Heavenly Peace, Not False Sentiment
Jesus brings heavenly peace only if we trust and obey in times of both Christmas cheer and Christmases in the cold.
Peace, “heavenly peace,” is the theme of the last Sunday of Advent. “Heavenly peace” as written about in the carol Silent Night, which is really a carol to be sung in war zones as much as in front of a fireplace.
Understood at one level, the song and its setting seem like something right at home in a Precious Moments store. Mothers and sweet little babies are precious, we can all agree. And unless you’re a Scrooge, what’s not to like about a lovely little family surrounded by cute animals? Toss in the charming shepherds and impressive magi, and who cares if it’s religious in origin? It’s a darn attractive little tableaux, as pleasant and comforting as sipping cider by the fire.
But what about when you are outside in the cold? What about when your family isn’t all there because of death or estrangement or incarceration or divorce? What about the fact that babies die? Every baby will eventually die. In fact, the baby in the carol was born for that purpose: to die.
That’s a hard truth, but a good thing. For if Jesus had come to earth merely to visit us and share some smiles, we would all be doomed.
Christ our Savior
Jesus came to earth for a greater and more terrible reason than a friendly visit. He came to fight evil, to kill death. He came because the world is not full of heavenly peace. The rest of Silent Night alludes to the reason he came. He came to save us from sin and death, to reconcile us to God, and to open the gates to heaven. He came to bring hope, joy and peace that cannot be taken from the homeless, from the sick, the bereft, the abandoned, the refugee, or the prisoner.
As a carol, Silent Night only works in the context of the whole story of salvation. Taken in isolation, as a mere song for crooners at a vaguely traditional holiday party, it would be a sentimental lie, suitable only for people who like to indulge in false optimism when their bellies are full.
But because Jesus was born of a virgin, preached to the lost sheep of Israel, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and rose again on the third day, He is our truth. Christmas tidings are truly tidings of great joy.
But only if we put our hope in Jesus. Only if we trust and obey in times of both Christmas cheer and Christmases in the cold. Only then does he bring hope and joy and “heavenly peace” shorn of false sentiment.
“My peace I give you;” said Jesus. “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” The sentimental peace of the world will fade. But we have a Savior who was born “to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” The last Sunday of Advent is a time to remember a most stubborn peace. The heavenly peace announced by prophets and angels and revealed in Christ.
Jesus brings a hope that will never disappoint. That’s why — even in the midst of our human mess, as in the midst of a messy manger — we can “sleep in heavenly peace.”