Peace. Joy. These are two words that we see often at Christmas time. We see them on cards that wish the recipient “peace” and “joy” at Christmas. We see them on Christmas decorations, and we hear them in countless Christmas carols. We may even see them on “ugly” Christmas sweaters. And, of course, we see them in the account of the Christmas story itself. In Luke, chapter 2, an angel of the Lord appears to a group of shepherds and announces that he brings “good news that will bring great joy to all people.” And after the angel delivers that good news, an angel army appears, giving glory to the God who sent them, as they announce that this good news, the birth of the child born to be the Savior of the world, brings “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Because of the birth of that little baby in a manger in Bethlehem, both joy and peace were brought into the world. But sometimes we don’t sense that peace. Sometimes we don’t feel that joy. Sometimes the circumstances of life crowd out the joy and the peace that we know we should feel because Jesus became a man and brought the gift of salvation to mankind. Sometimes we just don’t feel peace, instead focusing on our own inner turmoil or the external turmoil that surrounds us. Sometimes we just don’t feel like being joyful because of the trials that we are going through due to illness, relational problems, or financial problems.
In July of this year, my wife, Linda, was diagnosed with cancer. Following tests and eventual surgery, we discovered that not only did she have a rare and aggressive type of cancer, but she also had a second unrelated cancer. Tough news to hear. News that could easily rob us of our peace and wipe away the joy in our lives. But it didn’t. Despite the news that we received, our faith has remained strong. We both feel peace in this situation we find ourselves facing. And, despite the fact that the road ahead is a difficult one, we still have joy in our lives. We have joy and we feel peace because we know that we serve a God who is in control, a God who cares about us and loves us, a God who has a plan for us, a plan that will never harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). We have joy and feel peace because our God is faithful, and because, rather than leaning on our own, limited understanding, we have made a decision to trust in God and His ways (Proverbs 3:5-6).
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul gave us the words that explain the joy and the peace we feel and why we feel it. In Philippians 4:4, Paul told us that we should “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” He emphasized the importance of this when he said, “I say it again–rejoice!” The joy that we feel does not come from our circumstances, it comes from the Lord. In our case, it comes despite the circumstances we are facing. It comes because we know have made Jesus the Lord of our lives.
In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul went on to say, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Rather than worry about this cancer diagnosis, we have instead gone to prayer about it and have been lifted up in the prayers of our church family. We have brought the diagnosis to God and thanked Him in advance that His will in this situation, His good and perfect will, shall be done. And, just as Paul wrote, we have experienced that peace that exceeds our own understanding. That peace has guarded our hearts and our minds, standing sentry to keep away thoughts of fear, anxiety, and worry.
As we go through this Christmas season, Linda and I know the difficulties that we (and especially she) will be facing during the months of chemotherapy and radiation that lie ahead. But we go through this season in faith, knowing that our joy and our peace will be there because of the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. We pray the same joy and peace for all of you!
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.