I’ve subscribed to the two Christmases theory for a long time. Two Christmases, and I like them both, though I think one of them is more important than the other. One Christmas looks forward to Santa Claus coming to town. The other Christmas remembers that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Of course, a growing number of people only celebrate the Santa Christmas, and a very few people – mostly they live in caves – celebrate only the Jesus Christmas. In between, there are those of us who try to balance the parallel holidays. My version of that balancing act puts more emphasis on Jesus and tries to keep the two holidays more or less separate. Some of you may look at it differently, but, for instance, I really don’t like that famous Santa kneeling at the manger bed painting. Call me a heretic, but I’m not even sure the Little Drummer Boy should be there, pa rum pum pum pum.
To be fair, many Santa Christmas folks are willing to let a little Jesus stuff seep into their celebrations. Joy always plays well, though it may not be the great joy of the angel’s message to the shepherds. And if you want to be a little more serious about things, you can always add “Peace on Earth.” But like joy, peace on the Santa side of things may not be what the angel choir had in mind:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:13–14
When peace has mostly to do with getting along, you might as well cancel the angel choir and bring on Santa and his purple-nosed reindeer trailing a 60s-era peace banner. All we are saying is give peace a chance.
I am all for giving peace a chance, but we may need something a little more robust than Boomer nostalgia if we’re going to have a chance at peace.
While Luke writes in Greek, the angel choir uses the word peace in a more Hebraic sense. Shalom may be the one Hebrew word many of us know. Translated peace, it means safety, well-being, completeness, wholeness, health, and, yes, lack of conflict. Sorry, shalom is not something Santa can stuff into your stocking, no matter how nice you’ve been.
The birth of Jesus marks something new and something very old; for us something already here but still yet to come. To those who shepherd-like are willing to make haste and go see this thing that has happened, Jesus offers his peace, a shalom neither the world nor Santa nor all our niceness can give. Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. In fact, Jesus not only brings peace, which is among the fruit of the Spirit, he is our peace.
But the shalom announced by the angel choir is far from just a personal thing. God intends for it to be very public. The day is yet to come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The day is yet to come when “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (Psalm 46:9).
Finally, peace on earth, the shalom that Jesus has already given, and the shalom of all things made new and is yet to come, is God’s doing, and his doing alone. Our niceness will not speed it and our naughtiness will not hinder it. In the meantime we who know God’s shalom can live it and share it.
All I am saying is give peace a chance.