For those of us who are in education, we know that December is a month of creativity, a month of celebrations, and a month of — chaos. Churches have special programs for both adults and our school’s children, whether musical specials, plays, children’s presentations, service projects for those who are less fortunate, and class or small group parties.
Then the school calendar is filled with field trips, more acts of kindness to community agencies that need our help, school Christmas programs, whether in class or in special assemblies. On top of all this is the need to find time to shop for gifts for loved ones and family members, some of whom may already be in town while you try to finish out one more week of school. As if that were not enough chaos, our students have their minds filled with Christmas presents, visits to relatives, and anticipation of vacation excitement, all while we try with limited success to fill those same minds with some math, science, history, grammar, and Bible.
The period that we know as Advent is one that calls us to reflect on the first Christmas. When we see drawings of Bethlehem, we see a serene, sleepy little town, often with a solitary bright star hanging overhead. But when we read the words of Luke 2, Bethlehem and all of that region was anything but peaceful, because due to the decree of Caesar Augustus, people were forced from their comfort to travel to the city of their birth for a census and the joy of being taxed once more by the Roman government.
Joseph and Mary were thrust into this pilgrimage with hundreds of other travelers, making a seventh mile trek to their hometown of Bethlehem. Children, mothers, fathers, elderly and animals formed what scholars call a caravansary, or caravan in today’s language. As they came near to Bethlehem, imagine the concern for the young couple as they realized that many in their group were all exiting at the same location. Imagine today being tired after a long drive, and the exit you decide to use has a hotel with a lit vacancy sign, and you see that everyone is getting off at the same exit. That may have been what awaited Mary and Joseph. When Joseph and Mary finally got inside the heart of the city, they found people everywhere. The market was jammed with merchants all too eager to profit from the new traffic in town for the census. Every spare room and every inn was packed with hungry, tired travelers — and noise. This town had not had this many people in years, and tempers were running short as people shouted for their meats, breads, and fruit. In the midst of all this chaos moved a young couple, looking for a room, and more importantly for Mary, a bed.
As one door and then another are closed, the noise lessens, as many have begun to settle in for the night. Mary and Joseph now start to wonder where and if they will find a place to rest. When they are finally granted some space with the animals, the quiet is broken by the braying of donkeys, the bleating of sheep, and the stench of a stable. Mary must have thought if things could be any worse, and then those pains she had felt earlier begin to bring one more shot of chaos and confusion to her spirit. Having been in the birthing room for both of my children, I can attest to a certain amount of chaos when a mother is delivering her child. Transition is a word I heard in Lamaze class but did not truly appreciate until I experienced it with Kathy. It was there I saw that this helpless, very pregnant woman was capable in that moment of taking out anyone in the delivery room if we did not get this baby into the world NOW!
From the long journey, the discomfort of moving through a crowded city, through the frustration of finding a resting place, to a smelly cave, and now, to the small, new life who was taking in his first breath of air as a human being, there was now — peace. Peace in the midst of what was chaos was now lying on the bosom of Mary, and all was calm and right. This little life was now whom Isaiah had prophesied in 9:6 as the Prince of Peace. In this most humble state, in a lowly stable, the chaos may have continued around the young family, but they now saw peace in the flesh. By the way, I have been asked more than once why Jesus has so many names. I have answered that if you tried to describe Jesus, who He is, and what He does, are there even enough names in the dictionary to describe Him?! He is Immanuel, Bread of Heaven, the Good Shepherd, Everlasting Father, Almighty God – and much more! He is more than any one name can ever be used to describe Him.
Anyway, back to the cradle. We all know that life is filled with chaos, but this Advent season can help us remember that Jesus is our peace. I hope that in the midst of your personal chaos that this season brings, whether it is in school, at home, with family members – that you will experience the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that can guard your heart and your mind, and the peace that can give you the assurance that He is aware of everything, that He knows your chaos, and that He is with you in your situation. After all, He is Immanuel, God with us.
Remember: God. Loves. You.
And His peace is with us.
Forever. Take that to the bank. No, take that to heaven!
Randy L. Down