The very hills that once rang with the music of the heavenly chorus were later drowned in the sickening cries of slaughtered infants, and the heart-rending wails of their mourning mothers.* As the poets say, no one cries like a mother cries, for peace on earth.
Peace from God is often far from what (and when) we expect.
Pondering the promise of peace from within the swirling winds of the storm can lead to resignation, dissonance, and even despair. And yet, perhaps more than anything else, this is the mystery that best epitomizes the Christmas story: peace amidst the storm. After all, Christmas is the celebration that the Prince of Peace moved into our war-torn neighborhood.
This awkward, paradoxical miracle of Christmas past serves as a powerful reminder for us today. It preserves the Divine mixed in with the straw, the eternal with the mortal, the peace with the storm. The God with us. You see, the manger would never have looked quite the same to Mary once she saw her son lying in it. She knew, as the song says, that somehow the baby in her womb was the maker of the moon. In the same way, the storm can never look quite the same to us once we see the Son standing in it. We know that somehow the God in the flesh will never be overwhelmed by the storm.
Even so, I think we continually wrestle as we fight the urge to be satisfied with ‘peace of mind’ rather than long for peace itself. Peace of mind, like all low-hanging fruit, seems more within reach. Peace, on the other hand, can appear unattainable. But the contrasts don’t end there: we enjoy peace of mind for a moment when we have no problems and the sun is shining, but we cherish peace throughout life when we remember that the shining Son will set all problems right. Peace of mind evaporates as quickly as it appears, while peace itself endures the harshest of hurricanes.
I often wonder if any of the shepherds who listened to the angels and kelt before the infant Jesus later collapsed by the graves of their own tiny sons. Surely, this was not the peace they expected. And yet, they also knew that the events of their first Christmas meant they would never be alone in the storm.
But the peace extends beyond the presence.
The manger reminds us of his presence in the storm; God with us. But our hope is not ultimately in merely sailing through the storm, as significant a journey as that may be. The cross reminds us of his power to still the storm. Peace drawn from his presence sustains us while we wait for the day when he will rise up in the middle of the raging storm and simply say, “No more.”
He is with us in our storm today, and he will silence our storm tomorrow. The promise rings true. And yet somehow, I still find myself surprised by the reminders that this unexpected peace is here now, and is also yet to come.