The Advent and Christmas seasons for me have always been punctuated with Christmas music. I have fond memories of Christmastime as a child when our house smelled like Christmas goodies, the Christmas tree was lit, and Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music was playing on vinyl in the background. My wife and I have carried on the tradition of playing Christmas music in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Harry Connick Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas, Jewel’s Joy: A Holiday Collection, and Casting Crowns’s Peace on Earth have become our some of our favorites.
Music has the ability to form us in a deep way. During the Advent and Christmas seasons, Christmas music helps to shape in us expectation and hope. It has the power to renew our minds, and to lift our thoughts up and away from the demands of shopping, Christmas parties, and the business that comes our way in December. Christmas music also gives us the opportunity to slow down and reflect.
Singing Christmas carols resulted in British and German troops ceasing fire on one another during World War I in what’s known as the “Christmas Truce of 1914.” A British solider reported that at one point they starting singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and the Germans joined in, singing the same carol in Latin. When the sun rose on Christmas Day, soldiers from both sides emerged from their trenches exchanging Christmas greetings and gifts with their enemies.1 Christmas carols and songs contain a certain kind of magic that give us a moment to pause.
If the World Wants Peace For Christmas
Such an experience of pause came my way while listening to Nichole Nordeman’s new Christmas album Fragile. The song that stands out to me is “Maybe”; it doesn’t sound like a typical jolly Christmas song, but its haunted reflection makes it well-suited to be an Advent song. “Maybe” is written from a place of sullen woundedness where conflict has created a relational rift. The song hints at the hope of forgiveness and the possibility of healing in the presence of love. The song asks, “If the world wants peace for Christmas could it not begin with us?”If the world wants peace for Christmas could it not begin with us? Click To Tweet
The Christmas narrative resounds with the expectation of peace. The heavenly choir that sang at Jesus’ birth declared, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14, emphasis added). The newborn King lying in a manger is Isaiah’s promised Prince of Peace whose “authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom” (Isaiah 9:7).
This peace is the kind of civility and mutual respect that Americans seem to want these days. According to a recent Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, “More than nine of ten—about as close to unanimity as a national poll usually reaches—said it’s important for the United States to try to reduce that divisiveness. Figuring out how to have a constructive conversation with folks on the other side would be a good start, most said.”2 In a polarized and bitterly divided culture, maybe we who follow the Prince of Peace can model what peace, forgiveness, respect, and civility look like.In a polarized and bitterly divided culture, maybe we who follow the Prince of Peace can model what peace, forgiveness, respect, and civility look like. Click To Tweet
Nordeman’s song ends with these words:
Maybe you’re still angry
Maybe I’m offended
But maybe in the arms of Jesus we’ll be mended
And maybe love is bigger
Maybe love is stronger
Maybe just for Christmas
But maybe longer
The peace associated with the Christmas season is a perfect opportunity for us to practice the peace of Christ, and maybe, just maybe, we can live out that peace even a bit longer.
Four Ways to Practice Christmas Peace
1. Embrace the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are neither platitudes nor moral imperatives. Rather they are announcements regarding who is blessed in the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, the Beatitudes offer us a peek into the values and rhythms of the kingdom.
Jesus offers a blessing to the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for justice…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers….and the persecuted. When we embrace these qualities in others and within ourselves, we dodge the temptations to nurse our pride or nurture our hurt.
People embracing and living out the Beatitudes are the means by which God is changing God’s broken world. N.T. Wright and Michael Bird write in The New Testament in Its World, “When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t launch missiles. Instead, he sends in the meek, the mourners, and the merciful. When God wants to put things to right, he doesn’t scramble combat jets; he calls people to love and do justice.”3 God is not changing the world through fighters, but peacemakers.God is not changing the world through fighters, but peacemakers. Click To Tweet
2. Chose civility over arguments
When you find your place at the table at a holiday gathering with friends or family and someone says, “Can you believe those crazy Democrats are…?” Or “Can you believe the nutty Republicans are…?”, do not feel compelled to respond. You can always excuse yourself from the table to grab something to drink instead of taking the bait to engage in a political argument. You don’t have to respond. You may have an opinion, but you don’t have to share your thoughts. It takes two people to have an argument; don’t be that second person.It takes two people to have an argument; don't be that second person. Click To Tweet
We’re not always going to agree with the people we love, but we can disagree without turning conversations into arguments. If you do choose to engage in conversation, then talk about your differences without being angry and argumentative. Ask questions. Ask loving questions. Listen attentively. Seek understanding before evaluating. Don’t judge. Put yourself in the position of the person talking. Imagine what life looks like from his or her perspective. If the conversation gets testy, then politely bring it to an end.
3. Pray the Psalms
The life of peace is sustained by prayer. The Spirit-inspired prayer book for the people of God is the Psalter. In various places throughout the Scripture we find instructions on how to pray, but the Psalms pray for us. We don’t read the Psalms like other potions of Scripture, we pray them. Psalms 96, 97, and 98 have traditionally been considered Psalms for Christmas. These Psalms focus our attention not on the stress and the strain of a world at war, but on the God who reigns.
We can renew ourselves in the peace of God through the praise of God, when we offer prayers such as:
Psalms 96, 97, and 98 focus our attention not on the stress and the strain of a world at war, but on the God who reigns. Click To Tweet
“Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.'” (Psalm 96:10)
“The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1)
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.” (Psalm 98:4-6)
4. Offer forgiveness
If peacemaking is our business, then forgiveness is the currency. Love indeed may be bigger and stronger, but if love is to bring healing, it must be expressed in forgiveness. God in Christ has forgiven us. We pray that God transforms us into a community of the forgiven who extend that forgiveness to others. Peace, that is the absence of conflict and the resolution of relational tension, becomes alive as we offer forgiveness to those who have harmed us. Forgiveness is a prayerful process by which we choose not to return hurt for hurt and instead we place the offender (or offenders) in the hands of God.If peacemaking is our business, then forgiveness is the currency. Click To Tweet
Forgiveness is not an event as much as it is a lived process. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what the offender did was okay. It does not justify the actions taken against us. It doesn’t mean that it was all our fault. Forgiveness doesn’t automatically imply reconciliation, although it opens the door for reconciled relationships.
Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and Jesus is the King who leads us away from the toxicity of sin, if we are willing to follow in his footsteps. Jesus is also the benevolent judge who will make all things right. Jesus will do what is fair and right with all people in the end. Forgiveness creates space for healing to occur and maybe, just maybe, we can experience that kind of peace beyond just this Advent and Christmas season.
3 N.T. Wright & Michael Bird, The New Testament in Its World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 207.