This Christmas at church, our Sunday school children are getting ready to act out the nativity scene. Imagine it: retelling the birth of Christ with real, local Bethlehem children – surely it can’t get any better!
But for many of the people living in this region, living in peace seems a faraway dream. They don’t know the powerful words Jesus gave to His disciples during His life in this very land: “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.” (John 14: 27) Indeed, Jesus never gives as the world does: Jesus’ peace is genuine, it never fades…
Two thousand years later, however, everyday life in this land reflects more the chaos, violence and disturbance of earthly kingdoms. People have so longed to lead a life of peace and tranquility, but they are still waiting!
Living in turmoil affects every aspect of life: the habits and lifestyles of people; their hopes and dreams; their plans and future. Furthermore, it nurtures hatred and negativity, resentment and agony. This easily becomes the emotional and thinking template for a typical person living in this land, the land of Christ.
Yet, our church children’s rehearsals take me back to the beginning, to the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am reminded how a star guided wise men from the East to the very place where He was, following His miraculous birth. They sought to offer Him treasures, little knowing that He himself would be their ultimate treasure. It is in knowing Jesus in our lives that we can know His peace and wisdom in our hearts.
This is something the world cannot explain because they have never experienced it. It becomes our mission then to be the star that points people to the real treasure. Only when we offer our very best for the true King will we be wise men and women for our generation.
The ultimate love story
As they learn their lines and when and where to appear on stage, that is what our Bethlehem children are learning. As I look into their eyes, I see the hope they hold, the joy they express and the preciousness of their excitement as they prepare to present a drama that speaks of the ultimate love story. I can’t help but thank God for His sparkle that makes everything shine and for His love that was poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Peace may be absent from the outer scene, but these children communicate a different message.
Christmas 2016 in the land where the angels sang “Peace on earth” will only have real meaning if we choose to turn our hearts to Jesus and set our sights on being an example of His radiant character.
A question arises: what have we done between last Christmas and this to advance the peace of the Lord in His Kingdom? This is a time when we are reminded to be peacemakers, peace thinkers, peace lovers, because we belong to the Prince of Peace whose life was the ultimate demonstration of peace. Through the sacrifice He offered on the cross, He reconciled each of us to the Father and to one another: we shall no longer be enemies!
Of course, as Palestinians living in this land, we have suffered long and deeply. But my heart goes out this Christmas to those whose suffering today is worse: to the refugees who have been made homeless all around the Arab world; to those who lack peace in their lands and their hearts; to the cancer patients struggling to hold onto life; and to those who have lost dearly loved ones. As I think of all these people, I pray, “Lord use us to heal, cure and set free from every bondage and chain, make your light shine through us, help us live the spirit of Christmas all year round so that ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’” (Philippians 4:7).
Of all the places in the world, one might think Bethlehem should be the most peaceful. In reality, that is rarely the case! But when Christ reigns in our lives, we can experience His victory over the world – over bloodshed, walls, and bitterness – and know the peace that passes all understanding.
As they rehearse their play, the children of Bethlehem have a small reminder for us all: “Be of good cheer!” they smile: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Let us ask God for the strength to crown Jesus as king of our lives, every day of the year not only at Christmas. May the cry of our heart be a cry for peace, love, joy and transformation, one step at a time, one person at a time, for the birth of Christ is the hope of peace and reconciliation for the world.
Read Rita El Mounayer’s message on how you can spread peace in the hearts of war-zone children this Christmas