Peace Is Born This Day
Dr. Jim Denison
This is the Advent week of peace. Does the topic appeal to anyone this morning?
“Al Qaeda: Alive and Killing” (Newsweek, 11-25-02).
“Ready to move in: U.S. forces could be primed to start fighting Iraq again in short order” (Time, 12-2-02).
“Ammunition plant fired up” (Dallas Morning News, 11-30-02).
“‘Topping off the tanks:’ The Bush Administration has been quietly pumping as much as 150,000 bbl. of crude oil a day this fall into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve… That ensures that in the event of war, President Bush can order the release of more than 4 million bbl. a day onto the market for at least 20 weeks—more than enough to compensate for Iraq’s average daily exports” (Time, 12-02-02)
“‘Smallpox stashes:’ U.S. officials say Iraq, Korea, Russia, and France probably have secret stashes of the smallpox virus” (U.S. News & World Report, 11-18-02).
“Would a war kill your stocks?” (Fortune, 11-25-02).
We need peace. Do you?
Time magazine recently reported four traits which lead to hypertension: a tendency to get upset when having to wait, a tendency to eat took quickly, a feeling of pressure as the end of the regular workday approaches, and a feeling of time pressure in general. Do you have all four? Then you are twice as likely as others to develop moderate to severe hypertension (Time, 12-2-02).
We need peace. New research suggests that those who live to be 100 are less likely to dwell on problems and have a better ability to handle stress than those who die younger. Says Charlotte Chipman, 100 years old: “Life has a way of mixing grief with joy, evil with good, darkness with light. You have to be good at handling this, and go along with whatever comes your way” (Dallas Morning News, 11-29-02, p.55A).
We need peace. And now it’s Christmas, the busiest season of the entire year.
Fortunately, there’s good news inside the shopping malls. One area mall has created the Spouse House “for those who’d rather watch TV than shop, but still feel obligated to accompany a spouse to the mall. It features football, pizza, soda, snacks, even skating—all for free” (DMN 11-30-02, p.33A). That’s the mall for me.
What does our world need more than it needs peace this morning? What about you?
Do you need peace?
Last week we discovered the people “in the news” during the first Christmas. Today let’s focus on those who made the news, then and for all time. Here’s what we know about their first Christmas.
Mary and Joseph have come from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They must do this because the Empire requires another registration, an enrollment for purposes of census figures and future taxation. Caesar Augustus had issued this decree in 8 B.C.; Herod the Great delayed its enforcement for two years. The Jews kept family records at their ancestral home, which for Joseph’s family, was Bethlehem.
So they traveled together 80 miles (90 if they went around Samaria). He walked, she likely rode on a donkey’s back. The road climbed 734 feet in elevation from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Imagine yourself nine months pregnant, or your wife in that condition, as you set out to walk from here to Waco.
Finally the three arrive, but “there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7).
Tradition says that this was a caravansary, a hotel to our culture, and that when they arrived late after their slow journey, its rooms were already filled. Preachers for twenty centuries have made much of the innkeeper who had no room for the Christ.
Now scholars aren’t so sure. No “innkeeper” is mentioned in the text. And the word for “inn,” kataluma, typically means a “guest room” (cf. Luke 22:11: “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”). The word here was most commonly used for the room allotted to visitors in a private house.
Here’s what may have happened. Joseph returned to Bethlehem, his family’s home. He had relatives all across the area. And so he and Mary stayed with one of them, in the guest room. But this room was tiny, with no privacy at all. And so when “the time came for the baby to be born,” “there was no room for them in the inn.” The guest room was not suitable for a birthing room.
So they moved to a stable, a cave behind the home. Here Jesus was born. Here Mary placed him in a “manger,” the feeding trough for the cattle and sheep which typically were housed in that cave.
You are Mary. Your marriage to Joseph has been arranged for many years, and you have dreamed of your future with him. But now people would always remember that you were not yet married to him when this pregnancy occurred. Your child would be the “Son of God,” whatever this will mean. Now, far from home, you bear him in a stable and lay him in a feed trough. How much peace would you feel this morning?
Or you are Joseph. You have planned for your marriage and life with Mary. But now she bears a child who is not yours. He is the Messiah, whatever this will mean. How much peace would you feel today?
How much peace do you feel this morning? Where is your heart most in turmoil, your mind most confused, your spirit most troubled? In what ways do you identify with Mary and Joseph? In what ways does the first Christmas feel like this Christmas to you? How can this be the Advent week of peace for you?
Where will you find peace?
King David answers: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
He adds: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Jesus promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). How does Jesus give us peace? The prophet explains: “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). We find peace only when we find it in Jesus.