“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of the people.”
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’”
September 21 is the International Day of Peace. It’s strange to think about at this moment in time. Since the dawn of my consciousness of the idea of peace, this past year has been the farthest from it that I’ve experienced; like a badly-written tv series; each weekly episode featuring another instance of what had previously been relative peace in the world being dismantled.
What is peace? Merriam-Webster defines it as “freedom from disturbance; tranquility.” Some synonyms are “calm, restfulness, quietude, stillness, hush.”
That all sounds so nice, doesn’t it?
Another definition is the informal “leave.” For example: “I woke up at seven, thanked my host and peaced out.”
Another definition M-W gives is “a state or period in which there is no war.”
I grew up in a relatively peaceful era. After the Vietnam War ended, it seemed to me, and I think to most of my classmates, that we would never see war again. War was a bad idea, and the world was now a smarter, more compassionate place. From now on, we would find better means to work out our differences. Or so we thought.
But, of course, after a few years of flower children, Hands Across America, the Berlin Wall coming down and countless charitable organizations working toward more peace and humanity in this world, we began to see military actions and wars becoming practically commonplace. We started to hear about wars on concepts like terrorism, religious groups and even on Christmas, (but that’s a blog for another day.) So what about peace on earth to people on whom His favor rests? Where does this leave us? Who has peace at times like these?
I know that’s a big, scary question, but I’m asking it. Maybe you are too.
Aren’t legions of people experiencing loss, hardship and heartache? Aren’t more and more groups of people feeling threatened and having their value demeaned? Aren’t incidents of violence and unmasked hatred on the rise? For those who are compassionate, aren’t our hearts aching for the people suffering in this world? So on whom does His favor rest? Who is feeling peace? It chills me to think of this favor and peace belonging to the people who rejoice in the suffering of others or those who are so self-centered that they are in a state of indifference during this mass suffering.
If we love Christmas, then we must be drawn to the mystery of the miraculous birth of Jesus, Yeshua, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. It must have at least captured our imagination. We must be flirting with miracles, and embracing hope. And if that’s true, then we must believe in a God who is greater than we can imagine; a God who keeps promises.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
When have I felt peace? The first moments that pop into my mind are memories of sitting with my kids, on the couch, watching movies with a Christmas tree twinkling in one corner of the room. It’s easy to feel peace when all feels right in the world – or is that more “comfort and joy?”
The most miraculous moments in my life have come out of deep suffering and anguish; those terrifying moments that felled me to my knees. It was out of those moments, (which were usually the breaking point after weeks or months of an increasingly unbearable situation,) that I had no choice but to admit that my very best efforts were not enough to change the trajectory of the present horror show; that nothing I did or could do would change the situation no matter how hard I tried. It has been immediately following those moments of complete and utter weakness, when I howled out to God for help; when I shrieked “Jesus, please help me! I can’t do this alone;” those moments when I’ve surrendered to God, “I’ve done everything I can. I’m giving it to You, and I trust that You have us in the palm of Your hand,” that I have felt what I think is real peace. Profound peace. This is a peace that comes from letting go of the illusion of having control, and being reminded that God is actually in control and loves us enough to command us to ask. In those moments, I feel a calm washing down over me, a lightness lifting me, a blanket of love hugging me. I once had a scene like this where, within 60 seconds, the phone rang with the key that unlocked my captive situation. Many times, surrendering my white-knuckled grip to God is the only thing that allows me sleep on a tortured night.
So maybe asking – asking from a place of complete surrender– is the answer. Admitting to ourselves that we are powerless and have a profound need for God; maybe it’s when we do this that God’s favor rests on us, and we are at peace – even here on earth.
Renae Baker is the author of the best-selling book Defeating Scrooge – How to Harness the Power of Christmas Carols to Revive Your Spirit Any Time of Year. See her TEDx talk, “Can Caroling Lead to World Peace?” at bit.ly/watchRenaeBakerTEDx and read more about her, her carolers and her programs at www.RenaeBaker.com.