At Christmas time we often see scenes of the nativity with the family gathered around the cute little baby in the manger. It is maybe too easy to get the impression that Jesus is just meek and mild and that Christmas is all cute, fluffy and nice. But, although he did come offering grace and forgiveness, he also came echoing the warnings that John the Baptist and others had given about the seriousness of living in opposition to God.
Revelation 12 speaks in imagery that suggests one way in which the birth of Christ could be understood is as marking a key point in a war against the powers of evil. Jesus’ birth heralded God’s great warrior coming to tackle evil head on.
So, Christmas isn’t just about remembering the picture of the happy family scene of the nativity. It isn’t just about peace and happiness. It is double-edged, bringing with it a menacing threat for those who decide to ignore it. It is trouble looming on the horizon for those who find themselves on the side of evil, rebelling against God’s rule. The child will overthrow the dragon.
With our focus on the joy of Christmas, we can risk misquoting the angels, thinking that Jesus’ coming is about peace for everyone and goodwill to all men, no matter what. Peace is proclaimed for those who will receive it, for those who are ready to turn back to God, not for everyone without distinction.
We also see elsewhere, for example in Philippians 4, that peace is in some sense conditional: God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds if we bring everything to God in prayer instead of worrying. Our response matters.
Peace from God is not an automatic thing. It is something that comes through relationship with God, speaking to God and living a life that keeps God in the centre. If we hold on to a relationship with God through Jesus then we will find peace.
Not many months ago an incident sparked outrage and controversy in the football world – someone refused to shake another player’s hand. Why does this matter? It is a symbol of goodwill, of shared values, of “peace”, if you like. God is effectively extending His hand for us to take. Choosing not to do so is more than rude – it suggests that we don’t want peace with God and that we’d rather be His enemy and take the consequences.
God wishes to bring peace to us all – He wants a relationship with all of us. This Christmas, the offer of peace with God is a genuine one that is made to each one of us – to all mankind. But, the question is, will we receive Him? Will we take the outstretched hand?
© Joe Lenton, Dec 2012