Look around this time of year and you will probably see a lot of signs with the words “Peace” and/or “joy.” You can get it on a Christmas-y coaster, pillow, or centerpiece. But let’s be honest: if we look around, it seems as if the opposite happens around this season. Flurried shoppers attempting to find the “perfect” gift, families boiling over with yearlong held frustrations, refugees, much akin to our Savior born in a manger, fleeing the persecution of ISIS and finding little refuge. Our world is not a peaceful place.
The added pressure of this season to measure up to our culture’s presentation of the holiday brings little peace or joy, either. This should be a time of year when you host or attend the perfect family, a holiday where you are with people you love and who know you well–a holiday where there is no strife or estrangement. However, for some–perhaps many–this is the loneliest time of the year. It is a time when the realities of our failures or discontents fly in our face. It is a time when the law of happiness, the albatross of a disgustingly perfect Christmas, is almost strangling.
It is a time of year when the promise of peace and joy is most needed but maybe least felt. However, that is the really good news of Christmas.
In Luke 2:6-20, shepherds are keeping watch over their flock at night. During this time, shepherds faced many dangers, and the night was not the most restful affair. As they came together with other shepherds after a long, lonely day tending their sheep in the pasture, of possibly facing the dangers of wild animals (lions, bears, oh my; see 1 Samuel 17:34-36) and robbers, the shepherds took turns keeping watch over the flock against these same dangers. There was little peace.
And then, something unexpected, something terrifying appeared–an angel. As they cowered at this heavenly being, they were comforted, “Do not be afraid.” Rather than terror the angel brings “news of great joy.” Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” This news is followed by an entire host of heavenly beings praising, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
These men on the outskirts of the city, seemingly cast off and lonely, were the first ones who heard this incredible news. The long awaited Messiah, had finally come. He had come to bring peace. Not necessarily the peace of fluffy clouds and easy lives, but the peace that in the midst of terror would calm and protect. He came to bring that eternal peace longed for between man and God. As a babe laid in swaddling clothes, he was a miracle, he was the Incarnate God, breaking the barrier between us and the Divine. As St. Cyril comments on this passage,
For the angels and archangels, thrones and lordships, and high above them the Seraphim, preserving their settled order, are at peace with God: for never in any way do they transgress His good pleasure, but are firmly established in righteousness and holiness. But we, wretched beings, by having set up our own lusts in opposition to the will of our Lord, had put ourselves into the position of enemies unto Him. But by Christ this has been done away: for He is our peace; for He has united us by Himself unto God the Father, having taken away from the middle the cause of the enmity, even sin, and so justifies us by faith, and makes us holy and without blame, and calls near unto Him those who were afar off: and besides this, He has created the two people into one new man, so making peace, and reconciling both in one body to the Father. For it pleased God the Father to form into one new whole all things in Him, and to bind together things below and things above, and to make those in heaven and those on earth into one flock. Christ therefore has been made for us both Peace and Goodwill; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be glory and honour and might with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.
And so he calls us who are far off. He calls us in the midst of this season, a time where we may be more inclined to feel despair and depression, to find our peace and joy in Him. The things which we long for, the perfection we so desire, are only found in Him. It is the good news that even if you don’t find (or receive) that “perfect” gift or when you fail to be the perfect host, guest, daughter, mother, etc. that you are loved. It is the good news that the joy and peace you seek has been completed in this child proclaimed. It is the good news that, as a helpless child, you can now approach the Father and receive perfect gifts.
It is the promise that this Messiah who has snuck in as a helpless babe and who lived a perfect life and then died for you and me so that we can have peace with our Father, will come again. We can have peace and joy in the waiting despite our despondent world because when our Messiah comes again as he has promised, we will have that peace complete. We will have a new heavens and a new earth, a world where “the wolf will lay down with the lamb” (Isa. 11:6-9) and where we will cry no more and remember no more the sadness that haunts us (Isa. 65:17-25).
Praise Him for that, praise him for coming out to us in the field to proclaim his good news–now let us proclaim that to ourselves and to others.