Mind, Body, Spirit

Anticipating Christmas and Unwrapping the Gift of Peace

We all have a different way of anticipating Christmas. Just the same, we all have varying levels of reverence, excitement, stress or even dread we feel in reaction to the Christmas build up and pressurized hype everywhere around us. 

The challenge of peace runs deep at Christmas. With all the To Do’s, we have to be intentional about recognizing the magnificent To Receive’s!

So let’s take it all the way back to the scenes just before the first Christmas when the hope for a savior had been building generation to generation and there was nothing that could rival the joy of anticipating Christmas for this cast and crew.  

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1

The book or gospel of Luke is often referred to as the Gospel of Peace, which simply means the Good News of Peace. Based on Luke’s own introduction of the text, it seems his account of Jesus’s life and ministry is solely presented for historical purposes. 

A comparison with the other “gospel accounts” of Matthew, Mark and John, however, reveals that the themes of communion, joy and peace surface more so in the book of Luke than the other gospels (1).  

Luke is the only gospel to not just tell of Joseph’s experience in learning his betrothed had been chosen to carry the Messiah, but also to include Mary’s story.  I cannot be thankful enough that Luke the ahead of his time physician and author gave voice to Mary. Luke also paints a picture of Jesus’s birth and gives us a glimpse of him as a child. It is clear that Luke wanted us to see and know Jesus, not just through a timeline of events, but also as personal savior.

Moving on to his crucifixion account, the reconciliation promise of Christmas, we get another glimpse into Luke’s mission.  His is the only version that includes Jesus’s request for God to forgive the people as they didn’t know what they were doing, as well as the promise of a paradise reunion with the forgiven criminal (Luke 23:26-43 NIV).

Luke’s gospel of peace seals in our hearts that God’s desire to reconcile us to himself ran so deep, he came to us as one of us

It is in Luke that we also find both the questions asked by Mary and Zechariah after being visited by an angel, as well as the songs they sing in praise. These songs are where we see the first hearts anticipating Christmas

Mary’s Song of Praise

Read Luke 1:26-45

I love Mary’s faith and resilience here. I mean that’s some major life changing news without any guarantees of how it will be received by her soon to be husband, not to mention her parents or the community at large. She doesn’t stop to argue with God about why he’s doing it this way or if he’s sure this is a good idea. Mary is thankful to be part of his plan and simply asks how it will happen. She then affirms God’s power by essentially saying ‘so be it’. 

During this visit Mary also learns that her cousin Elizabeth, though very old, is 6 months pregnant. Mary quickly decides to visit Elizabeth. Proof that community was and always will be of great importance!

Upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and gained knowledge of Mary’s news.

“In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!

Luke 1:41-45 (NIV) ~ emphasis mine

How beautiful and gracious of God to give Mary further confirmation of her calling.

I am a big believer in positive self affirmations. We hear so many external messages about ourselves that we must intentionally remind our spirit of what we know to be true. 

Whether you do this for yourself or not, can you think of a time another woman affirmed your identity in Christ? It happens, but not nearly enough. Right now, let’s resolve to follow Elizabeth’s example and do that more for one another in the new year.

Mary’s Song of Praise is found in Luke 1:46-56. Often referred to as the Magnificat, her spontaneous praise and worship ties her present state to the promises of God.  

Mary glorifies God by recounting:

  • his mindfulness of her
  • his ongoing mercy
  • his mighty deeds of the past
  • all with significant focus on God keeping the promises made to Abraham

Mary claims this miracle in her belly as one more mercy, one more mighty deed that will bless all generations. Here we also see the first recording of someone referring to Jesus as Savior. Mary not only feels reverence for God for his faithfulness, but she starts out her song bursting with joy over a connection to a personal savior.

This is what everyone had been waiting for! God’s presence was undeniable for these two faithful women as they greeted each other and immediately delighted in Him

Zechariah’s Song

We can read Zechariah’s song and story in Luke 1:5-25 & 57-80.

My heart aches for Zechariah. It seems so silly for him to ask the angel for a sign that the promise will come true. But he’s dumbfounded and being in the presence of an angel just wasn’t enough. And boy, is it a sign he gets! At least 9 months of silence, assuming Elizabeth conceived very quickly after this encounter. I want to give him the benefit of human doubt. Repeating a prayer takes faith and often that repetition dulls our expectation and sensitivity to the new things God is doing.

Is it possible the silence given to Zechariah was a blessing more than disciplinary action? In that silence, I’m betting Zech could be much more sensitive and expectant of God’s daily blessings. Without the option of blurting something out, the revelations certainly gained clarity. 

Once Zechariah confirms the new baby’s name, his speech returns.  The first recorded words after this long period of silence is Zechariah’s Song, often referred to as the Benedictus. His song prophecies the story of his son and the relationship he’ll have with Jesus. 

Zechariah glorifies God because of:

  • His arrival on the scene!
    • though Jesus was yet to be born and it was years before the Easter story, Zechariah knew this was the season of redemption
  • The impending fulfillment of God’s promises
    • I love that in anticipating Christmas, Zechariah uses future-based “to” statements
      • to show, to remember, to rescue, to enable us to serve him without fear
  • His baby boy’s miraculous arrival and that God would use him as a forerunner spreading the gospel of peace and mercy.

“Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 NIV)

 

Anticipating Christmas and the Challenge of Peace

We can learn a lot about unwrapping the gift of peace amidst the Christmas build up from these two stories. They run alongside each other, but each stand on their own with individual questions, fears, and focuses.  Whether we look at what God has done for us or others in the past, or whether we’re focused on what’s to come, the challenge of peace is met in him.  

John 14:27, in 2 translations:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (NIV)

“I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!” (TPT)

The promise of Christmas includes the gift of peace.  All we have to do is accept, unwrap and lean in.  If that sounds too pie in the sky, well, that’s partly because his peace is out of this world.  There is nothing that compares to it, nothing that can destroy it and nothing we can do to replicate it. 

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Can we get still enough this season to treasure and ponder like Mary and be silent like Zechariah? If so, we'll activate an obedient trust that this gift of peace is relevant for us, too. Click To Tweet

Jesus our Emmanuel

Throughout this writing process, the most well known portions of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” ran through my head o’er and o’er. I’ve always loved Christmas music but it was only last year that I began seeing these traditional songs as beautiful expressions of worship.  Maybe like Zechariah, they’d just become routine.

When I sought out the full lyrics of this classic carol, I was pretty blown away. Every line has rich meaning that redirects us to properly anticipating Christmas and the gift of peace. 

I encourage you to say a little prayer asking God to refresh the wonder of Christ’s love and it’s unmatched power to heal an aching heart. Then read these lyrics, bringing our Father your sacrifice of praise. You’ll be anticipating Christmas from a whole new space, I bet. 

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, by Charles Wesley, et al (1739) with melody by Felix Mendelssohn (1840)

Hark, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic hosts proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem

Hark, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail th’incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel

Hark, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

Hark, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
 
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart

Glory, hallelujah! Amen and amen. 

Is there a line or two that prompt you to seek his peace more fervently? Be more accepting of this gift? Or maybe with a renewed picture of God’s ache to reconcile us, extend the gift of peace more graciously to others? I’d love to gush with you! Please share in a comment below. 

Anticipating Christmas and Unwrapping the Gift of Peace

8 Comments

  • Kacy

    This is really good! Very encouraging and, of course, charming:) I loved reading the rest of the Hark lyrics, too. The most popular version cuts it off way too soon.

    • admin

      Thanks, so much. I’m excited to read your Christmas piece this morning!
      And agreed on those Hark! lyrics…I try to settle on a favorite verse but just can’t quite do it. Mild he lays his glory by is my fave from the already known lyrics. But the references to Adam, ruined nature, crushing the serpent, reinstatement, mystic union, they paint such a beautiful timeline of God’s love and plan for us from the start.

  • Jessica Montgomery

    This is lovely. I love the call to affirm our sisters identity in Christ. This was my devotion this morning and I am praying for peace for you and your family this precious season.

    • admin

      Thanks, so much! I love your intentional focus on settling in & wrapping yourself in his love & peace as you anticipate Christmas! All my best to you & yours!

  • LeeAnn

    You are such a wonderful writer! I love reading your posts on Scripture because it really helps me put the verses to use in real life. Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. Not because of the gifts and decor but because of the real reason – the birth of our Savior!

    • admin

      Oh, LeeAnn! Thank you so much for AFFIRMING me as a writer that helps to gain a new or different perspective. I do feel the more consistently we read, the more relevant the Spirit makes it in our lives. God’s words never grow old! I wish you and your sweet family (human & pups!) a very peaceful, Christmas with all things merry & bright! ❤️

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