As Christmas approaches, many around the world are anxious about what the new year will bring. With a bloody and brutal war in eastern Europe, a worldwide energy crisis, and global inflation crippling many economies, there is fear and uncertainty for the future.
Here in Italy, many families and elderly are struggling just to keep their homes warm this winter. In fact, my neighbors are moving out in a few days to a small one-bedroom apartment. They tell me they can’t afford the utilities anymore and have to downsize. Similarly, my friend Alona, a Ukrainian refugee who has lived here in Milan since the start of the war, has told me of the hardship her homeland is facing due to the cold. She recently visited Ukraine with a humanitarian organization to help her fellow countrymen. Upon her return to Italy, she faced a six-hour wait at the Polish border due to a mass of people waiting in line to leave Ukraine. Alona explained that they are escaping the cold more than anything. In many places, there is very limited heating and the electricity is erratic. They would rather flee their country than face a bleak winter. There doesn’t seem to be much peace on earth or reason to be merry this Christmas.
Yet our commercial culture bombards us with images and messages of what a perfect Christmas looks like. Visions of happy families in their comfy and warm homes, perfectly decorated trees, and mountains of gifts permeate our screens.
Whether it’s our social media feed, TV, or the latest crop of cheesy Hallmark or Netflix Christmas movies, they all raise our hopes of what Christmas should feel like: joyful, merry, and above all else, peaceful. So the pressure mounts. We want the tranquil, happy Christmas we have been conditioned to expect.
But the harsh reality is that this world is anything but peaceful. Not only is there suffering because of war and inflation, but the list of human misery is endless. At this time of year, those who hurt seem to feel it more acutely. The daughter who lost her mother to a cruel battle with cancer feels her absence painfully. The single college student battling depression feels more isolated than ever. The shut-in widow feels forgotten and alone. How can we have joy and peace amid such suffering and sorrow?
Despite the world’s present dim and gray reality, there is hope. True and lasting peace is freely offered through the cross of Christ. It is this message of peace that Christians celebrate at Christmas. This is why angels sang at the birth of Jesus, “Glory to God in the highest, peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2;14).
God sent his only Son as a servant, who lived a life of perfect obedience and faced the wrath of God on the cross to pay the price for the sins of his people so that they might have peace with God. This is the peace that the prophets spoke of, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Although this world is filled with pain, grief, and injustice, those who place their faith in Christ, have their greatest need met, namely, the need to be reconciled and have peace with a holy God. Whatever our circumstances may be, we can rejoice and have comfort in this blessed news.
But there’s more to the story. In His first advent, Christ secured for us peace with God through his life, death, and resurrection. In His second advent, He will bring peace to the world. As Revelation 21:4 tells us, “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.”
As we travel through to our heavenly home, we experience pain and sorrow. But as Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). What comfort to know that, because of the finished work of Christ, there will come a day when all suffering will end and there will be eternal peace on earth.
So as we celebrate Christmas, let’s raise our hopes above experiencing a perfect holiday. Let’s remember that we have something for which the world longs: peace with God now, and peace on earth in the future. Let’s rejoice and share this good news, being salt and light in a dark and dying world, singing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king, Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’”