Anyone who follows me on facebook knows that one of my favorite parts of the holiday season is opening cards from friends far and near. Being single, it is a nice reminder that someone thought to include you as a part of their family. This year in particular, opening cards from Atlanta reminded me that I hadn’t been forgotten, and that is a feeling that cannot be replaced.
But beyond the sentimentality, opening Christmas cards is one of my favorite parts of the season, because of the precious faces I find smiling up at me in pictures, capturing a single moment of family joy, wishing me a peaceful and happy Christmas.
Occasionally, I receive a card that seems perfectly normal, until upon further examination, I notice that the middle child is crossing her eyes or the eldest has his arms folded in front of him with a spiteful glare towards his little sister. Noticing such “joyful” moments, it’s hard not think, “Wow! That was the best picture they got? There must be a story behind that photo session!”
Because, let’s face it – behind all the precious smiles and perfect family portraits we see at Christmas time, there are a million more with the baby breaking down in tears of the two older children getting ready to strangle each other.
As it turns out, taking family pictures is never really a peaceful experience, is it?
I grew up the youngest of two girls, and I remember every year at Christmas, we went through the same routine trying to get the one shot that would prove to all our parent’s friends how much we loved each other. Mom would pick out clothes for us to wear – matching, of course. And we would go from room to room taking pictures in various poses that truly belong in an Awkward Family Photo Album.
But, before we could ever start, a fight would break out. My sister wouldn’t be in the picture with me if I insisted on wearing my hair “that way,” or I wanted to be the one that stood next to Dad. These arguments would go on and on until we were both in separate rooms being counseled by our parents to suck it up, splash some water on our faces, and smile for the camera.
If we were lucky, we’d get one good picture before the chaos started all over again. Honestly, I’m not really sure how we managed to get the Christmas card pictures some years (we used a picture taken at a previous family event…).
Our greetings would go out to friends with messages of peace and joy for the holidays, but our little secret was that we hadn’t experienced much peace or joy in the creation of our Christmas card. And I don’t think we’re the only ones who share that secret.
It’s hard to be peaceful when your brother just stepped on your favorite toy or you’re a little unsure of this jolly bearded guy whose lap your mom insists you should sit on. And as you get older, you still struggle to experience the season’s peace when everything around you is so chaotic – deadlines and parties dance around your head until you think you’re about to explode making time for both… not to mention the regular stuff like paying the bills and going to grocery (which, btw, I have NOT made time for this month),
On top of all that, I’m having more trouble than usual finding peace this holiday season. Every day, I hear a story about another child who will never see his father again because someone didn’t like the color of his skin or the uniform he wore. I read stories about people protesting at shopping malls and movie theaters. I listen to news anchors tell of the hundreds of children murdered halfway across the world, with no one to protect them.
If there is a good time for a Prince of Peace to enter this world, now would certainly be it.
The first time I really understood how un-peaceful the world is, I was riding back from a holiday orchestra concert with my dad when this hauntingly beautiful arrangement of Silent Night started playing in the car. Simon and Garfunkel sang that sweet, familiar melody, joined by news anchors listing off the night’s headlines of crime, mistrust, death, and war.
My dad looked over at me as I stared quizzically out the window: “Whatcha thinking about, kiddo?” he asked.
“Nothing. This song just makes me feel like the world’s a pretty scary place, isn’t it, Dad? There’s not really such as thing as a silent night, is there?”
And almost 20 years later, the headlines have only gotten worse, and the chorus of silent night seems almost completely drowned out.
But, you know, Jesus didn’t come to a world of silence and calm. His own birth took place in the midst of his parent’s government mandated trek from Nazareth to Judea. He entered this world accompanied by animals who could no more keep silent than a child on Christmas morning can stay in bed.
And, outside the stable, a restless world was anxious for a savior to bring them the peace and love that we sing about each year.
So, Jesus came as a baby to remind us of the beauty of peace in the midst of chaos. He grew into a man who showed us how to live as peaceful people, responding compassionately to those who tried to tear him down, sharing love with those who needed it most, and urging his followers to do the same.
Jesus came as one person, bringing peace one day at a time, hoping others would join him. His was a silent revolution that continues today in our actions – in the ways we reflect his peace to others.
When we lit the candle of peace during Sunday School a few weeks ago, I asked the children at Broadway how we could share this gift of peace with others. Here’s what they said:
We could give more hugs!
I could stop fighting with my brother, even when he gets on my nerves!
I can share my toys with my sister.
I can invite someone to sit by me at lunch when no one will sit with them.
We could trust each other.
And, though some of these seem like simple things, they can make the biggest difference. Peace starts with one person. Peace comes to us one action as a time, until we learn how to bring peace to even the most difficult situations.
And, our children, with as much chaos as they know how to create, are often the best example of how to find and share this peace.
Peace on earth is here. In the form of a baby in a manger. In the person of Jesus Christ, the living example of peace. In you and me – giving more hugs, sitting beside each other, and trusting one another.
I hope you will sing Silent Night a little louder tonight, because we have a secret to share. Peace is here, and it will not be drowned out.