Peace on earth will come to stay,
When we live Christmas every day.
Helen Steiner Rice
I have always loved the festive season, the lead-up to Christmas- especially now that I have my own family, and we have our own traditions to build on and enjoy. I love the language that surrounds it- a silent and holy night, a night of joy and hope, of goodwill to all men, a gospel of peace- of broken chains, of power that manifests itself in Divinity; a season of beauty, and a time for child-like innocence and wonder. But how I imagined this scene unfolding as a young girl is so far removed from how I know it has unfolded and continues to unfold today.
The wonder-full hush that enveloped the world at Christmas- the earth holding its breath, the ripe silence of creation as though awaiting an explosion, the weight of the sound of a wing-beat in that immense stillness
A stillness so vast, it shatters the earth; a promise so profound and paradoxical, it will break down logic and turn common sense on its head; a peace so subversive, it will change the course of history. You see, the peace that the birth of Jesus offers us is not in the vein of peace-keeping.
The story of the life He lived following His birth is a testament to that. If Jesus had come to keep the peace, He would have neatly slotted in alongside the religious elders of His day; He would have kept their rules, played into their social order, and maybe even joined them on a quest to make everyone conform to these. No, the birth, life and death of Jesus, and the continuing narrative behind them, by no means offer us safety within rules and security within religion. He brings peace, yes- but not the peace of an ethereal birth, of a placid newborn, of delighted parents surrounded by doe-eyed animals and the sweet smell of hay.
Jesus’ birth came with the shame Mary may have carried when being judged by those around her for a pre-marital teen pregnancy. Jesus was born into a time of uncertainty for His parents- of being in-limbo, on the run and far away from familiarity and comfort zones. He was born into a time of political unrest, and into a time of displacement of His people- not just under the religious elders of His time, but under the cruel rule of the Romans. And so, you see, the birth of a baby under a starry sky surrounded by angels and sweet smelling wise men isn’t where the story of Christmas ends. It doesn’t even stop at the good life Jesus lived, the example He gave us- of withholding judgement, of loving the unlovable, of healing and freeing. It isn’t that kind of peace. It isn’t that kind of wonder.
Instead, the birth of Jesus shows us peace that is earth-shattering, a wonder that turns tables, a peace and a wonder that wields a two-edged sword- to rent open racism, to expose misogyny, to pinpoint privilege and call it to account to use its inherent power and position for good. It is a wonder and a peace that calls us to peacemaking, to peace waging- and at the same to retain or, as in my case, regain that childlike sense of wonder that the story of the birth, life, and death of Jesus evoke.
This is a call to all of those who have lost their sense of wonder, in amongst the mess and the pain of the process of life. To those who carry wounds nobody sees; problems that seem insurmountable and pains that crave Divine intervention. To those desperately in need of saving, by a Saviour who really sees their pain- who has felt it and carried it; who carries it still. To those who are struggling to believe in the beauty this season- for you, and for myself, I pray for a return to wonder. And not a wonder that is naïve, but a wonder that fully embraces and beautifully balances both the pain and the peace, the struggle and the serenity; a wonder that once again allows you to see past the vast darkness of the night, to the stars that lie beyond.