On Heavenly Peace
(Is.62:1-5; Acts.13:16-17, 22-25; Mt.1.18-25)
Merry Christmas! Today we celebrate something very special: the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people simply love Christmas, with all its joy, celebration and colour. And I’m sure many of us hope that Christmas this year will bring a little peace into our challenging lives. We pray for peace several times in our Christmas liturgy, and we sing about it in Christmas carols like Silent Night (‘... sleep in heavenly peace’).
Many years ago, I went on holiday to tropical Queensland. I was quite unhappy at the time, and I’d hoped to find some peace there in the sunshine and the sea. But I didn’t. Why? It’s because I took my unhappy heart with me.
Many people today experience the same thing. They go somewhere wonderful, but inside they still feel awful.
Where, then, is the heavenly peace we all need?
There was once a king who promised a fabulous prize for the best painting depicting peace. Many painters sent in their finest work, but one picture really stood out. It simply radiated peace. It showed a placid lake, mirroring tall snow-capped mountains under a clear blue sky. But it didn’t win.
The picture that won surprised many people. It also had mountains, but they were rugged and bare. And its sky was angry, with lightning and dark clouds. The whole scene looked very threatening. Many people wondered if there’d been a mistake, but what they didn’t notice in a corner of the painting was a tiny bush in the crack of a rock. In that bush, under all that angry weather, a little mother bird was nesting peacefully.
True peace doesn’t mean being in a place without any trouble or noise. It means having a tranquil heart, despite all the chaos outside. That’s what that mother bird had found.
As our world lurches from crisis to crisis, it’s becoming increasingly important for us as Christians to understand that true peace isn’t the absence of trouble. Rather, it’s the presence of Jesus Christ.
In 1942, Etty Hillesum, the Dutch writer who was killed at Auschwitz, wrote: ‘Ultimately, we have just one duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.’
Our world certainly needs heavenly peace right now, but where might we find it?
One very good place to start is with Jesus’ eight Beatitudes (Mt.5:3-12). Each of these Beatitudes is both a blessing and an expression of deep spiritual wisdom. They include docility, affliction, hunger and thirst for justice, mercy and purity of heart.
When we consciously and prayerfully follow the path of the Beatitudes, we will find peace of heart. And it’s then that we’ll be able to fulfil the seventh beatitude: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God’ (Mt.5:9).
It’s only when we are true peacemakers that we’ll be able to live the eighth Beatitude. That is, living joyfully regardless of any persecution and strife – just like that little mother bird.
In his book Fire and Ice, Jacques Philippe says that when our hearts are not at peace, we become vulnerable to all the fear, violence and division in our world. Being agitated and unhappy, he says, is like opening a door to the forces of evil that want to drag the world down to its ruin.
But, he adds, this search for interior peace is much more than searching for peace of mind. It’s really about opening up our lives to the action of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, it’s when our hearts are at peace that God truly works his wonders.[i]
After the Last Supper, Jesus says, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled…’ And later on, he says, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’ (Jn.14:1, 27).
This heavenly peace is one of the twelve fruits of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23) and it’s a gift that’s available to us right now. All we have to do is to open our hearts and our lives to God.
In Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, all the characters on the whaling ship Pequod are frantically busy as Captain Ahab searches in stormy seas for that famous whale.
But one sailor is quite calm. He’s the harpooner. Melville writes: ‘The harpooner sits in tranquillity and rises with a sense of calm to do his work.’ [ii] He’s surrounded by storm and fury, but deep inside he’s very much at peace.
That’s the kind of peace we all need. But it doesn’t come from this world.
It’s a gift that only comes from God – and our relationship with him.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.
[i] Jacques Philippe, Fire & Light. Scepter, New York, 2016:76-79.
[ii] Herman Melville, Moby Dick. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/2701-h/2701-h.htm#link2HCH0009