, as it calls us, challenges us, and compels us to live lives that matter, that count for something. It calls us to look outward at the world when we are naturally more prone to turn inward. It calls us to reach outward to be a blessing to all of the creation, when we would feel safer retreating to an “us vs. them” mode of thought, word, and deed. It offers instruction on what is worth standing for, and standing against, as we participate in family, community and national life. It reminds us of the value of all human beings, thus providing guidance in our relationships.
Often the words of the angels, “Peace on earth, good will…” stand in stark contrast to our Christian experience. But be not mistaken, that is the biblical witness to God’s creative activity.
If we are to join in the Christmas story, if we choose to live through the pages of the gospels, then we must take on the yoke of the peacemaker. We must call upon the Prince of Peace to be the star that guides our journey. God has more than a vision of a baby prepared for us this season. God offers power and direction that can motivate us through the year, that can changeour minds, open our hearts, and provide a peace that passes all understanding; a peace worthy of sharing in the world.
“Seek the Lord while he can be found. Call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
Accept no substitutes.
May the God of Peace accompany your Advent journey…..
Pastor John Houlker