A nostalgic Christmas seems to be our dream—snow falling gently upon the countryside, cardinals perched outside a large picture window, a full moon lighting the night sky, gingerbread cookies baking in the oven, smiling children sitting around the Christmas tree, a fire crackling in the fireplace, Christmas carols filling the air with peace and good will, happy memories of Christmases past floating around in our heads.
But then reality sets in and the dreamy smile on your face melts as you charge out of the kitchen to separate your two oldest who are arguing over the iPad in the next room.
Of course, the phone rings at that very moment, so you wave wildly at the two combatants, hoping they’ll lower their voices—to no avail—as you try to hear the person on the other end, the pastor’s wife, who needs three dozen more cookies to serve at the Christmas social the following evening.
Your mind races to the Christmas to-do list that needs tackling and all those Christmas cards you need to write, but your heart encourages you to say “yes” because you’re a Martha who always answers in the affirmative.
You hang up the phone, suddenly feeling extraordinarily tired, only to smell something burning in the kitchen— the gingerbread cookies.
You notice headlights in the driveway as you run to turn off the oven and inspect the damage. They’re beyond hope. So now what, you think to yourself, scraping the charcoal remains into the trash.
But the thought is broken off by the sound of your in-laws’ luggage rolling across the floor. Why do they always have to come the week before Christmas, you whine internally, as you head to the front door to welcome them for the holidays, a forced smile masking the turmoil you feel within.
For most of us, the nostalgic dream is quite different from the holiday reality. So where do we go to find the recipe for a peaceful Christmas?
Apparently Google. The search results will provide you with all types of suggestions for taming “the most wonderful time of the year.” Here’s a sampling.
Recite a Christmas mantra
Wrap presents with friends, serving finger foods on the side
Slow down and simplify
Relax and have fun
Give generously to yourself
Let someone in front of you at the grocer story check-out line
And here’s my favorite for avoiding cranky relatives: Book a country cottage 100 miles away or go overseas with your immediate family.
Perhaps there are people who would be helped by this well-intended advice—especially the country cottage— but I’m not one of them. My desire is for real peace and real joy, the kind that wells up inside me and overflows onto the people in my life no matter what’s going on around me (or how I’m being treated), the kind that sticks around when my circumstances head south or my good intentions are misunderstood.
Does the world really need another angry, hostile, thin-skinned, argumentative, impatient person, turning one more home into a microcosm of the world at large? A few days ago I heard that approximately eight thousand peace treaties have been signed around the world since the 1600s. In spite of all the hype and good intentions, a majority of them collapsed within two years. Peace is certainly desired, but by nature we simply don’t know how to achieve it.
So I’m looking to the One who does. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus spoke these comforting words to His troubled followers, and two thousand years later His troubled followers still find the path to peace in Him who is the Prince of Peace.
Philippians gives us the roadmap.
1. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity. (Philippians 2:3, Phillips NT)
Pride is probably the sharpest blade in the arsenal of relationship killers.
2. In humility, think more of each other than you do of yourselves. (Philippians 2:3, Phillips NT)
How many hours do I think of others—how I can help them, encourage them, comfort them, pray for them— compared with how many I think of myself—what I’m going to wear, what I’m going to eat, what I’m going to read or watch or listen to, where I’m going to go and what I’m going to do when I get there. If you don’t think the Christian life is war (against self), think again.
3. None of you should only think of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view. (Philippians 2:4, Phillips NT)
There’s a reason for so many “one anothers” in the Bible. I know by personal experience that I’m spring-loaded to think about my own interests and activities to the disregard of other family members and church members. I find help in thinking of it this way—What if every family member or every church member was just like me? What would life be like in my home? What would be the state of my church?
4. Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing. (Philippians 2:14, Phillips NT)
This is huge! Grumbling and arguing—two poison ingredients in the cauldron of broken relationships— is antithetical to the life God has called us to live on this earth. We follow a Savior who “for the joy that was set before him” endured the cross. Yet I wonder if I ever go 24 hours without a grumbling thought if not full-blown complaining.
Paul offers some additional words of encouragement.
So then, my dearest friends. . .now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose. (Philippians 2:12)
There we have it, the 4-step roadmap to peace and joy regardless of the people who populate our lives or the trials that arrive unwelcomed. Can we follow it perfectly? No, not on our best day, which leads me to pray like Augustine, “Command what you will, and give what you command.”
But I also know from reading Philippians 2 that the desire God plants in my heart, in this case to be an conduit of His peace, He achieves through His grace in my life. It is the gospel that brings with it the power to both change my heart and enable my obedience.
Are you hoping for a peaceful and joyful Christmas season? Do you want your life to be light in the darkness?
Push the mute button and join me in prayerfully reading Philippians 2:1-16 each morning of Advent, letting the living and active word do its transforming work, seeing Jesus in each of the four imperatives as He lived in perfect obedience to His Father’s will, and joining Him on the Calvary road of humility, servanthood, and self-sacrifice, the only road that leads to the desired destination. Read Philippians 2 with a mind to live it.
Has Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, subdued your alienated heart? The story of the cross takes us to the place of reconciliation, where sin is atoned for and reconciliation (between God and man) achieved. Have you found forgiveness at the cross? Only there will you find the inner peace you so desperately desire.
I created the two graphics below for notecards but they can also be printed out at 8×10 inches for framing.
Right click to download.
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Photos taken at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Gastonia, North Carolina.