2016 has been a difficult year for some – not me specifically, but about the World; humankind. I just Googled “major events that took place in 2016” and these are just some of the things I found: Zika outbreak, Airport attack in Istanbul, truck killings in France, bombing in Belgium, Earthquakes in Japan, Taiwan, Brexit, shootings in Florida and Dallas, Syrian crisis, Alan Rickman’s passing, the US Presidential elections …
I think this is why many people are looking forward to the Christmas season more than ever this year. Some people I know even started to listen to Christmas music in September, and started putting up decorations from as early as November.
Why do we look to Christmas as some way to salvage a very bad year? I think the answer is found in one word: Peace.
For most of us, Christmas represents joy, hope, kindness to all, forgiveness – peace. People seem to be kinder to one another, more tolerant, just more willing to give each other a break. Some broken relationships are healed because of the romanticism of the season, and some bosses go easier on employees because of the holiday season.
I think we’re all yearning for Christmas this year in particular because it has been a year of much trouble, and we’re looking for a moment when everything is alright – when we have no worry about fighting, or war, or famine, or disaster or danger – where there is some sense of peace.
Trouble, trouble, trouble. It didn’t start in 2016; it was predicted more than 2,000 years ago, when Jesus told His disciples: In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33).
But that wasn’t all Jesus had to say about that: He continued, “Take heart; I have overcome the World.”
These are the words of a realist. The words of a Man who saw the pain, struggle, tribulation, trouble and suffering that was to come, and who chose not to ignore it, but to call it by its name and offer the solution. He gave His friends the reassurance that they could take heart because of who He is and what He has done.
On December 25, we’ll receive all we have been looking forward to this season – the joy, laughter, food, celebration, family, friendship, community and peace that the Christmas season brings. But this will fade just as quickly as it comes, like the Christmas music in the shopping malls and supermarkets, which switches to Chinese New Year music with uncomfortable ease.
We will soon usher in 2017, and 2017 will bring its joys and troubles of its own. Jesus got it spot-on again, when He said “tomorrow will bring its own worries” and “today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). The cycle will repeat itself with 2018 and again, we will soon be looking to celebrate Christmas 2020 and start putting up our décor as early as June, perhaps.
This endless cycle of trouble breeds an endless need for peace.
What kind of peace after you after? Are you happy settling for this treadmill of looking forward to Christmas each year just for a temporary spell of joy? But you do realise that as the troubles in our World get bigger and heavier, your unmet need for peace will keep growing.
All that we need can be found once and for all in Jesus and what He invites us to. Just as He explained to His disciples, the peace He gives us is “not as the World gives” (John 14:27). This peace will last forever, which is why He tells us not to let our hearts be troubled any longer, not to let our hearts be afraid – because of who He says He is, and what He says He has done.
The peace that Jesus gives is found in knowing that above all that has happened in 2016 (and in human history), the worst trouble that humankind can ever be visited with – the judgment and wrath of God – has been dealt with once and for all by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection thereafter. That is exactly why Jesus was born into this World: To reconcile Man to God, to bring peace to the once broken relationship. As we sing during Christmas:
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.
And this peace is offered to all. It is a lasting peace, and not one which we need to renew each year with shinier baubles and taller pine trees.
But it’s a peace that we can only experience if we know Jesus and if accept this peace by believing what He says, and in having faith in what He promises. That is the only way. We cannot fully receive this peace if we continue to look to other things – in addition to Jesus – to give us peace.
So as you look forward to Christmas this year, I hope you will start to realise this too: That while you will receive from friends and family things that may grant you a temporary sense of peace, there is another gift being offered to you that you can accept at any time – the gift of Jesus Christ. His gift is complete and needs no yearly renewal.
And as you stretch out your empty hands to receive that gift this year, I pray that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him” (Romans 15:13).