What God wants for Christmas
What did you want for Christmas? What were you hoping for? Did you get it? Or like our family, are you still waiting? (We give our presents after Christmas morning service.)
A couple of Saturdays ago, the Anglicans set up a ‘Tree of Hope’ in Middle Park shops. It was an ordinary Christmas tree, and people were invited to write on small cards their messages of hope—their prayers, their desires, so they could be hung on the tree. The message written on each card was also prayed for. (We were invited to advertise our service times there, and we aim to have an ecumenical ‘Tree of Hope’ next year.)
What did people pray for or desire? Here are a few things:
- I hope everyone, including me, finds something to love in each day
- We wish all a healthy and happy Christmas
- That soon we will have world peace, justice for all children and love our fellow man and woman
- I hope they get a cure for all cancers soon
- May God’s gift of love be rich and tangible the whole year through
- To those families loving and living with children with special needs
- Hoping to move into a house
- For peace and for the children of the world to have a peaceful Christmas filled with love and joy
- May there be peace in the world
And there is more, all in this vein. Wonderful desires and prayers each one!
I did a ‘Wordle’ diagram of the words that came up in people’s requests. Here it is:
You can see the words that were used most. They’re the biggest ones. We can expect that ‘pray’ and ‘Christmas’ would be there. And we see words like ‘hope’, ‘health’, ‘good’, ‘love’, ‘please’, ‘happiness’, ‘joy’, ‘everyone’.
But there’s one word that’s just as big as ‘Christmas’ and ‘pray’. Can you see it? It’s ‘peace’. People want peace.
We live in a world in which any peace is fragile. We hear about suicide bombers, soldiers killed in Afghanistan, the threat of aggressive countries obtaining nuclear weapons, the possibility of war between North and South Korea. And we’re glad we’re here.
Christmas is the time of year when we are again reminded that God’s desires and our deepest desires are the same. They are for many good things, but the greatest is for peace. The angels sang at Jesus’ birth:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!
Our God desires peace. Many people at the Tree of Hope desire peace. It’s an absolute scandal when people who claim to belong to Jesus Christ do not desire peace.
We heard during the year of an American pastor with a congregation of about 50 people who was going to burn the Koran, the Muslim holy book. He was persuaded not to, but as a consequence of his threat Christians were killed in Pakistan. It’s a sad story, and as I said, it’s a scandal.
Let me tell you of another story, which hasn’t made the mainstream news outlets:
Steve Stone is the pastor of Heartsong Church in Tennessee, USA.
This church welcomed an Islamic community centre to their neighbourhood. The story of the church’s hospitality was aired on CNN. Shortly afterward, Pastor Stone received a call from a group of Muslims in Kashmir who’d seen the segment. They shared with him that after watching it, one of the community’s leaders said to those who were gathered: ‘God just spoke to us through this man.’ One man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out, because of his desire to be a good neighbour too. These Muslims told Pastor Stone, ‘We’re going to keep taking care of this little church for the rest of our lives.’
When we desire peace and put that desire into action, it’s contagious. We don’t live in a peaceful world; we live in a fear-filled world. In this world, we who celebrate the birth of Jesus are called to receive his peace. Jesus says:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Let’s put Jesus’ peace into action in our family, our neighbourhood, our place of work, our church. If we do, we’ll find that peace is catching.
Did you get what you want for Christmas? I hope so. I believe that most of us want peace too. God has already shown the way—the way is Jesus, born at Bethlehem all that time ago. Let us be people of peace in 2011.