Someone said, "The most commonly misused and misapplied word in the language of man, is 'LOVE'. If that is so, then surely the second most misused and misapplied word is, 'PEACE'."
Josh Liebman made a list as a young man of all the things he wanted in life. It was quite long and detailed including health, love, talent, usefulness and various accumulations of things. A wise old friend of the family looked at the list and said, "Joshua, this is an excellent list, set down in a reasonable order, but it appears, young man, that you have omitted the most important element of all." "And what is that?" Josh asked. The wise old man replied by taking a pencil and crossing out all the others. Then he wrote in, "peace of mind."
Peace is a central element of Christmas. Peace of mind is the intended result of what Christmas is about. We read in Luke 2:14, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."
Certainly the events of that first Christmas were anything but peaceful. For Mary and Joseph the traveling was not easy. They were in a strange place with nowhere to stay. Even worse, imagine the uncertainty and difficulty in those circumstances delivering a baby. In fact, we would call this situation more fearful than peaceful.
But then, we are reminded of the meaning of peace. "Peace is not the absence of war, like darkness is the absence of light. Peace is not refraining from shooting your neighbor when his dog digs a hole in your new lawn. Peace is not avoiding a fight with your spouse by avoiding the hot topic. While a beautiful setting, peace is not found in the stillness of a mountain meadow or the disjointed tinkling of New Age music with your tea."
Furthermore, war, not peace still exists in our world. There are religious, civil, cultural and international wars. No peace treaty that man has ever devised has been kept.
So it might seem that peace is nothing more than an elusive dream, far beyond our ability to accomplish or possess. It is true that life is often filled with trying and difficult times. All of us are subject to trials, hurts, suffering and disharmony. How can we reconcile the angel's announcement with the evidence before us?
I think the starting place, is to reconcile this announcement with the rest of scripture itself, and have an understanding of what is really being said here in Luke 2:14. Verse 12 says, "And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger". Immediately following these words, the multitude of angels appear with the herald angel, and begin to sing God's praises and His blessing.
"Our first clue, then, is that God's glory and man's peace rests in that manger.
The angels are saying that through the birth of Christ, true peace will come to the earth. His coming means peace with God, and peace given by God through Christ." One writer has said, "It is the work of Christ to bring peace into all human relations - in man's relation to God, to himself (his own feelings, desires, etc), to his life's circumstances (calamities and trials), and to his fellow-men."
The angel is not wishing us peace in the way we might say to each other in a Christmas card, "May you have peace in this season". It is not said with the same shallow intent of the "Peace signs" and slogans of the 1960's in our own country; when the hippies held up their fingers in the shape of a 'v' and smiled through their clouds of incense and their drug-fogged minds.
It was an announcement that true and lasting peace will come on earth to the hearts of those who are redeemed in Christ...who through faith become the sons of God. It is knowing that in spite of whatever happens, God will never leave us alone without His presence or resources.
However, there are some things which can rob us of peace this Christmas. One thief that breaks into our peace is guilt. We know what that is, the emotional conflict that arises out of our second thoughts concerning past actions or even anticipated ones. However, the Christmas message is not for perfect people but sinners like us. God sent a Savior to wipe away the sin of our lives. The gift of Jesus to us is forgiveness. Forgiveness is not simply thought to have but an experience of the heart brought about by genuine repentance.
I am reminded of the truth of Psalms 103:2-5, "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with loving kindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle."
Another great peace destroyer is grief. Christmas brings all kinds of hurtful memories like the loss of a loved one in death, loss of a job or loss of support from a close friend. Christmas is about a God who cares about our hurts and shares our pain. Peter encouraged those who hurt to "Cast all your anxiety on the Lord because He cares about you" (I Peter 5:7).
How do we cast our grief upon the Lord? Obviously prayer and meditation is a good beginning point. Also, grief is helped by sharing with a Pastor or talking with a trusted friend. Another good exercise is to write down your feelings on a sheet of paper. Sometimes simple actions can have a powerful effect in releasing the pain of grief.
Another helpful element to put our grief in some perspective from which we may heal is to ask ourselves two simple questions: "How could life be worse? How could life be better?" It is often the case that such questions can open our minds to the potential of understanding God's blessings in spite of our losses.
It is essential that we learn to move on from grief and to do whatever it takes to make some changes. Permanent grief is not a Christian alternative to life. "Sustained grief is like glue to the soles of our shoes; it stops us in our tracks."
A third peace stealer is a grudge. Grudges are resentment and malice toward someone. It is amazing to me how many people walk around with grudges in their heart. Life does hurt and sometimes it is at the words or actions of others. How we respond will determine our level of peace. Like grief, this is not a place Christians should be content to reside emotionally or spiritually.
Faith in the Christ we celebrate at Christmas is the key to all three of these peace stealers. Having the peace of Christ must be an intentional decision and a step of faith. We can't do it alone. If it was easy, we wouldn't need God's help. But with God's strength infused into our souls, all things are possible.
We will all celebrate Christmas in some way this year. Be sure you worship a living Christ, not just a babe born in a manger in Bethlehem. Remember that gifts are more than items in boxes wrapped in pretty paper. The greatest gift you may give someone or receive may be forgiveness, letting go of a past hurt and faith to face the future.
It has been said that there are two kinds of Christmas gifts: the ones you don't like and the ones you don't get. God's peace is a gift you will like, and it is a gift you can get if you seek it in Jesus Christ.