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A Season of Peace: Making Our Own Christmas Cards
Dr. Bruce Lancaster
November 22, 2015
A reading from the Gospel of John:
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.’
On this day we are reminded that Jesus is king not just once a year and on a throne but throughout all of time and in every place and for every life.
Daniel Clendenin says, “In its simplest terms, the kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied is…mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed…embrace rather than exclusion…The ancient Hebrews had a marvelous word for this kind of life: Shalom…”
The reign of Christ is Peace.
But let’s be honest‒this has been a tough month to talk about a season of peace, and even as we look forward to Advent and prepare for the birth of the Prince of Peace, we are having to gear up for the Christmas wars.
Red cups or snowflake cups, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, and more than tacky-tour front-yard decorations, we are overwhelmed by displays of humanity’s inhumanity.
At the heart of Jesus’ life and message is his desire for peace.
Yes, there is his call to follow him as the way to finding peace with God; but even more, his life is the truth for people to be at peace with one another.
Peace on earth is what angels promised poor shepherds.
Jesus tells us that peacemakers are blessed, and on more than one occasion he told his friends, go in peace.
One of the very last things he said was “Peace I give you, but not as the world gives peace.”
When Jesus insisted his kingdom was “not of this world,” he didn’t mean it was merely spiritual nor to be found just over the horizon of time or even that he was speaking of heaven where all things are eventually made right.
The peace Jesus gives describes a life that is whole and complete and points to the prospect of healing.
We hear this in words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. “They treat the wound of my people carelessly,” he said, “when they cry, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
Stop and think about it for a moment. When was the last time you heard someone say to you, except in a service of worship, “Peace be with you.”?
The two most energetic portions of worship are one, when we get up and move around to pass the peace of Christ and then, second, get up and go when worship is over.
But shouldn’t that be the message we take with us? Should we not look for ways, seek to re-create that experience of worship in our world: Peace be with you?
Maybe you’re sitting there thinking this is some Christmas-cookie way of believing that is not grounded in the way the world works.
But that’s just it; this is Jesus’ peace, not the world’s peace. Because Jesus is King, not through policies of power, but in places and people who serve the suffering.
The reign of Christ is marked, not by who has the most guns, but by who welcomes the least of these among us.
Our problem is that we live in the awkwardness of an in-between time‒between the celebration of the Reign of Christ and the waiting for the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Jim Evans says that, “In our present moment, saying peace be with you just doesn’t make much sense. We settle for ‘merry’ and ‘happy,’ because it hurts too much to speak of peace when there is no peace.”
Pope Francis goes so far to say that Christmas festivities will seem empty in a world which has chosen ‘war and hate’…there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes…it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,’ he said in the Mass at the chapel of the Santa Marta residence.
This all started me wondering, in this in-between time, just what we want to say about the Prince of Peace out there, how can we say it to others?
That made me think about our Christmas cards, sort of a flash card for faith‒a beginning place to think of how we speak of our faith, of what it means to you and me that Christ is born and reigns as the Prince of Peace in our world.
I looked around at cards, and I’ve found that there are three or four basic values or themes which seem to show up most in Christmas cards.
One is a secular or commercial theme‒a picture of Santa Claus and a bag full of toys over his back.
On the one hand, maybe we feel that our Christian faith is exploited by commercial interests.
But this is where John the Baptist spoke‒at the crossroads of secular and spiritual‒commercial, residential, theological‒we are in the midst of it‒and we have something to say.
This card doesn’t say it.
In addition to the blatantly commercial or secular cards on the market, there are a great many that I would categorize as sentimental‒my second category.
In this category of card I would include those that show pictures of the home and hearth with a warm, cozy fire, and stockings hung over the fireplace mantel.
It seems fitting that we should uphold family life at Christmas. After all, what is Christmas but the story of the holy family traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem under the oppressive politics of Rome and from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Bethlehem as refugees escaping the violence of Herod the King.
But this is not the card that would tell that story.
And thinking about Mary and Joseph leads us to the third category of cards that I’ve found.
It is one you might imagine a minister would choose‒the traditional picture of the nativity scene.
As I considered this card, I realized this is a stylized and theological interpretation that is far removed from the very primitive scene of the darkness and earthiness and mystery of the night when Jesus was born.
Secular, sentimental, stylized‒I said there were four categories of Christmas cards, but the fourth is one that I couldn’t find‒a Christmas card that somehow expresses the faith of Christian living in 2015.
I looked and couldn’t find one. And that’s when it occurred to me‒what so many are doing in 2015 is creating their own cards‒so what would that Christmas card look like?
This is what I’ve thought of‒first of all, it would be shaped like a cell phone‒in this age of instant communication, what other way to give a message about the good news?
And then, we live fast-paced lives, so I thought about a picture of an airplane, and because of the wars that infect our world, I would make it a jet fighter, to remind us that we desperately need some peace and goodwill on earth.
I would put the jet fighter flying over a church‒not a quaint clapboard church of old New England, but a church of all doors, open for everyone.
And I would want a cross‒not necessarily on the church but out front, for everyone to see, near the intersection where God meets us in this baby, a crossroad that when you come here, it is a time for a decision about which way your life will go following God’s son, a junction where all sorts of people come together‒the cross.
And I would want to put people in the picture‒young people like Mary, frightened by the changes in her life, faithful and courageous in the choices that she’s having to make‒and people like Joseph, good people, prayerful people, and older people like Anna and Simeon‒who had waited for the coming of the Lord, and the shepherds, lowly, low-class, hard-working, and the wise men, different culture, different religion, but part of the picture of this wonderful message of God’s peace coming into the world: the love of God, the peace of Jesus Christ, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
What message do we send, what life do we make with the gift of peace given us by Jesus himself?
The gospel good news of Christ has been set loose in the world, but will his peace be the gift that we open to the world, or will it be just a vision of sugar plums we mock as the dream of fools?
I pray our lives are not a charade, but celebrate the joyful victory won for us by Christ the King, the Prince of Peace‒yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Peace be with you.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY.