Peace on Christmas Eve

Julie and Steve led us in a very special time of being together with family members joining us. The following was in our handouts:

 “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (and women) Luke 2:14 (King James)

The story of Jesus begins and ends in peace. The angels  proclaim peace to Mary, mother of Jesus (Luke 1:28) and  to the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-14). And upon his resurrection, Jesus himself proclaims peace to his disciples after he endured great pain and death (Luke 24:36). The  peace of Christ is very different from any worldly peace.  It is not something we can create or obtain by mastering  our own lives. The peace of Christ comes from an otherworldly love and grace: a love that sends God’s son to  earth as a vulnerable baby to show the world what love  feels like.

How in our broken world and our complicated lives do we find authentic and meaningful peace as opposed to manufactured and sugar-coated peace, both  for ourselves and for others?

Image by Julie Barber – A Gaza Nativity

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security.  To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself.  Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s  commandment’’. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Opening prayer “Blessed are we, the fearful, though we long to be people of peace. We can’t lie: we are afraid.  Afraid there won’t be enough:enough resources, enough time, enough memories.  Blessed are we who ask you for wisdom,  show us what to turn from, what to set aside.  Come Lord, that we might  see you,  move with you,  keep pace with you.  Blessed are we who ask that this Advent  we might dwell together quietly in our homes. Come, Lord, that we might be for others  the peace they cannot find. Blessed are we who look to you and say, God, truly, we are troubled and afraid. Come govern our hearts and calm our fears.  Oh Prince of Peace, still our restless selves, calm our anxious hearts, quiet our busy minds.’

Peace for ourselves

The above prayer echos  the same wisdom of the ancients who, in  the decades after Jesus lived on earth, saw that when we  bring it all to God there is a mysterious “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). The former  Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams says that  the good life “is honest about where it lives.” From that  place of honesty, all our instinctual and reactive selves  can be brought to God whose loving gaze is the beginning of the healing we seek. Williams says that it is a  place of both prospect and refuge, “where my rhythm is  echoed, my speech is understood. My face is seen…To be  recognised and recognisable, lifts from me the burden of making myself up.”

So with the apostle Peter we can invite our worried and  anxious selves into the presence of God. This is the intimate space where peace-making within oneself begins.

  “So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in his  own good time he will lift you up. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal  concern.”  1 Peter 5:6-7 (Phillips)

‘Peace Be With You’. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be  with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to  them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and  my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. Yet for all their  joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, “Have you anything here to  eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence”.    LUKE 24:36-43 (NRSV) 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  —JOHN 14:27 (NIV

What are we to make of Jesus’ words when he  says to his disciples, “Don’t be afraid.” Easy for him to say.  God is God after all. But maybe that’s actually the point.  Maybe Jesus knows that something-else-that-is-also-happening too. He understands the bigger picture and has knowledge that all will be well and all manner of things will be well. This is the meaning-making Jesus offers: His  presence at Christmas as God-in-human-flesh, God  with us. As the “Easter risen saviour” who says, “Don’t be  afraid. It’s me!” And then as the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth to be with us even into death and the end of the age. A story far bigger than our fear or anxiety.

Five minutes private reflection

  1. What are some ways you can offer the gift of peace to yourself, showing yourself love and grace? 
  2.  How can you offer others the promise and hope of peace by “passing the peace” this Advent season?  
  3. When talking about peace, Jesus said, “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). What do you think he meant? What is the peace of the world? What is the peace of Christ? We sometimes try to console ourselves or others by trying to make sense of our troubles. Do explanations work  for you? Always, sometimes, never? If not, what works better?  Imagine Jesus was sitting with you right now. What would you say to him? What troubling doubts or awkward  questions might arise? What comforts or consolations?

Some thoughts  

Too often peace is something we have half-heartedly prayed for because we are so limited in our ability to dream of peace in a world of pain and chaos. Peace isn’t dependent on outside circumstances and peace isn’t dependent on whether you like or enjoy someone’s presence. Peace is much deeper than  like or dislike. Peace is much broader than getting along. Peace is a promise.

Peace for others

In many Christian traditions, there is a part of the service that includes a time for the congregation to pass the  peace. We leave the comfort of our regular pew (don’t  you dare sit in my seat) to turn to our neighbours and  speak the words, “peace be with you,” and receive the  words, “and also with you.” This tradition is more than a  simple exchange or greeting. It is a covenant, a promise,  shared between believers that they are living towards  the ever-expanding peace of Christ. The act of passing  the peace is one of extending unfathomable grace and  unconditional love to our neighbours, to the stranger, to  the one standing next to us. And often that person is not  one we would necessarily choose (they might not prefer us either). No matter how broken or smelly or don’t-have-it-all-together we might be, we are invited to join in the chorus of those who come in peace, just as Christ taught us.

Sharing of the peace and sharing bread and wine

Ending Prayer

Blessed are we remembering that you hold all things together. You are the invisible scaffolding that supports us, the canopy of love that covers us in the present, the stable pillars, sunk deep into our past and the sparrow that flies confidently toward the future,  bearing for us the peace we could never have attained for ourselves.

With thanks to Kate Bowler

And huge thanks to Julie and Steve – it felt very special, led to touching exchanges in the sharing of the Peace and felt very pertinent to many.