Peace | Ellie Hamilton


One of most well known carols of all time “Silent Night” was written as a collaboration between an Austrian priest Joseph Morh and a gifted school teacher and musician who served as choirmaster and organist for his small congregation named Franz Xaver Gruber.  Morh had penned the verses to the carol in the two years prior, during a season of great hardship for the people of Europe.  The twelve years of the Napoleonic War had broken the country socially and politically.  In the previous year, the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815 resulted in major weather disturbances and reduced temperatures throughout Europe causing failed crops which led to widespread famine and poverty.  Morh and Gruber presented this song to congregants as a message of peace and hope in the midst of their prolonged season of conflict and hardship on Christmas Eve 1818, and its popularity spread over Europe and to America in years that followed, making it one of the most enduring carols of all time.

As I have been reflecting on peace during this advent season and what it means to me, the lyrics of this carol have been playing through my mind and heart, especially the end of verse one, “... sleep in heavenly peace.”   In truth, while I love the beautiful melody of this song, I have always thought the lyrics to be a bit too Pollyanna for my taste.  Maybe it is cynicism or because of my particular life experience, but I just don’t buy the idea that Christ’s birth was as idyllic and peaceful as the song describes.  It has been illuminating to learn of its origins and the words ring true in the context of peace born from hardship and trials.

 So here is the thing…  I was raised in a home full of faith and grounded in scripture and in many ways I had deep roots.  However, our home was also full of secrets and sins that I could not reconcile with that faith, and I lived in anxiety much of the time.  I lacked a sense of security or safety and I would guess that I am not the only Jesus follower who could say that about their childhood.  As a result I had great difficulty trusting many of the people who, in a better world, should have provided that safety.  That mistrust and fear has influenced my relationship with God and with many other people in my life.  It has taken time, effort, and allowing the Word of God to transform my heart and mind to walk in ANY sense of lasting peace.  

We often think of peace as the absence of conflict or tension. We think of nations living in harmony, the soft sounds of a babbling stream on a quiet hike, or the house after the dishes are done, and the kids are all in bed sleeping. Peace is the aspiration of humanitarians and beauty queens, those working toward racial justice and those trying to come to terms with their own inner turmoil. It is the pursuit of those seeking refuge from abuse, freedom from addiction, or trying to escape persecution for race, religion, or any other form of discrimination. Peace can seem like a lofty yet unattainable goal.   However, those definitions of peace are very different from true heavenly peace!  Before Jesus is betrayed by one of his disciples and the dark days that led to His crucifixion and death, Jesus speaks these words  in John 14:27 NIV “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.”  Jesus invites those who follow Him to feel his presence and security, not in the absence of chaos and conflict, but right there in the midst of it!

As I have allowed the Holy Spirit to bring healing and understanding to the more painful parts of my growing up years and the times I felt most afraid, I have noticed that the greatest healing has come from being reminded of, really feeling, and seeing the presence and protection of God to me in those moments.  True peace is the ‘with-ness’ of God, the witness of the Holy Spirit to our darkest fears and our deepest pain.  The gift of Emmanuel - God with us - is that He is and will always be“our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Ps 46:1 ESV.  Jesus, our Prince of Peace, came to close the impossible distance that sin had placed between God and us, so that we can know true peace, heavenly peace regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.  

My heartfelt prayer for you, is that you would experience the presence of Peace Himself, walking with you this Advent, and hold onto the promise that the Lord ‘will keep Him in perfect [heavenly] peace, Whose mind is stayed on Him, because he trusts Him’ (Is 26:3 NKJ paraphrase)

Ellie Hamilton