“I’m never sure whether to wish anyone a peaceful Christmas, because it hardly ever is. But I can wish you joy in the midst of the mess, and every blessing from the God of ordinary, untidy, surprising things.”
–Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams
There was an aura of calm as I walked around campus today. I went out looking for lunch, but all the restaurants on campus were closed. A few people milled about including some visitors on campus for the men’s basketball game tonight, perhaps the one chance for non-students to get into Cameron Indoor Stadium for a game. A trip to the gym gave me my choice of elliptical machines, a rarity on a normal day. On the whole, the campus was quiet and peaceful. And it was wonderful.
However… There is something incomplete about this place without students running to-and-fro, grabbing food in between classes, jockeying for position on the C-1 from East to West, scrambling from one meeting to the next. Duke’s campus thrives on the energy and life and ideas that pulse through the university. We do not rest well, yet we love it.
So in this Christmas season when we celebrate the one who came proclaiming PEACE, what exactly do we mean?
Does peace mean stopping all that we are about? Is peace synonymous with winter break and stepping away from all that normally fills our day-to-day life? Is peace a bodily experience or a spiritual one, and are the two related? Is there something more to learn when the angels proclaimed to shepherds in the field, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14)?
I sometimes wonder if people believe finding peace is simply about stepping away from everything for awhile, as if we will find peace if we just go on a retreat, or a vacation, or sit alone by candlelight and read the Bible. Maybe that’s true for you…or at least it’s true for a few days after the barrage of final exams end! But eventually we have to come back to everyday life–everyday life at home or at school or somewhere in between–and we want to experience peace not just when we are apart but when we are gathered together.
I do not believe that God’s angelic proclamation of peace at Jesus’ birth was intended to separate us or draw us away from real life. Instead, I believe we were being called toward the manger, toward the messy, smelly, unexpected, surprising, radical truth that is God-with-us. After all, the first response of the shepherds to the angels’ song in the quiet night sky was to gather up their sheep and head directly toward Bethlehem to encounter all that is truly ordinary about human life and to discover the holiness that rests alongside the ordinary. So this Christmas, may you look for peace not simply in places that are quiet and serene but in spaces where you might encounter something holy simply by keeping your eyes open for God breaking into your everyday life.