December 29, 2013
HOLY FAMILY (A)
Rise … flee to Egypt …. Herod is going to go and search for the child to destroy him. – Matt. 2: 13
“Silent night, Holy night … peace on earth to men of goodwill.” Yet behind that seemingly peaceful cradle scene the cross was already casting its shadow. What a strange peace is this peace of Christ. Hardly is He born & the tyrants of the world are seeking His death. What kind of peace is it then? Not the peace of complacency, nor the peace of nostalgia for a former time. Thank about it for a moment & we will see that the life of Jesus was distinctly unpeaceful. His life was marked by tears & suffering, by impossible yearnings & unspeakable disappointments. A tortured path finally led Him to Calvary where He died as a criminal surrounded by the shouts & jeers of His enemies. He was not permitted even to die in peace.
The biblical word for peace is wholeness. There is a kind of peace that can be achieved by isolating ourselves from conflict or by deceiving ourselves about the world & our own condition. Such a peace is an achievement; the peace of Christ is a gift that cannot be earned. The first kind of peace is precarious; the peace of Christ is everlastingly triumphant. Christians seek neither the kingdom of their own security nor the kingdom of their own revolutionary solutions, but the kingdom of God. The Christian’s confidence is not in his or her own rightness but in God’s faithfulness. Neither my present position nor my projected program, but God’s sure promise that is the linchpin of my confidence, that is, IF the peace of Christ reigns in my heart.
Christmas is a time for quiet – for quiet confidence. That sounds good. After all, the world is filled with noise & confusion & uncertainty, & it’s about time we had a break from all that. But some may say, aren’t we deceiving ourselves when we talk about peace & quiet confidence? How dare we say ‘Peace, Peace’ when there is no peace? How can we be confident in a time when every certainty is assaulted & chaos is king? How can we keep quiet when injustices cry out for correction & the suffering poor plead for change? Paul’s greeting, “May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts” can sound pretty hollow, if not like wishful thinking.
Still, Christmas IS a time of quiet confidence. This does not mean that everything is alright. Our confidence is not in things as they are, nor in some past “golden age” we hope will return if only we can wait out the present turmoil. No, our confidence is in the promise of God. He will not abandon us & He will lead us into the promised land.
It is good that we have strong opinions & engage in urgent actions. But in all that we say & do, we must be possessed by only one driving determination: to seek the rule of God in all things. We can dare to decide & we can dare to act because we do both in obedience to Him. We are not terrified or paralyzed by the possibility that we might make mistakes. We do not need to know for sure that we are right. His rightness is greater than our error & His promise stronger than our mistakes. And IF in obedience we choose the right course (no matter how many say we are wrong) we will be vindicated by God who overthrows the false judgments of our time. This is the rock-like foundation of quiet Christian confidence.
A kindergarten teacher said to one of her pupils, “I hear you have a new little sister in your family.” Little Johnny replied glumly, “Yeah.” “What, aren’t you happy about it” said the teacher. “I wanted a brother so that I could play boy’s games with him when he got bigger; & we can’t exchange the baby now. We’ve used her for four days.”
Jesus was not born into the world to be used one day each year as an escape from reality. He was born the give us the quiet confidence we need to set our sights on the kingdom of love – every day of our lives. At the first Christmas, in a little town just down the hill from Jerusalem, the vows were exchanged. “For better or for worse, in sickness & in health,” God became one of us. The center of all that is, that was, & that will be, became one with human history, with your history & mine.
At the first Christmas, the gift of spiritual liberation was offered to us: liberation from fear & despair & sorrow & gloominess, from anger vengefulness, hatred, bitterness & unforgiveness:
“Christ liberates the poor from envy & hatred of the rich. He liberates the rich from their greed & indifference to the poor. He liberates people from all the lusts & obsessions that enslave them. There is no wound He cannot heal, no sorrow that He cannot turn into joy.”
Cal Samra, “The Joyful Christ” (1985)