(By Heather Marshall)
Picture with me the traditional Christmas nativity scene. What words come to your mind as you visualize this gathering of unlikely characters around the manger?
One of the main words that comes to my mind is peace. The scene looks so peaceful, with smiling Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, and even the animals gazing at this amazing newborn child.
While artists and sculptors portray the peacefulness of the nativity, in reality, when we consider the details of the Christmas story, peace is the last concept we would think of to describe the scene.
In the news recently, a couple in the Ottawa area went to the hospital to give birth to their first child only to find the maternity ward closed due to staff shortages. They tried another hospital only to find the same thing. Finally, out of options, the staff on hand assembled an emergency team and were able to deliver the baby who was in distress. While the baby was born healthy, the mother has cried every day since thinking about the stress and what might have happened if they hadn’t been able to receive medical care when they needed it.
Consider what Mary went through during her pregnancy. Her pregnancy out of wedlock would have caused her significant loss and emotional distress. It would have been a scandal to her family and friends and no doubt led to her being ostracized. Even Joseph, her betrothed, considered ending their relationship. Mary could have faced legal consequences, since the law of her day condemned pregnancies outside of marriage.
The upheaval of making the long journey to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy only to find that there was no place to stay would have caused even more stress. Finally, giving birth to the Son of God in a lowly stable with only a manger to lay Him in must have been completely heartbreaking.
After Jesus’ birth, we read the disturbing account of King Herod’s devious dealings with the wise men. He pretended to want to worship the One who was born King of the Jews, but secretly plotted to murder this little baby king. His subsequent order to kill all boys 2 years old and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area caused extreme sorrow throughout the land. Matthew tells us in his gospel that the words of Jeremiah the prophet were fulfilled, “A voice in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
The circumstances surrounding the birth of the Lord show us that it was not the peaceful setting we often see when looking at a typical nativity scene. We know from the gospels that the Lord Jesus endured many difficult trials as He lived among a fallen and sinful creation for 33 years before His most difficult hour, the crucifixion.
Why then is the Lord Jesus Christ called the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)? And why did the angels announce peace on earth to the shepherds in the field on the night of His birth?
Jesus came to bring peace to all, but it’s not the superficial kind of peace that is depicted when looking at an artist’s serene interpretation of a nativity display. The peace that He came to give would be marked with significant sorrow and suffering. In Isaiah 53:3, we read that He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
The true and lasting peace that Jesus gives to all who put their faith in Him is the forgiveness of our sin through His suffering on the cross of Calvary. Isaiah 53 also reminds us, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him and by His wounds we are healed.” We also read in Colossians 1:20, “He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”
When we trust Christ as our personal Savior for the forgiveness of our sins, we become partakers of His true and lasting peace and we are set free to walk in the path of peace. In the gospel of Luke, we read, “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace“ (Luke 1:78-79).
Are you in a time of turmoil or sorrow? Maybe you feel that you cannot enter into the joy of the Christmas season because of the circumstances of your life. I pray that you see that the peace of Christmas is more than a nice feeling that comes with looking at the nativity and singing about “peace on earth.”
The peace that Jesus gives came at great personal sorrow and turmoil to Him. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and He intimately knows your pain and can relate with all that you are going through because He has experienced the deepest sorrow ever known. He wants to comfort you and hold you with His true and lasting peace that is yours even in difficult circumstances.
May you be encouraged today by Jesus’ words to His disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow. But take heart, because I have overcome the world“ (John 16:33).