As we approach the season of ‘peace and goodwill to all’, I’m conscious that this time of year can be the very opposite. The truth is that Christmas can be and very often is a stressful time for many people. There are all the materialistic pressures, especially for families with children, and the stress of preparations - decorating, presents to buy, cards to write, food to buy and prepare and guests to entertain. Family relationships become strained under the weight of expectations and Christmas is notorious for family rows. Christmas time can bring an experience of increased loneliness and isolation for many people especially those missing a loved one or struggling to come to terms with a broken relationship. Ironically whilst we are all wishing each other a peaceful time what many experience is the opposite. Often the glitter and tinsel and excesses of food and drink mask much hidden pain.
You may be reading this and thinking that this is all too dismal and that Christmas is a truly happy and fulfilling time for you. You are indeed well blessed. But I do think that Christmas generally exposes our lack of peace both on the world stage and in our personal lives. As we remember the Christian story announcing the birth of Jesus the Prince of Peace, we long for real and abiding peace to rule in our hearts and in our world.
This surely would be the very best present we could receive at Christmas, but how to get hold of it? It can’t be manufactured or bought or turned on like the Christmas lights. Peace has to be found. Peace has to be received. To find we have to look for it; to receive we must be open to it.
Jesus said that to receive the things of God we must become like little children. Think of a very small child on Christmas morning with a beautifully wrapped present, eagerly ripping off the paper and opening the box, taking out the expensive and carefully chosen toy, and after a cursory look, putting it to one side to play happily with the box and the paper.
Here’s a parable of where we may find peace – in something very simple and unexpected, ‘outside the box’, unconventional, just like the arrival of Jesus into our world.
And the story of the baby born in a stable into the dirty, uncertain, anxious and needy world of homelessness and deprivation is a picture of how peace is received – into our real need.
May you find peace in unexpected places this Christmas. May you receive the gift of peace into your need all through the coming year.