How to Live the Bible — Christmas Peace
This is the one-hundred-thirty-fifth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” — Luke 2:13-14
On Christmas of 1914 something happened that nobody could have ever predicted. British and German troops were bogged down in the muddy cold trenches in Flanders Field which was their only protection from machine gun fire. Between them was “No Man’s Land,” an area the width of a football field, strewn with decaying bodies and barbed wire. The First World War was in a quagmire. Bodies were stacked like cordwood. But as Christmas approached, something in the soldiers warmed. On December 23 the German soldiers withdrew to a monastery ruin where they held Christmas worship. They put up Christmas trees—Tannenbaums—with lights that were so different from the grayness all around. British soldiers on the other side of the line couldn’t help but risk raising their heads to peek at the Tannenbaums–now hundreds of them, and they began to sing Christmas carols familiar to them.
Two British officers, defying orders, ventured out of the trenches to propose a Christmas truce to their enemies, but by now rank and file soldiers had already begun talking to, and meeting up with, groups of their opponents. The British sang everything from Christmas carols to Tipperary, and the Germans responded with a Christmas concert of their own. A German violinist stood atop his parapet and played on his violin. A French soldier, a member of the Paris Opera, sang out O Holy Night. A German officer named Thomas gave a gift to a British officer–a Victoria cross and letter from a fallen British soldier, and Lt. Hulse, from the British side, responded by giving Thomas a silk scarf. Each side buried their dead. They bared their heads and recited the 23rd Psalm. As Christmas day 1914 drew to a close and darkness fell, the soldiers gradually returned to their trenches. For two whole days they had ceased being enemies, and the world was at peace. In the darkness a voice started singing one of the most familiar Christmas carols: Silent Night.
Peace is always a noble aspiration; in times of war or in times of harmony. When you find yourself at odds with someone or when you’re feeling pretty good about your relationships. When you feel in harmony with God or when you feel a discord. It’s always important to pursue peace.
Peace is so much more than the absence of conflict. Maybe you can lay your head on your pillow tonight and thank God that you experienced no conflict, but that’s not the same thing as experiencing peace. If a husband and wife get tired of shouting at each other and both slip into an icy indifference, that’s not peace.
In Hebrew the word for peace is shalom, a well wishing that says it all: May you be healthy, whole, and complete. May you know where you fit in the universe, and may you find tranquility there. Augustine said peace is “the tranquility of order.” When you know where you fit into God’s world—that you’re higher than the animals, but less than God—that’s the sense of order that brings tranquility.
Therefore, we pray for peace at Christmas. We pray that we all will discover the Christmas shalom—the confidence that when God’s favor, his undeserved grace, rests on us, we’ll know a peace that goes beyond understanding. The peace gifted to us because Christ came into the world and put things in order, beginning with his birth and completed in his sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. He is “the Prince of Peace.”
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
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July 29, 2021