Thomas Edison is credited with changing the way Christmas was lighted, not because he invented the incandescent bulb, but because he chose Christmas as the time to market the incandescent bulb. Edison’s marketing trick during the holiday season of 1880 was to display his invention as a means of heightening Yuletide excitement; he strung up incandescent bulbs all around his Menlo Park laboratory compound so that passing commuters on the nearby railway could see the Christmas miracle. But, Edison being Edison decided to make the challenge a little trickier by powering the lights from a remote generator eight miles away in an effort to gain a contract to provide electricity to Manhattan.
Did you catch the irony? Electric Christmas lights were a marketing ploy in the middle of the most marketed holiday ever. Two years later, in 1882 Edison’s partner Edward Johnson strung lights on his family’s Charlie Brown looking Christmas tree and the world saw the first electrically lighted tree. The practice didn’t catch on too quickly because it was too expensive for the average American to string lights on trees. Not until 1917 did electric lights become affordable for the average American, and they’ve been marketed successfully ever since. It’s okay, though. Lights are pretty, and they add so much to the season, and when we remember why we have lights we recapture the essence of the season, and we can handle the irony.
Irony at the Manger
There’s more than a little irony associated with the nativity, too. How ironic is it that the Prince of Peace should be born during a time known as the Pax Romana—a time known as the Peace of Rome? Yet, the Jews were an oppressed people living in an occupied land. Though there was no outright conflict in the world, there was unrest in the hearts of the people. They were, even in those days, restless for God.
And, how ironic that this One born the Prince of Peace would, himself, bring so much conflict among people? Consider that because of this peaceful manger scene every child under the age of two would be slaughtered due to Herod’s insecurity. Consider the scene in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus’ hometown folks sought to shove him off a cliff, and consider the attacks Jesus endured from the very Roman occupiers who demanded that Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem—attacks that took him to the cross. And, consider the conflict the early disciples endured because they followed this One we call the Prince of Peace. Oh! There is more than a little irony when we consider that Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Light brightens the darkness. Light, as the prophet Isaiah says, “will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.” And, the prophet says this light will shine in a day of peace. We hear a lot about peace in the nativity story. It starts with the prophet Isaiah who speaks of a resounding peace that comes amid the vivid imagery of the boots of tramping warriors and battle garments rolled in blood all of which will be burned as fuel for the fire to usher in the One who will be known as the Prince of Peace.
According to Luke, a multitude of the heavenly hosts, the ones who appeared to the shepherds that night of Jesus’ birth, sang of “Peace on earth good will to all whom God favors.” And our favorite carols pick up the theme as well.
Silent night, holy night. All is calm all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Somehow the image of a newborn child and our longing for peace go hand in hand. The baby Jesus, lying in a manger, offers a symbol of peacefulness and calm that speaks to our soul, especially when we consider the chaotic time in which we live. Jesus as the Prince of Peace in a chaotic world seems like a marketing ploy, like someone’s trying to sell us a bill of goods. When we consider 2020 and the pandemic, rioting and looting, cities ablaze, and of course, the election (and its aftermath), peace seems so unattainable. How do we look at a baby in a manger and see peace? How can we see light shining in the midst of dark, chaotic world?
Searching for Shalom
Too often, the term peace has been connected with the absence of war, or even the absence of conflict. If there is no war – there is peace. However, the word that is used in the Old Testament for peace is “Shalom,” and it means so much more than the absence of conflict. Shalom is used to describe the end of hostilities, but the word itself also denotes health and wholeness. It denotes harmony and completeness. To have shalom is to have a quiet life and a fulfilled life in every way. When you have shalom there is no feeling of harm or hurt. When you have shalom you are in a state of ease and safety. In a state of shalom there is no fear whatsoever, nor is there any worry. There is a sense of harmony and oneness. Everything is exactly the way it should be. Nothing is out of order. Your inner world as well as the outer world is in harmony. This is shalom – this is the peace that Jesus brings for He is – Our Prince of Peace.
Down deep inside, don’t we all long to have this sense of peace? Deep inside every one of us is a God-given longing that there would be a greater sense of shalom within ourselves, within our families, within our nation, and between nations.
Isaiah felt the same way. Isaiah was an Old Testament prophet and he had the same longings. The year was 700 B.C. The Jews had been fighting for forty years. First, they fought with the Assyrians, then the Egyptians, then the Assyrians again, then the Egyptians again. An entire generation had grown up knowing war, with a spear in one hand and a sword in the other. From the time a kid was three years old, all they were doing was playing war games.
Can you imagine forty years of that kind of life? Isaiah was tired of it. He was tired of four decades of killing. He was tired of kids being trained to kill. He was tired of mothers and fathers and sons and daughters fighting with each other. Isaiah longed for peace; he longed for peace as much as a parched, dry, thirsty man longs for water, or a starving man longs for bread. Isaiah longed for peace because he had experienced so much war.
Isaiah longed for peace perhaps because he had read the book of Genesis, and he knew that God created us to be peaceful with each other. Isaiah knew that we were made in the image of God, and therefore we are made to be peaceful with each other.
Made for Peace
When God created Adam and Eve and humankind, it was not God’s intention for us to hurt each other. It was not God’s intentions for mothers and fathers, and husbands and wives, and blacks and whites, and Arabs and Israelis, and Russians and Americans, Muslims and Christians, to be at war with each other.
We are made in the image of God. We are made for peace. That’s why, down in our hearts, every time we fight with our spouse, or our children, or even ourselves, we don’t like it. You and I have been made by God to be peaceful people. We always feel so much better about life when we are at peace with ourselves, family, and each other.
Peace with ourselves and with one another starts with peace with God. Here is where a little light begins to shine in the darkness. Though we are made in the image of God, sin has stained that image. Each of us, because of sin, has a problem with God. Our sin has separated us from God. The Bible says that we deserve punishment for our sin. Before we can have peace with God, something must be done about sin.
Guess what? Something has been done! God sent the Prince of Peace to deal with the situation. He sent the Prince of Peace to fix the problem. He sent the Prince of Peace to give us peace with God.
The good news of the child who is born a savior is that he comes to a world we know and bears upon him the sins that we bear. God has entered into this life of ours and taken it upon himself, and in so doing, sets us right with Himself, makes peace. There is a caveat, though. The angels in the Christmas story were singing high above the shepherds and they sang, “Peace on earth to all whom God favors.” The angels did not sing, “Peace on earth for all people…Peace on earth, carte blanche. Anyone with a credit card can charge it.” Rather, the song of peace adds a crucial ingredient, “to all whom God favors”—that is, people who trust in Jesus Christ will find shalom.
Let me tell you about Robert Reid. Not the actor, but the missionary. Robert graduated from high school and then from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Latin. He taught at a junior college in St. Louis and ventured overseas on five mission trips before moving to Lisbon as a missionary in 1972. He rented a hotel room and began studying Portuguese. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him because he was unable to feed himself. That’s because Robert’s hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t bathe himself. He can’t brush his own teeth. He can’t put on his own underwear. His shirts are held together by strips of Velcro. His speech drags like a worn out audio cassette. He can’t drive a car. He can’t ride a bike. He can’t even go for walk. Robert has cerebral palsy. But that did not keep him from becoming a missionary to Portugal.
Robert would go daily to the park. He would station himself there and with his twisted hands he would pass out brochures about Jesus. Within six years he helped seventy people come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ, one who became his wife, Rosa.
Robert could have been bitter because of his disease, but he wasn’t. Robert could have asked for pity, but he didn’t. Robert holds his bent and twisted hands in the air and yells, “I have everything I need for joy! Amazing!” Robert can do that because he has peace. Robert can do that because he has met the Prince of Peace – Jesus.
Peace can and does happen, even in a chaotic world. Peace can happen, even in us. Peace can happen in our marriages. Peace can happen in our children. Peace can happen because we are made in the image of God. We are made for peace and we long for peace and we then work for peace because the Prince of Peace is working inside of us. How ironic that we who seem to have such dark, chaotic lives have been called to be light in a dark world. How ironic that we who seem to so often lack peace are called work for peace in this world. Yeah, there’s more than a little irony in the Christmas story.
Until next time, keep looking up…