Published in the Rains County Leader on December 8, 2015:
Last week I wrote about Advent, the season celebrated by the Christian church that includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas. On the first Sunday, the Candle of Hope is lit. The second Sunday is celebrated with the Candle of Peace.
Peace is sometimes difficult to find in the season leading up to the celebration of Christmas as we know it today. Our days are filled with too much – too much spending on too many gifts, too much decorating and too many parties, too much cooking and way too much eating. Still, some of the most peaceful moments of my life have occurred in the middle of the Christmas chaos.
When I was a child, our Christmas celebrations were simple. Dad was a hard-working man who worked two and three jobs to provide for his family. We had everything we needed, but there wasn’t a lot left over for what he considered frivolity. We always had a small Christmas tree – not exactly a Charlie Brown tree, but nothing like the tree at Rockefeller Center either. It was a live tree, usually a Scotch pine with a nicely rounded shape, but it was never so tall that Dad had to cut off the bottom so it didn’t brush the ceiling.
The only decorations we had were for the tree, and those fit in one or two cardboard boxes that were limp from years of use. We had three or four strings of multi-colored lights with the large bulbs that were popular then, and about half the bulbs blinked randomly. Dad was responsible for testing the lights and replacing any burned-out bulbs before he casually wound the wires among the branches. Then my brother Jim and I placed several sets of multi-colored balls, some of which were so old that the paint was beginning to flake off. We finished by hanging icicles, the old-style strands of aluminum that tended to tangle and cling together, no matter how many times Mom pointed out clumps or bare spots.
We completed the look by arranging an old white sheet around the base of the tree to give the impression of snow. It sounds a little pitiful in comparison to some of the elaborate displays that are shared on Facebook now, but to me it was beautiful. The tree was in the window of the formal living room that was only used when we had company or on Christmas morning. Sometimes, while the family was gathered around the TV after dinner, I would slip into the living room where all the lights were off except for the tree. I would lie on the couch, surrounded by the natural pine fragrance, and watch the shadows the blinking lights cast on the ceiling. The peace I felt was amazing.
As I mentioned last week, by the time I had a child of my own, I had bought into the excesses of the modern Christmas, and the peace of those solitary moments with the blinking lights was rare. Sometimes, though, on Christmas night, after all the presents were open, the guests were gone, and the dishes were done, there were a few quiet moments to reflect on the love that was behind all of the celebration. The peace of those moments was sacred.
Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. The first Christmas didn’t come to a peaceful world. Israel was oppressed by Rome and its tyrannical Jewish puppet kings. Mary and Joseph were dealing with the social stigma of what appeared to be an illegitimate pregnancy, and their healthcare plan and travel accommodations fell way short of ideal. Still, the angels announced the good news of peace on earth.
Last week I received a text from my son saying he and his family were flying to New Mexico because his wife’s stepfather was dying. A couple of days later, she posted two beautiful pictures on Facebook with the caption “Peace on the Rio Grande.” Even in the chaos of unexpected travel, impending death, and all the emotional turmoil that goes with it, she was able to find a quite place of peace. It is my prayer for each of you that, during this Advent season, you will find the peace of the season.
These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33 NKJV