“The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-11)
It was the Sunday before Christmas, and a little brother and sister were in church singing a Christmas hymn with the congregation. And as the song finished, the boy belted out rather loudly, “sleep in heavenly beans.” His sister gave him the most righteously indignant stare she could muster, and in a not-too-soft whisper said, “It’s not ‘heavenly beans’. It’s ‘sleep in heavenly peas.’”
As you know, they both butchered the words of the most well-loved Christmas hymn of all time. What you may not know is that back in 1818 that hymn was born. The birthplace was St. Nicholas Church in a small Austrian alpine village where a 31-year-old church organist by the name of Franz Gruber composed a melody on his guitar because the church organ was broken. The melody was for a poem that had been written earlier by the 26-year-old pastor of that church, Joseph Mohr. The poem was entitled, “Stille Nacht”, and the melody quickly formed in Gruber’s mind.
On that evening, in time for Midnight Mass, the world’s most famous Christmas Carol was heard for the very first time. It’s the same song that by tradition believers still sing every year during the season of Advent. It’s the song, “Silent Night.”
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin,
Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Now I don’t want to spoil your Thomas Kincade image of “Silent Night”, but I’m not too sure how “calm” and “bright” the night of Christ’s birth was. The Bible tells us that Mary’s pregnancy had been suspect in the eyes of her village from the beginning. She had been unmarried when the news arrived that she’d be pregnant with the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit. Not too many of the townsfolk had bought that story, and she likely became the object of their cruel and incessant gossip.
Then when the time came for the baby’s birth, Mary and Joseph had been required to travel by foot the arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, not an easy trip for anyone in those days, especially for a woman in the late stages of pregnancy. When they arrived, they were forced to stay in a stable because the inn had no room. And there among the squalor of the smelly, noisy animals, alone, with no family to rejoice with her, no mid-wife to assist her, a teenage virgin girl gave birth to the king of the world. And if Jesus was like most infants, like my two daughters when they were born, there was anything but peace and quiet that night.
Yet in the simple, humble, unlikely birth of Jesus, something Divine, something Eternal was released on Planet Earth. As someone has pointed out, the best Christmas present ever was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger. Franz Gruber truly did capture that indescribable, priceless gift with the words, “heavenly peace.” That night, God invaded earth, and heavenly peace was left in the wake of the Divine invasion. The angels who announced the Christ’s birth to the nearby shepherds couldn’t have put it any better,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth, peace on whom his favor rest.
The infant Jesus may not have slept in heavenly peace that night, Mary and Joseph may not have enjoyed a peaceful night’s rest either, but God’s peace invaded earth that night in Bethlehem, and you and I on this Christmas Day are its beneficiaries.
So let me ask you a very important question: Are you benefiting from God’s peace? Is the peace of God, as Paul called it in Philippians 4, “guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus”? Is the peace of Christ, as Colossians 3 describes, “ruling in your heart”?
Perhaps the peace that passes all understanding is the last thing characterizing your life today. Maybe worry, anxiety, fear and stress dominate your world at the moment. My friend, God wants you to have his heavenly peace. That is his gift, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, and the gift is just for you!
Now God’s peace is neither a blanket guarantee of global harmony nor a promise that your life will be conflict-free. It is just simply saying that if you are in God’s favor, which comes by virtue of accepting his Son as your Lord and Savior, his peace will guard your mind, it will rule your heart, and it will sustain your life.
The “heavenly peace” that Gruber wrote about and the angels announced is God’s gift to you this Christmas, even if your world seems a long way from being peaceful. It is simply the peace that comes from knowing that in the birth of Christ, eternity irrevocably invaded time and God drew near to you and me through Jesus Christ, our Immanuel.
That’s the heavenly peace God wants you to have on this very day, and every day for the rest of your life.
And if you have received him by faith, you can sleep in heavenly peace.