Travis Tritt, a country music songwriter and singer who became famous in the late 80’s, before being successful spent years playing in small out-of-the-way bars and taverns in Geogia. Dangerous places, as you may expect. Travis’s fans in those years were mostly drunks who had a hard time controlling their tempers. Thus, bar fights would break out, and even entertainers were in danger, yet Tritt always managed to handle those crowds.
“Just when bar fights started getting out of hand,” he once explained to a radio show host, “when bikers were reaching for their pool cues or heading for the gun rack, I would start playing Silent Night.” “It could be the middle of July,” Tritt went on, “but I didn’t care. Sometimes they would even start crying, standing there watching me sweat and play Christmas carols.”
Tritt explained: “I personally knew that Christmas carols, especially Silent Night, could bring peace even to a bunch of drunken men in a tavern, for that that was, precisely, what those beautiful songs promised: “Peace.”
On this fourth and final Advent Sunday, the Gospel reminds us that the angels sang a carol some two thousand years ago. And that carol declared: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace with whom God is pleased.” Without a doubt, the very first Christmas carol sung by anyone anywhere in the world, heavens included!
Echoing God’s Promise through many centuries, the angels were announcing that a newborn baby was going to bring peace, true peace, indeed, something much better and lasting than peace as we usually understand it, as mere absence of trouble, conflict, or war.
So, my friends, today we wonder, what kind of peace were the angels singing about?
To Mary, to Joseph, and to the shepherds around Bethlehem, and to the angels, and to the wise men from the Orient, such a promised peace meant shalom – a Hebrew word in the Bible and in common Hebrew language today that means plenitude, wholeness, utter joy, completeness – if you are an accountant or sell used cars, chances are, you would say “100%.”
Anywhere you check this word in the Scriptures, you find that to have shalom is to have not only a “quiet” life, or to be out of trouble, but rather to be and to feel fulfilled in every possible way.
And this is a very important lesson for us, for if we still believe that peace of mind is something that happens to us only if we have the right job, or the right spouse, or the right kids, or the right boss, or the right friends, or only if everybody around us understands and appreciates everything we say and do . . .
Well, in that case we may want to hear what the apostle Paul has to say about heavenly peace, the peace that only God can give to us today and every day.
Writing from the prison, Paul tells his church in Philippi: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty, for I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12).
What was Paul’s secret? you may ask. Believe it or not, the same secret as the babe of Bethlehem some two thousand years ago! Whether living in plenty or in want, Paul’s happiness didn’t depend upon what had happened, or was happening, or even might happen.
His happiness wasn’t tied to the square feet of his home, or the size of his retirement fund, or the fame of his friends, or the success of his churches. His secret was that “In every imaginable situation I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (4:13)
Write it down, with capital letters! And highlight it! “Everything through him who gives me strength.”
No wonder the apostle closes his inspiring letter with words that we have treasured from our Sunday School days: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!”
I once read a brief meditation in the Upper Room about a beautiful gum tree where the bush and the sand meet somewhere in Australia. That tree had fallen, yet it continued to grow despite being battered by strong winds and rains. It remained beautiful with its papery soft white bark, and although some branches had died, new growth stretched toward the light.
“Like that tree,” the meditation concluded, “we are often battered and knocked down by the storms of life. However, like that tree we can remain beautiful and strong in our brokenness, for we have known [not only the God of peace, also the peace of God.]”
Friends, here I have a secret for you not to keep it secret for too long – “Regardless of the circumstances, we too can do everything though Him who gives us strength.” If such an amazing gift “that passes all understanding” is missing from your wish list for this Christmas, don’t wait any longer!
Put it down there in your wish list – you still have time!
Put it down in your Christmas list!
And your joy will be complete!