Advent

Week 3: PEACE

You know those brainstorming techniques we were taught in middle school? Like the one where you start with a word and you quickly write whatever words or thoughts come to mind in correlation to it? Have you ever done one of those as an adult? I tried it recently with “Christmas.”

I’m not proud of how my list turned out.

words + photograph BRENDA LEI CASEY

Christmas

  • Red and green and gold and sparkle. I love it.
  • Mariah Carey. Still have my high school cheerleading dance to this song memorized. And yes, I am slightly ashamed to admit that. 
  • The Grinch. Home Alone. Elf. The entire Hallmark Channel. Need I say more?
  • Hot cocoa and marshmallows and miniature candy canes and whipped cream and all in the same mug at the same time, please.
  • Ugly Christmas sweaters. My favorite is the one I have with the texturized Santa beard. 
  • Wearing Santa hats while worrying about the hair being *just so* underneath them. (Full disclosure: my husband has no idea what this is in reference to, but it’s totally a thing, right ladies???)
  • Getting Starbucks while shopping at the mall. Because I really do want to shop-til-I-drop while Christmas shopping. So. Many. Bags. The movies do not portray the part about the finger cramps.
  • Christmas-themed family photos, which also makes them stress-themed, so that’s nice.
  • Gaining Weight. But let’s not talk about that.
  • Candlelight services. They’re nice. Really. But do they always have to be on Christmas Eve??? Do you even know how many stockings I … errrrr … *Santa* has to fill on Christmas Eve? And do you know how many presents I still haven’t wrapped? And don’t even get me started on food prep for the “Pajamas and Pancakes” we make merry every Christmas morning. But sure. Let’s just add in an event in which I am culturally obligated to get all four of my kiddos gussied up and out the door on time so I can incessantly hush them, bribe them to sit still, and somehow make sure none of them burn the church down. Oh yes. I can’t forget the part about focusing on Jesus while doing all that. After all, He is the reason for the season.
  • Obnoxious dress-up days at my kids’ school. Because who doesn’t have time to figure out a Rudolph costume at 11 p.m. on a school night so my kid can win a slice of pizza I could pay less than $1 for if I were to just skip the Rudolph costume altogether and buy it myself?
  • Crafts. Why do kids have to like crafts and crafty things so much? There’s the paper snowflakes, the gingerbread houses, the salt dough ornaments, the papier-mâché nativity sets, the watercolor paintings of unrecognizable reindeer, etc. And just when you thought you survived Christmas-craft season, you discover every relative who has ever met your child – even one time – has given your kid some sort of slime kit, bath-bomb kit, friendship bracelet kit, crocheted puppy dog kit, string art kit, or edible jewelry kit, and you better not vacuum or mop now because you’re probably like me and have a kid with a birthday in January and the cycle of glitter is only going to repeat itself. And you’re not going to win, so you might as well stop trying.

Wait.

Are we still talking about Christmas?

I forgot one! Jingle bells. It’s not Christmas without jingle bells. Go ahead and add that sound as the background to this entire list. Except make them the sporadic kind of jingle bells. The kind playing from the Salvation Army volunteer you’re desperately trying hard to avoid making eye contact with as you enter the store because you don’t have any cash on you and you feel like a jerk because you never have any cash and therefore you never donate to the Salvation Army, which does indeed make you an actual jerk. Or am I the only one who gets caught in these mental loops?

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s so much pressure within Christian circles to correlate the Christmas season and the peace we’re supposed to have during this time to our real-time schedules, routines, and traditions. As if somehow singing “Silent Night” next to a warm fireplace would magically give me the “peace that passes all understanding” people keep talking about. 

I’m not falling for it. Maybe someday when my kids are grown up and I’ve finally grown up myself, maybe then I’ll agree I should’ve simplified everything. I should’ve set up boundaries: maybe not attended 16 Christmas parties a year or done the whole experiences-instead-of-presents thing. But gracious, I don’t want my daughter to feel left out when she’s the only normal kid in a room full of Rudolphs. And I secretly really do cherish those cheesy, handprint ornaments. And after all these years, only one of my children has ever burnt a (small) hole in the church’s carpet. Plus, my almost-youngest still just wants an actual plastic My Little Pony no matter how hard I try to convince her going to a museum would also be fun.

Truth is, I don’t think the secret to peace during the holiday season has much to do with what we do or how much we don’t do. Honestly, I’d still feel stressed if I chose not to do half the things causing me stress because I’d feel bad for not doing them. It’s a vicious cycle. And yes, I have problems. I know I do.

All this to say I’m genuinely not here to promote holiday minimalism, a simplistic schedule, quiet nights at home, or whatever it is you think of when you imagine a peaceful Christmas, not that there’s anything wrong with those things. It’s just I’m in the thick of mothering four young children, and I’m being tugged in so many directions all at the same time. I get it. I really do. I’m not here to tell you to unplug or to disengage from all you have going on or anything like that because I genuinely do believe memories I’m creating with my kiddos today will be worth it in the long run, and I’m thinking you might feel the same. 

I’m fairly confident Jesus wasn’t born as a baby to die as a man simply to redeem our schedules. No. He came to redeem our SOULS. And my soul is going to last a lot longer than the all-nighter I’m pulling to hot-glue these stupid felt antlers on my husband’s old sweatshirt.

All this chaos I participate in, all the commercialism I guess I’ve fallen for, I know Jesus is the only part of it that actually matters. I know that. He really is unique, isn’t He?

An amazing account of a long speech Jesus gave one day was written down by one of His devout followers named John. After saying a ton of important things I’m not going to go into right now, Jesus concludes this speech (John 16:33) by saying, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace … .” The evidence is undeniable: Peace is found through Jesus, not through simplistic living, minimalistic schedules, or perfectly kempt homes (however much those things might help).

What kind of peace does Jesus offer, exactly? He offers the kind our souls need. And just like I mentioned earlier, our souls last forever. They’re kind of important. So let’s dig into this peace because it’s a big deal.

Let’s start with something cliché and just get it out there. Sometimes the most simplistic of things are lost in the mundane when it comes to our relationship with God. So here it is: 

We. Are. All. Sinners.

I know. *SIN*. It’s a word we don’t like. Makes us feel kinda icky. But I think the reason we feel icky is because we know it applies to each of us. We know we’re not perfect. If you’re anything like me, you’ve definitely fallen prey to gossip, ungodly desires, gluttony, laziness, poor stewardship, etc. But do you know who DIDN’T fall prey to those things? 

Yeah, the obvious.

JESUS. 

Please hang with me because I know you’ve probably heard it before. Let’s dwell on this reality for just a minute. Jesus was SINLESS. If He were in a courtroom, He’d be innocent, set free, jury dismissed, which is why when he died on the cross as an INNOCENT man, He was QUALIFIED to take something we deserved (eternal death) and in exchange give us something we didn’t deserve (eternal life). This is why we are told Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Do you know why the phrase “Lamb of God” is used? It’s in reference to the Old Testament laws given to God’s chosen people, the Israelites. They had been instructed to kill a lamb as a substitute for what they deserved for their sins, death. YIKES! We don’t like to think about that, but it’s true. Being we are sinners, which makes us UNholy, we can’t dwell with God, because He IS holy. Which means our sin literally separates us from God, which is just another way of saying “death.”

And guess who didn’t deserve death when the Israelites went to pay for their sins? Yeah, the lamb. The lamb was an innocent animal. What did it do wrong? Nothing! God set up the system of sacrificing animals so we could understand something innocent would need to die so something guilty could live. The punishment for sin still needed to be paid one way or the other, or else God would cease to be just, which would make Him no longer perfect and no longer God.

Do you see it now?

Jesus is OUR Lamb. He was the innocent one who died so we, the guilty ones, might live.

To make it extremely simple, here are some equations for ya:
I (and you and all humanity) = sinfulness
Jesus (and only Jesus) = holiness
Sinfulness = death
Holiness = life

BUT (and that’s a really important word here), but we’re told whoever believes in Jesus as the payment for their sins, those people get to enter into a relationship with God because their sins have been paid for. They get to exchange Jesus’ death for their life and Jesus’ holiness for their sinfulness, which means they can be at PEACE with Father God because the payment for sin has been taken care of. How incredible is that?!

Jesus + my sinfulness = death (what I deserve)
me + Jesus’ holiness = life (what I don’t deserve)

It’s incredible because through this exchange, our weary souls can finally find peace. And not just ANY peace, no, we get two different forms of it and both are found through Jesus: eternal peace and daily peace. Eternal peace is what we gain when we decide to trust in Jesus as the exchange of our sinfulness for His holiness we talked about earlier. It’s incredibly important because it’s our starting place in our relationship with Father God. Daily peace is what we gain when we live each day in communion with God. This looks an awful lot like what you’d do when you want to dwell in communion with a spouse or good friend. Daily peace with Father God looks simply like spending time with Him. It means listening to Him. It means apologizing to Him when we’ve messed up. It means trusting Him to do the things He said He’d do. It means inviting His critique into areas of our lives we’d prefer to keep in the dark. It means being grateful and showing appreciation for our friendship.

As someone who has already decided to enter into a forever relationship with God, I can say it’s easy for me to forget Jesus also offers me a daily relationship with Him. Thankfully, both this Christmas season and the one that follows and the one after that and all the days in between, I have the chance to start afresh each day in peace with Father God, trusting Him not only with my eternal soul, but with my daily refreshment as well.

So, are YOU at peace with your Creator? He made you, which means He most certainly has a plan for you, and He loves you enough to provide a way you can live in perfect harmony with Him. Have you genuinely entered into a relationship with Him? Can you confidently declare your soul is at peace because you have allowed Jesus (the innocent), to take your (the guilty) punishment? And if so, do you spend time with Him? Do you allow Him into the dark corners of your soul, the ones you’d prefer to pretend don’t exist? Do you acknowledge your need for His daily peace, as well as your need for eternal peace? I’m saying this to myself as much as I’m saying it to you. Because, truthfully, our souls being at peace with Father God is the most important aspect of our temporary life here on Earth, and being in daily peace with God is what helps get us through until then. Because not only is Christmas hard, but life is hard. We NEED His peace, and He offers it so lavishly and abundantly, so what are we holding out for?

I can’t think of any appropriate substitutes for it. 
A predictable schedule?
An empty sink?
Stockings hung perfectly and with such care by the fire?
A home all Marie Kondo-ed to the max? 

None of the things we do or don’t do will amount to what God requires to truly walk in PEACE with Him, either eternally or daily, because none of us is perfect. It’s easy to lose sight in the hustle and bustle. So, within all our #nailedit Pinterest fails and the fact every single pair of scissors in my/your home has disappeared and I/you have 47 presents to wrap and I’d/you’d like to sleep at least four hours before the kids wake up, maybe take just a moment for the sake of your soul. Settle your eternal peace with God and trust Him with the daily peace He offers you. We don’t call Him the Prince of Peace for nothing. Jesus, the One who came as a baby to die as a man, offers us all the peace we could ever need. Let’s take Him up on it. 

And yes. That is the smell of your cookies burning in the oven. Go take them out before the smoke alarm goes off, but check your soul along the way. BLC

Brenda Lei Casey is a huge fan of big fun, good food, the more the merrier, and authenticity in her walk with the Lord.


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