If peace is on your wishlist, you’re not alone. Here’s how to unwrap God’s gift of peace this holiday season.

If peace is on your wishlist, you’re not alone. Here’s how to unwrap God’s gift of peace this holiday season.

Some mornings – maybe most of them – we wake up already in the middle of problems to solve.

Before our bare feet hit the floor in the bedroom, we’ve scrolled through a few dozen headlines and social media updates. Our eyes squint to adjust to the glow of our small screens, their blue light flooding our pre-coffee minds with the entire world’s latest news. Here, in the early hours before we begin our long to-do lists, before we navigate the complexities of our relationships and responsibilities, the idea of peace seems to have already ended… maybe before it ever began.

Where is peace in a world of endless notifications? A world where constant media exposure to tragedy floods our bodies with as much stress as experiencing tragedy ourselves? A world where our kids aren’t faring much better — though many of them are back in school, post-pandemic stress and mental health challenges are still a big part of their everyday lives. How do we find peace for ourselves, and for our families, within chaos and uncertainty?

Where do we look?

This time of year, we think a lot about gifts – some of us with joy and anticipation, others with a heavy sigh as we add another item to those never-ending to-do lists. The boxes and bows and wrapping paper are all a practice of giving and receiving intended to remind us of a much more lasting, much more significant gift the Bible tells us we’ve already received: the gift of peace. Peace that arrived as a gift freely given, long ago, in the middle of a chaotic period in history marked with so much tragedy of its own. In a familiar story about a shelterless young couple, a long-awaited baby, a gathering of curious shepherds, and a chorus of angels.

You know the story. It’s an easy one to tell. A lot of us have been reciting it since childhood. But feeling the peace it promises isn’t quite as easy.

We are surrounded by messages about tangible things that say they’ll bring us peace. That product, that experience, that relationship. Yet, often it seems like the more we chase after peace, the harder it is to find.

Maybe that’s why  Anne Lamott said,  “You can’t buy, achieve, or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job.” And maybe that “inside job” starts with remembering the simple, transformative truth: that Jesus came to bring us peace.

Jesus as the one-stop solution for everything doesn’t feel great for a lot of us, and fairly so. Jesus as the source of peace might sound, at first, a bit shallow, a bit untrustworthy, or even naive.

But what if we look at Jesus as the source of peace from a different angle. Not the kind of peace that pretends everything is fine and the very real stuff of life isn’t happening or will magically get fixed because I’ve got Jesus in my life. Rather, a different kind of peace – one that comes from knowing that even in the middle of life’s inevitable storms, God is ever present . That we will never be forsaken. Never lack a guide or a friend or a source of strength. Never go without love, never lack a second chance, never lack God’s grace. That’s the sort of peace Jesus came to give us.

But how do we access the peace that Jesus gives so freely?  Despite what you might have heard, there’s not just one path to peace any more than there’s just one person seeking it. We might find it in different ways and in different moments depending on who we are and where life has led us. However, what many of the Christian mystics have taught us is that it helps if we practice.

Take a moment to breathe, to say a simple prayer, to reflect. To remember we aren’t alone: God IS with us. As Matthew 1:23 tells us, a young woman “…will conceive and give birth to a son and they will name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’”

In Western Christianity, the season of Advent (which officially kicks off this year on Sunday, November 27th) has traditionally been a time of waiting and preparing our hearts and minds for our celebration of Christ’s birth.. It’s an ideal time to practice leaning more deeply into God’s love for us, and into God’s call for us to love others as richly as we, ourselves, have been loved. Our sense of peace within can grow when we are intentional about making space for silence, space to tune into what quiets our spirits, and to tune out the noise that increases our stress. And this sense of peace within can also grow when we are intentional about listening for God’s voice in the everyday, in the ordinary.  It can grow when we watch for Jesus’ presence in our lives, or when we quiet our minds and bodies to feel Christ’s steadying hand upon our shoulders and when we recall his reassuring words: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Of course, we all know that quieting our minds and finding space to tune in can be a lot more complicated than it sounds. So we’ve designed this year’s Advent calendar to help all of us cultivate a daily practice of unwrapping peace. It only takes a few small moments every day – small moments we hope will make a big difference as we navigate this joyful…and sometimes stormy… season.

Because no matter how persistent our doubts, our questions, our trials – God’s peace prevails. The peace of knowing we do not have to weather this world alone. God is with us as we work. God is with us in our marriage. God is with us as we parent. God is with us in illness, in joy, in conflict, in financial stress, in loss, in grief. God is with us at family gatherings, at the dinner table, in our sleepless nights, while we wait in the unfathomably long line at the store. Emmanuel. God with us. God’s always-present peace in the storm.

May we place ourselves ever deeper within Christ’s care.

May we encourage each other to let go and lean into the sheltering love of our God.

May we unwrap the gift of Emmanuel, God with us.

May we rest in the lasting peace that gift brings.