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One of my favorite parts of Christmas is attending the Christmas Eve service at my church.
With the lights dimmed, candles soften the sanctuary, soften faces, quiet the hearts of the people who have come.
Some come harried and hassled. Others come burdened and broken. All come seeking something, seeking peace.
At my church, it’s our tradition on Christmas Eve to sing of peace and silence. As we hold candles we sing, “Peace, peace, peace on earth and good will to all.”
We sing, “Silent night, holy night,” and “Now let us all sing together of peace, peace, peace on earth.”
It’s a holy, happy moment as we sing. It’s a moment when all is calm and quiet, still and right. And then we walk outside where all is not still, where all is not calm, not quiet, not right.
Sometimes people call the newsroom telling whoever answers the phone their stories of injustices done to them or to someone else. They tell us stories of their pain - physical, financial, mental, emotional, spiritual.
They call us hoping we will take away their pain. They call us hoping we can give them peace.
Some call regularly with the same story, the same chronic pain that worsens as time goes by.
We can tell their stories in the paper, which may or may not bring them relief, although any relief is temporary at best. But we are powerless to take away their pain. We are impotent to give them peace.
At Christmastime we sing of peace, because that’s all anyone really wants.
Scottish theologian William Barclay said the word peace in the Bible never simply means the absence of trouble. He wrote, “The peace which the world offers us is the peace of escape, the peace which comes from the avoidance of trouble, the peace which comes from refusing to face things.”
That’s the peace we think we want and the peace we chase. We eat it, we drink it, we snort it up our noses and run up our credit cards trying to buy it.
In contrast, Barclay said the peace Jesus offers is the “peace of conquest, the peace which no experience in life can ever take from us, the peace which no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can make less - the peace which is independent of outward circumstances.”
A few years back some historians determined that since 3600 B.C. the world has known less than 300 years of peace, and more than 14,000 wars have killed more than 3.64 billion people.
We live in a world where war, unrest and senseless violence is the norm and peace is the oddity.
And yet, at Christmas we sing of peace. We sing of it because in a world of unpeace it’s what we long for most. We sing of it because a Prince of Peace left his home in heaven and came to earth, bringing peace with him.
The angels who announced his coming proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
Peace, even when the world is at war. Peace, even when unpeace reigns. To those on whom his favor rests, God gives peace with himself and the ability and power to broker peace with others and with ourselves.
For centuries, people have sung about peace amid unpeace. During the American Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words to the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
In it he laments, “In despair I bowed my head. ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’”
But in the very next stanza he wrote - and we still sing - “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”
For those on whom God’s favor rests, peace is both now and yet to come, a down payment against the time when Jesus brings a final, once and for all, eternal peace, restoring everything we have destroyed.
Until then, it’s Christmas. Christ has come. Jesus himself is our peace. So, let us sing.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.