By Steven Norris

     One of my favorite Advent traditions is the Christmas Eve service at our church. Most years, the service hits all the right marks. There is the tender sweetness of having one of our children read the Christmas story. There is the majesty of the “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by community choir, piano, and triumphant organ. There is the intimacy of gathering around the Lord’s Table to break bread and drink the cup. But maybe one of the best parts is closing out the service with “Silent Night” in a sanctuary lit solely by candles.

     I must admit, however, the lyrics of that song are more aspirational than descriptive. “Silent night, holy night; All is calm, all is bright…Sleep in heavenly peace.” This year’s Advent season has been many things. Silent, calm, or peaceful are not accurate descriptors of any of them. Frenetic, hectic, chaotic — these feel a little more accurate. Since Thanksgiving, our calendar has bowed under the weight of musical concerts, parties, outreach activities, and extra worship services.

     Zoom out from our personal contexts and we see a world that similarly longs for peace. We long for the yo-yo of our economy to settle and for inflation to get under control. We long for a day where we might see the deeply divided factions in our society come together to work for the common good. We long for a peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine. We long for an end to violence in Israel. We long to see a day where children of our own community are not gunned down in the streets.

    Drawing from the imagery of Isaiah, we celebrate Jesus during Advent as the “Prince of Peace.” Bible scholar, John Oswalt, explains, “He is a peaceful king, one who comes in peace and one who establishes peace, not by a brutal squashing of all defiance, but by means of a transparent vulnerability which makes defiance pointless.”

     Jesus comes in stark contrast to the Pax Romana of his day — a “peace” found through conquest and enforced at the end of the emperor’s sword. Instead, he inaugurates a Pax Christi, realized through “a transparent vulnerability which makes defiance pointless.” Herod could have crushed Jesus’ head with his bare hands. He certainly tried, but God had other plans. Throughout his life, Jesus never picked up a sword, but taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, pray for their enemies, and to overcome evil with good.

     Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of love. Even in the midst of all the parties, concerts, worship services, outreach activities, and conflicts, we can see examples of God’s overflowing love. It overflows in the smiles that adorn faces, the laughter of children, the embrace of old friends, and the taste of bread and wine. It echoes in the heart-felt “thank you” offered by strangers who have become friends through mutual service. It is reflected in every gift wrapped under the tree — a reminder of the greatest gift of all: the gift of God’s son, the Prince of Peace.

     May you know God’s peace this Christmas.