The Gift of Peace

Isaiah 9: 2-7

Luke 2: 1-20

Well, there it is! The Christmas story, all wrapped up and with a bow to top it off…. just perfect…. a manger, tired parents, lots of angels, even shepherds…. lots of hay, a baby.  What more could we ask?

But have you ever really thought about how poor you have to be to put your newborn baby in a manger stuffed with hay?  How hard a life has to be that giving birth in a barn sounds like a good option?

I once read a short story by a New Bedford author about the first Christmas.  In her story, the Holy Family was two teenagers, run out of their homes, no jobs, no place to stay, camped out in one of the abandoned Hathaway mills — and it was a wicked cold, snowy, waterfront Christmas.  They scrabbled in a dumpster for food and liberated some blankets to keep from freezing to death.

That’s our story… beautiful, yes, but gritty as all get out, too.  This is not a story about the hoped for child of an established couple.  There’s no home to come home to, no money for a hospital.   There are no plans for college, no expectation of a pile of baby presents, of books and toys and nursery school — only pain and struggle and hard work — and a family built on love and hope and faith, a family that aimed for peace.

What kind of hope does it take to look for peace, look for the ultimate good, at a time of such deeply personal need.  Mary and Joseph needed diapers; what good was world peace going to do them?

They needed a home, work, food, clothing.  They weren’t soldiers, Joseph didn’t work for the Romans…. what good would peace do them.

Wasn’t this the time, of all times, for the two of them to put their own needs first, to take care of their family?  But they hoped for, prayed for, lived for peace.

Not that mindless state of being  –I think it often comes just before sleep — where nothing matters any more and “whatever” is our watchword.  No, this was a much more active kind of peace.  It was, in fact, Isaiah’s peace, God’s peace.

It was peace Isaiah foretold in our first lesson today:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

What does peace look like at the most local level possible?  It’s not all abound ending wars in faraway places –tho that’s surely part of it — peace is also about how we live with one another right here, right now.

Now, peace is not about not having arguments, or letting the loudest voice, or the angriest person, have their way.  Peace is not about papering over differences.  And peace is not about giving up and going away.  Peace is active, and vital, persistent, kind, and principled.  It doesn’t come without effort, or intention, but calls out our best.

Peace is about building a world where all have the opportunity to work, to get an education, to create a home…. where being an immigrant is a sign of commitment to our community rather than something to be hidden.

Peace is about creating, working towards, a place where all can be true to their own identity, where no one hides their family behind a closet door.

Peace is about treating, interacting with every person in a way which assumes they are good, kind, true and contain within themselves the same spark of divine love that we ourselves contain.

I’m convinced that we can see the essential health of a community, or the essential level of Christian commitment we’re practicing, by watching traffic habits or paying attention to how we treat sales people

On my way over here from East Providence this week, I pulled out onto 195.  A car came up ahead of me at a goodly rate of speed, swerved out in front of me to pass, then pulled right back in….. and slowed down to a crawl, to take the next exit.  It’s a maneuver we’ve all seen and many of us have executed from time to time.  In fact, the very next day, the person in front of me was going so slowly that I’d have done the same thing — if only I’d wanted to go to Barrington, instead of coming here!  And I would have been as wrong, as self-centered, as the driver the day before.  Living in a way that makes for peace calls on us to exercise self-control, to practice respect for the other wherever we find the other.

I’m not saying this is easy — and doing it while driving can be particularly difficult because driving so often occurs in stressful situations.  But practicing courtesy  builds community and models the peace the baby Jesus came to bring us.

So, today, I’m going to suggest to us four questions to ask ourselves, not just for today, but through out the next twelve months — as a way of keeping the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts and in our church.

Do we, each of us, seek to nurture love and harmony within our Church community? Are we sensitive to others, caring in our speech, respectful in our ways?

Do we live in accordance with our spiritual convictions?  Do we deal honestly with all?

Do we make our homes havens of blessing and places of peace?  Do our children know they are loved?  Do we make time for our parents or do we wait for them to express their needs?

Do we respect every person as a child of God? Do we search ourselves for and strive to eliminate prejudices such as those related to race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation and economic condition? In what ways do we accept and appreciate differences among our friends and associates? Do we avoid exploiting and manipulating others to accomplish ends, however worthy?

None of the questions are easy or simple.  If they seem so to you, try just reading them daily and asking yourself about your own actions — because none of us is able to answer yes to every question all the time.  Every one of us, from time to time, struggles to live out these principles.  We get antsy when we have to wait at the light for someone to turn left, or we’re tired or scared and let our feelings work their way out in a snarky remark in church.

That’s not to say that some of us aren’t better at this than others — it’s only to say that all of us are capable of getting better when we recognize the extent to which we fall short of God’s expectations for us.  Only then can we begin to respond to the questions for ourselves.  Don’t worry – I don’t expect that you’ll have just written them down!  I’ll be including them in our next newsletter and we’ll hear about them again in the new year.

Do we seek to nurture love and harmony among and within our Church community?  Do we live in accordance with our spiritual convictions?  Do we make our homes havens of blessing and places of peace?  Do we respect every person as a child of God.

If you think about it, and thanks to Enid Slade, I have this week — it is not necessary for us to wait until we are important in the worldly sense before we begin to live according to our principles.  Enid was never important in the world’s eyes and yet there were things in her life that she did with sufficient love that it spilled over onto her family, in ways that have made a difference in how they relate to others.

All of us, however prominent or insignificant, have that power.  Each one of us interacts with other people, and so each one of us has the opportunity to change lives.

Do we believe in the love and harmony taught by Jesus?  Then live our lives with that love.  Do we believe that each person was made to be a child of God.  Then respect each person you meet.  Do we believe that our homes are the foundation of a harmonious society?  Then seek to create the sort of place where others feel welcome and respected.

That is the true gift of Christmas — building a community of peace, love and justice — seeking to understand and accept one another — and in that way, creating the peace that the Prince of Peace has brought us.


© 2010 Virginia H. Child


Author: tobelieveistocare

I am an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, having served as a settled pastor for over thirty years. I play classical mandolin and share my home with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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