By Joel Bates
“Peace on earth!” is the theme of Christmas, but for my family, peace this year has been elusive. It all started when my wife, Julie, succumbed to the dreaded COVID virus the week after Thanksgiving. At first, I feared for her safety, but as her symptoms abated, the reality of an all family quarantine loomed over us. Peace went right out the window as we considered the possibility that our family might be missing Christmas this year. We yanked the wall calendar down and laid it out on the dining room table to figure the quarantine period. We intently huddled over it like we were reading a top secret document. If my calculations were correct, we would not be out of quarantine until Christmas eve!
Groans filled the room as the kids thought about all the holiday festivities we would miss. We would miss the staff Christmas party, the town parade, making cookies with Nana, watching holiday football games with Papa, caroling to the old folks, and on and on. I slumped down into my chair thinking out loud, “No peace this Christmas!”
Just a couple weeks previous, I had written a letter to the Discovery Ministries donors about how this was such a good year despite all the mindless rioting, pointless pandemic, and irritating election drama. Now I was facing a year with no Christmas, and I didn’t like the reality. I had so easily written those words extolling peace during the holidays, but I wasn’t suffering two weeks ago. I wondered, in that moment, if I would take comfort from my own words of encouragement.
I called an emergency family meeting, which was easy since we were all right there at the table. “What are we going to do about this?” I asked the family. One of my daughters thought it would be a good idea to social distance from each other, especially her brother! Another child suggested that Julie and I go live in a tent in the wilderness, and the kids would run the house until the quarantine was over. “No,” I said. “We need to stay together. We need to remember that God knows about our struggles and that He can provide to make this a great Christmas.” The kids all nodded in agreement, and I resolved to believe my own words. So, we set to the task of seeing how we could salvage this Christmas.
One of the most disappointing cancelations for our family this season was our plan to attend a local church’s Advent ceremony each week. It was now the second week of Advent, so we set out two candles, gathered some song books, and prepared some scriptures to read aloud. As we circled around to light the second candle, Julie read an excerpt from an Advent devotional. This candle was to remind us of the peace of Christ. That word peace took me by surprise, and before I could steel myself, my eyes misted as the anxieties warring in my heavy heart rose to the surface. Wrestling with the thought of watching my wife and kids suffer illness and confinement during this holiday season, I stared into the flickering candle of peace, reminded of our Savior’s not-so-peaceful entry into the world.
I tried to imagine what that first Christmas must have been like as Mary and Joseph reached Bethlehem after their long journey, knowing that the baby’s birth was near. It was a time when tyrannical government edicts mingled with social inequality, colliding in a bustling country village in Judea’s hill country. I pictured Joseph going door to door seeking shelter for his wife amid the thick crowd of pilgrim travelers, undoubtedly angry because they had to be counted. The street vendors, the inhospitable locals, and the Roman soldiers filled the streets, but the desperate couple must have felt so alone among the myriad of strangers.
These lowly, obscure newlyweds were simply trying to not miss Christmas. Can you imagine what our lives would be like if they hadn’t found that stable? I mean, Jesus almost missed Christmas. But when hope threatened to fade, they found shelter…a stable out back, the leftovers, full of the noise of needy livestock, the oxen of many travelers, and the din of donkeys, cows and chickens.
For just one, single, solitary moment could not the Son of God have had a little peace and quiet? He was the Prince of Peace, for crying out loud, but at the first Christmas, He would be born into no such luxury. In a stall, He came into the world He was destined to save. Then as a newborn taking his first full breaths of air, He cried, adding to the clamor. Still no peace! But then, perhaps Joseph, being a conscientious husband, filled the other mangers with hay to keep the animals quiet. We can assume he asked the shepherds to come in and stand at the fringes of the firelight. Mary, sensing the safety of having Joseph by her side and knowing her heavenly Father was near, took the newborn to her breast. The hungry Son of God, was pacified as He nursed contentedly.
Suddenly, as though by divine intent, all is calm…all is bright. Perhaps in that moment, the reality of the Prince of Peace, here with us, first dawned on the shepherds, and they quietly exited the stable to loudly proclaim the story. Joseph breathed a sigh of relief because he had found safe sanctuary for Mary and the child. Now he could rest. Mary’s sweat and tears of childbearing were over, and now sweet tears of joy lined her cheeks. She had remained faithful. And the baby slept in peace. Soon this Prince of Peace would save us all.
As the advent candle glowed in our living room, I sat watching the firelight dance on my children’s smiling faces. I saw my lovely wife resting comfortably in her chair with my youngest daughter asleep on her mama’s lap, unfazed by any fear of contracting an illness, and I felt full of the peace of Jesus. Whether it’s the threat of illness, the isolation of a quarantine, the problem of provision, or the fear of the future…no matter what happens this Christmas, peace is ours in Christ. Let there be peace.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.