Christmas is here.
And it’s once again time to gather together with family, friends, and faith communities and sing hymns and carols of the Christ-child. It’s time to feast together and share the passages of Emmanuel’s humble arrival in a lowly manger in Bethlehem. It’s time to join together again to light the Advent candles and share the Eucharist at Christmas Eve service.
But what if, in the midst of celebrating the peace of Christ through ritual and routine, we have actually neglected peace in our lives?
I find the bookends of Jesus’ life to be an interesting irony.
On one end, his birth is announced with the hopeful refrain, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Yet, when we fast forward 30 years to the other bookend to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the Holy Week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus weeps over his people and cries, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.”
In Jesus, there is the great anticipation of peace in his Advent, yet a great lament when peace has been missed by the very people who longed for it.
I wonder if, we too, are in that place of great celebration, seeking, anticipation, and longing this Christmas season as we join in the heavenly chorus, “Peace on earth,” but then leave the peace of Christ abandoned as an unrealized ideal, as something celebrated but then forgotten, as something hope for but then lost in our daily lives.
If the birth (and then life) of the Christ was anything at all, it was to be a light in the darkness for all people, and then between people. It was to be the way to straighten paths that had been made crooked, the way that brings the peace of God to all people and then their relationships in the present.
But again, there is great joy in celebrating that peace, while lamenting how we missed embodying that peace in our lives and relationships.
What God intends for us is, not simply the celebration and praise of the Prince of Peace this holiday season, but lives and relationships that exist in peace, that flow in harmony, that are immersed in the shalom of the Christ.
That is the goal- that each of us would find the wholeness and completeness and harmony of Christ’s shalom in each of our lives and then extend that shalom in each of our relationships in the present.
And I know I am not surprising you when I say this, but this is incredibly difficult, because we will inevitably experience, or even cause, fractures in our relationships, whether they be with friends, spouses, family members, or other people with whom we come into contact throughout our lives.
We are not perfect. And I am certainly not perfect.
But I also have to balance all of that by saying that there are very few people guiding us into this ideal. The general narrative in most faith communities is to be a good person, to be a kind person, to be an upstanding citizen, but rarely, if ever, are we told to be those who work toward extending shalom in every interaction and every relationship, even though the majority of Jesus’ teachings were relational.
It is enlightening, and kind of mind-blowing, that Jesus put a higher priority on us seeking peace in our relationships than on our religious rituals and celebrations. In one of his teachings, he tells his audience that they should actually leave their gift at the altar if they remember that a brother or sister has something against them. According to Jesus, forgiveness and restoration in the relationship, embodying and extending peace through reconciliation, is actually more important to God than our worship and celebration of God!
This is an absolutely radical teaching, if you think about it.
Can you imagine telling church members that the doors of the building will be closed until each member is reconciled with everyone who has something against them?
No Sunday Services.
No Christmas Eve vigils.
No Eucharist celebrations.
No worship songs.
No Sunday School classes.
Leave your rituals, your routines, your celebrations, your worship… and go make peace, reconcile with your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your wife, your husband, your neighbor, your friend, and the guy at the grocery store whom you have wronged and then, and only then, can you proceed with worship.
This is seriously radical stuff! But it gives you an idea of how essential it is for the people of shalom to, not just read the stories of the Christ-child and sing the Christmas songs of peace, but to actually be the people of peace above all else. The means are never greater than the ends. Our celebrating and remembering is never more important than our embodiment.
So what relationships have you have strained? Is there anyone with whom you need to reach out to right now and say that you are sorry? Is there anyone with whom you need to be reconciled?
Meditate on this for a bit.
What would it look like before that Christmas Eve service, before your annual reading of the Incarnation account, or before the next rousing verses of Oh Holy Night to make that call or send that text of apology? This is how shalom begins to move outward for the healing of others and our relationships. Sure, it’s possible that they may not want to reciprocate in the healing and mending of the relationship, but so long as it depends upon you… be peace.
My new book Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage is now available at the following online stores.
If you would like to hear the introduction of the book, please head over to my podcast. You can find that link here.
Lastly, this book is so important to me. Please tell others about it and spread the word on social media.