Though it won’t make it on the (very short) list of plans we have for this holiday season, a train ride to center city Philadelphia for a walk through Christmas Village and the City Hall Light Show has become a new Desilets tradition. We aren’t huge fans of the crowds (even before 2020), but there’s something magical about the bright lights in the big city.
No matter how many times I’ve seen the show, the animated projection of color onto the normally bland stone walls of City Hall fascinates me. Ribbons and bows appear to the rhythm of carols, wrapping the building in festive design. Glimmering frost spreads across the surface as giant snowflakes fall. Three-dimensional ornaments bounce and roll, while solid pillars spin like candy canes. The projection is so precise your brain gets tricked into believing what you’re seeing is actually there!
As high-tech as those City Hall illuminators may be, our brains are even more skilled at projection. We have a tendency to take our mental pictures of what God is like and project them onto Him – especially at Christmas, and especially when it comes to His peace. Carol lyrics and candlelit scenes seem to promise us serenity and comfort, but is this the kind of peace God is actively working toward?
We assume it was a “silent” night when Jesus arrived, but it’s likely the census-crowded city of Bethlehem was anything but quiet. Surely fear and worry were present for Joseph in Mary’s labor and as they lay their newborn in an animal feeding trough. And though this birth happened in the humblest of ways, the very act of the Almighty “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7) had to have been one of the most tension-filled spiritual moments of all time.
When we hear the angels proclaim to the shepherds, “peace among those with whom he is pleased,” (Luke 2:14) we know what that means: Because Jesus came, I can have peace. This is true, but it falls apart when we project our modern understanding of peace as ‘freedom from emotional disturbance’ onto the peace God is offering.
If you look at the word for “peace” in the Bible, it means “wholeness” or “completeness”.* We experience peace with God (as opposed to hostility) because Jesus – the long-awaited “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) – made it possible through His life, death, and resurrection. We do not need to fear abandonment from Him or that the wrath of His just judgment will fall upon us because of our sin. We stand as children made whole and complete in a trust-filled relationship with our Father.
This peace in our standing then becomes the catalyst for peace, not necessarily in our emotions, but in our stance. We take a stance of peace every time we choose to live in the wholeness of our relationship with God.
The world around us may be clouded in chaos and noise, but peace is the stance we take when we put down our phones and open His Word instead. We may not feel at ease, but peace is the stance we take when we obey the commands we read in His Word anyway. That obedience may even lead to increased emotional disturbance, but peace is the stance we take when we make God’s purpose the higher goal, following Jesus’ example of “sovereign calmness that [came] from being centered in God’s will, the will of the Father who is greater than all.”**
This stance of peace may very well translate into ‘freedom from emotional disturbance’ at times, but if we believe these emotions to be a guarantee, we are only projecting our own ideas of God onto Him. It sounds noble to believe that “If I trust God, I will feel complete comfort in my hardest times” or “If I believe, God will give me relief from every anxiety,” but maybe our emotions are not God’s highest goal. Maybe His will and His purpose are.
It may not be the kind I’m looking for, but there’s real peace underneath the projection, and it’s revealed with every step I take to submit to God’s will rather than my own.
**The IVP New Testament Commentary on John 10