Finding Peace in a Jam-Packed Season

Credit: BananaStock / Thinkstock

Every Christmas season, I end up shaking my head at crazy headlines of people who hurt or sometimes kill one another over the latest toy for their child, the best electronic sales, or even over a parking spot. The Christmas sale season even touches Thanksgiving with everyone’s anticipation for Black Friday. How are we supposed to experience peace during this season when our culture efficiently trains us to rush frantically to be the first in line? After all, when the stock runs out, we’ll lose out on a great deal. The world reinforces the idea that blessings are limited and you must seize the day.

In the midst of this chaos, Jesus offers another way. From at least the 6th century until today, the worldwide Church has celebrated Advent, which is from a Latin term, Adventus, that means “coming,” referring, of course, to Jesus’ incarnation. This is intentionally a period of anticipation as we wait for the birth of the Savior. Only, we too have children who want the latest toy, and we too have burning desires like a new 55” 4k TV. We are waiting, but what for? We are in anticipation, but it’s somehow different. We are faithful participants in the liturgy of popular culture. Are we not a people with conflicted desire?

A few years ago, I had the privilege to travel to Israel and visit Bethlehem, even the very location where tradition locates the birth of the Messiah. Each year, over three million people travel to the Holy Land to visit sites like this and to have a sacred moment. The shock that I experienced, however, was not the awe of being in the very village where Jesus was born, but the hustle and bustle around me! This was not a place of peace, but place of turmoil and scraping to be first! Let me explain…

The absence of peace is evident just in arriving at Bethlehem because it is part of the Palestinian West Bank area. Disturbing graffiti is scrawled over both sides of the wall vividly depicting the hate deep in many hearts on both sides of the issue. At the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, we had to wait in a long line for over an hour just to get to the sacred spot. Westerners, accustomed to single file, orderly lines are forced into a dilemma… either loose one’s “rightful” place in line, or adopt the shoulder-jutting and jostling advance of the masses who are desperate to be first.

How did the spirit of the crazy Christmas shopping headlines find its way to the birthplace of the Prince of Peace? Is nowhere sacred or safe? More importantly, how did we let ourselves get drawn into this posture of self-advancement? Most of us in line would claim to be followers of the one who freely gave it all!

That’s when I realized that the Prince of Peace was not born into a world of peace. Why else would he be coming? In fact, his coming was the catalyst for the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem and the surrounding region 2 years old and under (Matt 2:16)! Herod wanted no competitors!

Even the geography proclaims this spirit of self-advancement! Just three miles southeast of and visible from Bethlehem is a human-made mini-mountain rising up nearly 2,500 feet called the Herodium. Herod built this place in commemoration of his victory over one of his enemies in 40 BC to serve multiple functions: a summer getaway, a monument to his power, a fortress, and ultimately his tomb (Josephus, Antiquities 14.13.9 §§359-460).

In the shadow of this great and powerful king, another king of another kingdom was born. But Jesus was far away from home. The nativity scene we all create in our minds each year is the product of an ideal, peaceful image that we long for, but one that did not reflect the reality of the actual incarnation.

Yes, Jesus was and is the Prince of Peace! But, he came to a world of torn and warring hearts. Jesus came to offer us peace in the midst of our conflicted world. My experience in Bethlehem helped me realize that peace is not simply a place we go to or an aura we create, it is an inner disposition that exists in the midst of whatever chaos is surrounding us. This kind of peace, however, cannot be self-generated; it is something that grows inside us through patient waiting and walking with the Lord.

Jesus eventually grew into a man and walked in our midst. John’s gospel says that he “took up residence among us” (John 1:14 NET). He lived in a land ruled by foreign powers, as one of the  people harassed and oppressed. His ministry was characterized by crowds of people who wanted something from him, by community and religious leaders trying to destroy his character, and by disciples who got caught up in the posture of self-advancement promulgated by the culture around them.

The world counsels us to take what is ours and seize our blessings. The peace the world offers is one that requires violence and war. Jesus offers us another way, a peace that exists in the midst of chaos and striving, but one that frees us from these postures.

May these words by Leigh Nash from her song “Eternal Gifts” lead you to desire the Prince of Peace this Christmas.

Santa knows what I want for Christmas
but Jesus knows what I need
it can’t be purchased wrapped up and placed
under an ephod tree
I need patience, kindness – virtues like these
to bend on my knee at the manger

Santa may bring these that last for a year
but eternal gifts come from the Savior
some days come where I’m playing selfish
I can’t think of no one but me
then I think of all that I’m blessed with
and that’s always best to give than to receive

I need faithfulness, love, generosity
to open my home to a stranger
Santa may bring things that last for a year
but eternal gifts come from the Savior

I need patience, kindness, generosity
to bend on my knee at the manger
Santa may bring things that last for a year
but eternal gifts come from the Savior

Santa knows what I want for Christmas
but Jesus knows what I need


Ben Snyder is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.

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