A Different Kind of Peace

Photo by: SuadaPhoto

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,

Jack Frost nipping at your nose,

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,

And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe

Help to make the season bright.

Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow

Will find it hard to sleep tonight. . .”

“The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme and Bob Wells

It’s an American Christmas song, a peaceful, comfortable tune, and every year my husband, the Nat King Cole enthusiast, sang it from November through December. After a while, even our babies were singing it! But the first Christmas song (which may have been spoken) had a different message:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. . .”

Peace. After seeing the infant Jesus, the shepherds “went back to the fields, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. . .” I wonder if they kept that sense of awe through the hard years of the rest of their lives? Through cold nights and hot days; through hunger and danger; through injury and loss? And was their peace shattered when the Prince of Peace was nailed to a Roman cross, proving that the world was still a dark and dangerous place?

Almost two thousand years later, we still crave peace — especially at Christmas (which sometimes doesn’t live up to our expectations). Absences, insufficiencies, partings and hardships mar what should be a joy-filled holy day, leaving us disheartened and dissatisfied. We think, “It shouldn’t be like this.” And, in a sense, we’re right. The picture perfect peace we cried out for never arrived, and we are left with a sad substitute, riddled with holes, hanging by a thread.

But, what if we’re mistaken in conflating worldly comfort and peace? What if God’s peace doesn’t necessarily produce loving family gatherings, home for the holidays, and gift exchange? Although these are good and lovely things, I think we have been programmed to believe they represent the peace angels announced so long ago— a peace that had to do with connection rather than comfort.

Jesus came! Then He left. And we remain in this sin-dark, peace-poor world, understandably mourning what is missing. It is to our detriment however, when we allow grief to obscure the gift— a gift meant to inject inextinguishable joy and hope into our darkness. With the advent of Immanuel, we acquired access to a different kind of peace. We may be stuck here, but He is with us. A change is coming and already is because:

Our Savior was born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord!

photo by: Grayson Joralemon


Love, with a Side of Pain

 She was grabbing dirty laundry from her son’s room when she saw it, scrawled over and over at the bottom of a piece of notebook paper: “I hate Mom. I hate Mom. I hate Mom.  . .” Sitting on the side of his bed, she wondered, “Is this what I get for trying to be a good parent?” For a moment, she stayed there, attempting to combine this evidence of contempt with her understanding of the situation. He was mad because he was grounded, a consequence he’d incurred for not doing his homework, and he felt justified in retaliating with unreasonable and disproportionate vitriol. She knew this scribal outburst was part of the irrational fury of adolescence, of rampant hormones, of selfish inexperience, of, well—sin. She took a deep breath, gathered up the smelly clothes and moved on. Never mind the stab wound; just keep loving, just keep loving. . .

When a child puts his arms around your neck and rests his head on your shoulder, or when your preschooler interrupts his Christmas program to wave and yell, “Hi Mom!” you feel loved, trusted and needed —important, even. And this love is gratifyingly public, a splendid reward for the exhausting hours you’ve spent feeding, bathing, reading and putting to bed; for the tracks you’ve made in the carpet at night as you walked a sick kid, for toilet training, for homework checking, for doctor trips and school obligations. Child rearing is an overwhelming job, so expressions of love feel good when they come. Unfortunately, this sacrifice doesn’t always receive a timely reward.

The mature and proper response to every situation—love— rarely reaps warm fuzzy dividends, and exercising tough love often gets us kicked in the teeth. There is a great temptation to give up and go away when love isn’t returned, and in abusive situations, it is the best thing to do. But, apart from dangerous cases, how do we deal with unreturned love? While I’m definitely not an expert on the subject,  I have lived long enough to learn a few things, and those mostly through failure.

Love is an unnatural, determined response initiated and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is an acquired skill, honed by listening to and depending on Him. I rarely, and I mean, rarely get it totally right; portraying perfect love is impossible for us humans. But, and this is a big “but,” it is possible to improve. And that is what we are commanded to do: we are enjoined to “put on love,” to “walk in love,” to “abound and increase in love.”

 Love is a gateway to a new kind of life; enlarging our hearts, expanding our vision, and enriching others. The process may not be painless, but it is encouraging: it is evidence that we are becoming more like Christ.

“Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved childrenand live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”

Ephesians 5: 1-2

Timeless Hope

Last summer, when I visited the beach, I decided to venture into the ocean and experience the waves after years of wading along the shore. It was a mental aberration, a failure to acknowledge my current physical status: bad feet, hips and knees, poor balance and atrophied muscles. Instead, deceptive memory took me back to a more youthful, capable self. A self who didn’t make grunting noises when she got out of bed. “How hard can it be,” I thought, “I can swim.”

Getting in was fine. I walked in on a gentle incline and enjoyed the warm water. Getting out was another matter. What I hadn’t anticipated was the shelf I encountered while trying to exit the ocean. Obviously, I’d drifted away from that lovely gradual incline. Minus the water smacking me about, I might have climbed out fairly easily after I fell, although it wouldn’t have been pretty; with age, I’ve perfected the three point stance approach to getting off the floor. But the waves interfered with my plan, walloping me fore and aft, turning me into a human tumbleweed. Eventually, I clawed and climbed my way onto the shelly shelf and crawled to shallow water where I clumsily stood up. I shudder to think what this undignified process, both funny and irritating, looked like from behind. At that moment, it became apparent that age had caught up with me, and irrationally, I got mad at Dylan Thomas.

Do not go gentle into that good night,” he urged, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day. . .” Well, that seemed useless; what I needed wasn’t rage, but handrails! Of course, Thomas wasn’t writing about ageing per se’; he was writing about dying: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” His words ring with passion- and hopelessness.

Despair, the response to the lie that life ends at death is an avoidable landing place. The prophetess, Anna, was old, yet full of hope. She had lived as a wife for seven years and a widow to age eighty-four. Considering her long and, in some sense, lonely life, she would seem a likely candidate for both bitterness and rage, yet Luke wrote, “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” Anna kept praying, knowing that something good was coming; she lived in anticipation. When she met Mary, Joseph and infant Jesus at the temple, she “began giving thanks to God. . . .” Her moment had come: God had saved the best for last.

If we must find something to rage against, let it be against a destructive hopelessness which denies the truth that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. . .”. In spite of the beauty of his words, I think I’ll pass on Thomas’ advice. I’d much rather leave this world the way Anna did- lifting up praise rather than a fist, for, “In hope, we were saved.” Romans 8: 24