PEACE. In the gospel of Matthew, we see how Joseph, the fiancée of mother Mary of the Christ child, comes to peace as he trusts that God is indeed involved and walking with him through Mary’s pregnancy. Peace is found in faith. In the gospel of Luke, we see how Elizabeth and Mary find peace with their pregnancies as they encourage each other and praise. Many times peace is found through music, through praise. In the gospel of Mark, we start the narrative of Jesus, not in Bethlehem but at the birth of his ministry. Mark introduces his gospel with the Old Testament prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth. John, the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah, appears in the countryside “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1: 3)” Peace often comes from forgiveness.
In Swahili, Christians would differentiate between “makosa” which roughly translates into English as a serious “mistake” as opposed to “dhambi” which translates “sin.” People confess their mistakes but really those slips are not considered to be of the same magnitude as outright murder, adultery or whatever we feel is truly wrong. Many of the actions we do that prick our conscience we are able to dismiss and compensate for – cover with a kiss, sex, a gift or a promise to do and be better next time. Many mistakes fall in the realm of my self-control, my ability to improve. John the Baptist is not talking about mistakes. Working harder to be a better person rarely results in spiritual peace. Mistakes chain me to the treadmill of works.
Mark is talking about finding peace with those actions, those feelings, those thoughts, those habits that we know are sin and that separate us from the Holy and from others. (Walter Waangarin spends a whole chapter in his book As For Me and My House talking about forgiveness and is an excellent resource.) Forgiveness, as Mark shares, comes from repentance. When we realize we cannot resolve our actions by our own efforts and we call on the Holy for help. Christians call this Holy “God” but others refer to “a greater power.” Repentance turns the outcome over and we admit our limitations.
Perhaps, at its core, the Christmas story is an internal realization that our world cannot be changed by me. My best present will not bring love from the other. Love is for the other to give. We now talk about the vaccine that is about to hit the market but we realize that there will be a hierarchy of who receives and for many of us, we are at the bottom of the food chain. Our lives are in God’s hands. Christmas calls us to a mystery, a small baby born in Bethlehem who will grow and offer forgiveness, who will offer peace with God, not through our actions to be good and better, but through his death on the cross. As we confess our faith in this little babe, we humble ourselves under this faith and find peace. The peace does not come from what we have done but is a trust in what he is doing. This is indeed a peace the world cannot offer, a peace that passes understanding.
As we struggle with our inadequacies, our financial limitations, our social spacing, and the viruses of our actions, may we find peace this Christmas by turning to the Christ child in the manger for forgiveness.