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For many millions of us in every country of the world, this Christmas will be unlike any we’ve ever had. Those who haven’t felt the full impact of the global pandemic and the worldwide economic downturn themselves are surrounded by people who have.
Manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers whose annual bottom lines depend on Christmas sales are bracing for the lowest volume of sales in many years. Charities that count on Christmas giving to finance their projects for the next year face the prospect of having to scale back those projects, even as the need for them grows.
People who have lost their businesses worry about their own families and those of their former employees. Out-of-work parents wonder how they will give their children any Christmas at all. Not since World War II has so much of the world’s population been so severely affected by the same crisis.
Yes, this is going to be a different Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good one. Adversity has a way of bringing out the best in people, and so does Christmas. Put the two together, and we have a special opportunity. It’s an opportunity to sort things out—to separate what really counts from the lesser things that usurp their place in the business-as-usual world, especially at times like Christmas.
It’s an opportunity to focus on the true, enduring reason for the season—the birth of Jesus, God’s Son. It’s an opportunity to find new ways to express our love to those dearest to us and to show compassion to others even less fortunate, of which there are always many.
We may be facing unprecedented challenges this Christmas. We may not be able to give materially like we have in past years, but one thing is certain: the Christmas promise of peace is available for all people in all times and seasons.—Keith Phillips
The Prince of Peace
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”—Isaiah 9:6
Ours is a world in which few people would look to the government for signs of hope. Corruption of power seems more the norm than the ideal presented in Isaiah’s vision of a government ruled by a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, or Prince of Peace. Instead, most view government with a sense of cynicism and despair, and few would see government as the conduit for peace.
In Isaiah’s day, there were many foreign powers and rulers that threatened both Israel and Judah. And, within Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah would go into exile under Babylonian rule. Thus, the original recipients of Isaiah’s prophecy would have heard a promise that a king was coming who would be wise and powerful. ... However, the history of Israel tells another story. ... Ultimately, Judah would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora of its people from the land.
Was Isaiah wrong in his prophecy, or did he see something more than simply a political kingdom or earthly government for the Jewish people?
The promised child foretold in Isaiah’s vision was not simply a human king or ruler who would come to establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, the titles Mighty God and Everlasting Father attributed to the child to be born indicate that this coming ruler is divine. … Isaiah foresees a day when God would be with the people, as Immanuel, “God with us.” And if God was the one who would come among human beings to rule and reign, then that rule would be characterized by wisdom, Wonderful Counselor, and peace—shalom—the well-being of all the people.
But, what kind of peace does God bring if it is not the peace that ends wars and strife among human beings and with the created world? We begin to find answers in the advent of Jesus, and his death and resurrection.
First, the peace that God brings in Jesus heals our estrangement that results from sin. The apostle Paul writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”1 This is the “gospel of peace”2; God is “making peace by the blood of his cross.”3
Second, the peace that God brings enables us to have peace within our hearts because of our reconciliation with our Creator and his Spirit at work within us. It is the well-being that comes from reconciliation with God.
Third, because we have peace within, we can pursue peace with others—friends and enemies alike...
No matter where we live and no matter the government we live under, God has come near to us in Jesus and established a government that is available to us as we walk in fellowship under his rule. In Jesus, we have a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, and a Prince of Peace.—Margaret Manning Shull4
Christmas hope for hard times
When thinking about the very first Christmas, the picture that often comes to mind is Mary looking serene and lovely in a fresh gown, adoring the infant Jesus wrapped in spotless white linen and lying in a manger that looks more like a nice piece of furniture than a feeding trough for farm animals, while a donkey, groomed for the occasion, stands beside tall, strong, unshakable Joseph.
In reality, we can imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary to make the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was due to give birth any day. The Bible doesn’t actually say that Jesus was born the same night she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, but a 65-mile trek, whether on foot or the back of a donkey, certainly would have been strenuous enough to bring on labor.
Perhaps Joseph was near the end of his rope also, weary and plagued with doubt. Couldn’t he have found a better way to travel or made the journey sooner? Perhaps he was tempted to despair when they arrived in Bethlehem and found there would be no place for them to stay.
Mary and Joseph both probably feared at some point that they would fail in the all-important mission they had been chosen for—the mission of bringing the bearer of God’s love and light into a world lost in darkness. Think of the joy they must have felt, though, when they held their newborn and gazed into His beautiful, loving eyes, and their little baby shone with God’s love like no other newborn ever had.
But the night of Jesus’ birth was also the beginning of a life of trouble, danger, sorrow, and pain for Him and His family. There was the final glorious victory when Jesus rose from the dead, but that victory didn’t come easily.
So much depended on Mary and Joseph, who, apart from their unique calling as Jesus’ earthly parents, were normal people like you and me. How tough it must have been for them at times! Seen in that light, our trials and struggles, as oversized and overpowering as they seem at times, look more manageable.
It’s natural to get discouraged or lose hope when circumstances overwhelm us, and we face troubling times across our world. We have faced many challenges this past year, and even now we continue to do so. But even in these circumstances, we can place our hope in the “God of all hope” who has promised to fill us with His peace and joy.5—Knowing that nothing can separate you from God’s love6 and you are never alone in life’s battles.
Someday we will all celebrate the victory together—Jesus, Mary, Joseph, you, me, and a whole lot of others. Why? Because God gave us His Son at Christmas—the greatest gift of all time.—Lily Sridhar
Published on Anchor December 2020. Read by Jerry Paladino.
Music from the Rhythm of Christmas album. Used by permission.
1 Romans 5:1.
2 Ephesians 6:15.
3 Colossians 1:20.
5 Romans 15:13.
6 Romans 8:38–39.