Peace is a big concept around this time of year. We see it written in fancy script on snowflake-laden greeting cards. We sing, like the angels, "Peace on the earth, goodwill toward men." There are images of cozy fireplaces and old-fashioned Christmas trees shining in dimly lit rooms. The idea of peace is big at Christmas.
But, as we all know, while popular, peace is not very prevalent. Ask most people how they are during this time of year and the answer is: STRESSED OUT. "How are you?" is replaced by "Have you finished your Christmas shopping?" or "Are you ready for Christmas?" as the most frequently asked question. And people out there are nasty. They are cutting each other off in traffic, laying on their horns, pushing past fellow shoppers to get to the latest sale item. In the air there's a feeling of grumpiness. I took my kids to see the big Christmas tree at the Dallas Galleria and it was downright scary. It made me want to hide in my house and order food from the Schwans man until December 27th or so.
I was given a gift early this year. God graced me with illness just before Thanksgiving, so I would take a step back and reevaluate my holiday priorities. He gifted me with financial difficulty so that I could opt out of the consumer-driven American Christmas madness. And, you know what? It's been awesome. Fun. Peaceful.
It's not that we've toned down this Christmas. Our house is the most Griswald-like on our block with our brilliant yard decorations that shine so brightly by night that my children no longer need a night light in their room. Their window is filled with a incandescent glow reminiscent of an alien landing. There is not a room in our house where you will not find something Santa-related or a snowman (my personal favorite holiday friend). We've watched Elf, The Christmas Story, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman... repeatedly. My kids have sat upon Santa's knee and told him what they want for Christmas: two babies and a school bus, respectively.
So it's not that I'm not participating in Christmas. It's that I'm not worrying about Christmas. I'm not stressed. I'm happy. I have moments where I start to panic with upcoming preschool parties, play-dates, and both children's birthdays thrown into the mix. But I take a deep breath and remember that if I don't have time to make a cookie tray it's going to be okay. If I don't have time to make those really cute reindeer treats I saw on Pinterest, I can bring candy canes from the Dollar Store. My kids would rather have a happy mommy than a domestic diva.
A year or so ago I read a scripture that really struck me. It is Isaiah 33:20 and says: "Look upon Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken." At the time, I looked upon my home, the "city" of my festivals, and what I saw seemed neither peaceful nor permanent. Though we were putting on a good face, things were tense at the Espinoza house and it seemed at any moment either Phillip or myself could pull up stakes and move on, breaking a rope or two on our way out. I wept and prayed. I asked God for our home to be a peaceful abode. I made those words, "a peaceful abode," my computer screensaver so that I would remember to be intentional in this prayer.
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the computer (probably looking up those aforementioned reindeer treats) and my screen saver popped up. There were the words "a peaceful abode," spinning slowly across my screen, and I realized that my prayer had been answered. I don't remember the moment we went from grumpy to grateful, from pissed to peaceful, but somewhere in the past year, by God's grace, it happened. Looking at those words as a promise answered instead of a petition was a wonderful moment for me. It was like God winked at me and whispered, "Merry Christmas."
The most important of our Christmas traditions happens each evening. We light candles for Advent, sit together as a family and sing songs. We read books and then we tell the story of Jesus' birth. We laugh and rejoice together. While the kids may not understand fully that the birth of this one little baby boy is the reason our house is filled with joy and peace, my husband and I do, and we know that we are planting seeds of faith even while singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of our lungs.
On Christmas morning, my children are going to have gifts to open (at least two babies and a school bus), but the greatest gift has already been given to them. And because of this greatest gift, the gift of a Messiah who loves us without condition, they have spent this holiday season in a home characterized by peace. By joy. By love. This Christmas I re-gift my children a peaceful abode and I know that it is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. So on this "one week until Christmas" morning, I wish you a merry Christmas, but beyond that I wish you a peaceful Christmas. I wish you lots of hugs and laughter. Lots of moments where you are more aware of the peaceful, beautiful, wonderful presence of Jesus than you are of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas crowd. Peace in your home, goodwill toward men, and a hosanna in the highest to the One whose birth we celebrate and whose love is never ending.