PEACE is the theme of our second week of Advent. It seems fitting, as this is often one of the busiest weeks of December. School Christmas plays and concerts, finalizing plans of family and food for Christmas get-togethers, shopping for gifts to give to teachers at class parties next week…
It’s in the midst of the chaos that we’re invited to dwell on peace. And as I’ve thought about it over the past week, you know what I’ve realized?
Peace doesn’t always look the way we think it “should”
One of my favorite Christmas songs about peace is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”. It references the wrong in our lives and in our world, then turns and proclaims God’s glory and power and overwhelming peace.
But I’ve always had an issue with this song: the commonly sung tune for it is way too happy.
How can you sing “All ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow” in a cheerful, lilting melody? Yes eventually the lyrics turn, but…
We need to stop and allow ourselves to feel the pain before we can truly appreciate the promise of peace. And often, that peace will end up surprising us in how it’s packaged.
The idea of becoming a hermit in our house and completely avoiding all of the busyness of December does sound appealing and peaceful. But for the majority of us, it can never be a reality. And we don’t necessarily want it to be! When we’re actually at our extended family Christmas parties playing games and eating cookies, or opening gifts with our kids on Christmas morning, we relish the moment and are bursting with joy and happiness.
It’s the preparation for the event that is painful.
What would it look like if, over the next two weeks, instead of complaining to your friends about how busy the season is, and sighing with contempt and annoyance, and vowing next year will be different — what if you did this:
1. Stand in front of your calendar. Or your to-do list.
(I have both. And both on paper and on my phone. I’m quite the list maker.)
2. Look at them. REALLY look at them.
And say out loud, “YES. THIS IS OVERWHELMING. THIS IS STRESSFUL. THIS IS BUSY.” Acknowledge it. Name it. Don’t be afraid of the chaos and the pain and the stress each activity will cause you to experience. You’re not likely to cancel any of these upcoming activities.
3. Look at them again.
And see and hear the people involved in each one.
See your kids standing on that stage at school, dressed in their Christmas finest (or stable animal costume), belting out “Jingle Bells” or “Away in a Manger” (or just hiding their face behind their hands, because come on — that’s cute in its own way).
Hear your sister’s laughter as you share a drink or a cookie.
See your friend’s eyes light up as she opens an adorable gift that you picked out just for her.
Hear the organ or piano or electric guitar playing “Joy to the World” at the Christmas Eve service.
4. And make a choice.
You really do have a choice. Will you stay in your despair, toiling with painful steps? Playing the part of the martyr who is just so busy this season? Or will you actually make an effort to turn it around, see the joy that will happen because of the busyness, and realize that this season will soon be over and you don’t want to miss it??
5. Refuse to complain to others.
I think this is the trickiest part of all. It’s SO EASY to get into those discussions with friends and family about the calendar and to-do list this time of year. To commiserate and grumble together. But what if your attitude during those conversations was different? What if a simple “Yes, isn’t it busy? We finally put up our tree yesterday! But wow my toddler’s face when we turned on those lights… So adorable, I’ll never forget it!”
Imagine how that could change the tone of your conversation.
Peace seems elusive this time of year. But I think it’s because we have it packaged all wrong. We think peace needs to be the absence of chaos and noise. While those mornings with a cup of coffee next to the quiet Christmas tree are beautiful and peaceful, that’s not the only time peace can appear in December.
Peace comes when we take a step back from the urgency and noise of an individual situation and instead look at the big picture. The chaos will not last forever. Tilt into these busy activities for a season, knowing they are amazing gifts this time of year. Acknowledge the stress, but don’t stay there.
A couple of years ago my husband took the lyrics to “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and set it to a different, more fitting tune — Fernando Ortega’s “Our Great God”. The best part? He also included the refrain in the arrangement. It makes the lyrics pop so much more.
All ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow
Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing!
Oh rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing:
Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God!
Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God!
If the angels could speak of God’s goodness and peace in the midst of the upheaval in the world that day, so can we.
(Another Christmas song about despair and peace with a tune that I don’t think fits the lyrics is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” This version by Casting Crowns has become one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs.)
“It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life.” -Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT