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War and Christmas: May the peace of the Lord disturb you

Thursday, 15 December 2022  | Jo Vandersee

Warning: Contains references to the massacre of infants by King Herod.


Recently, Pope Francis cried as he prayed for Ukraine and an end to the war and atrocities.

Jesus cried – over Jerusalem, at the death of his friend Lazarus and possibly at many other unrecorded times.

Rachel cried over her children – over the many who had turned their backs on the God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, who carried them and who nurtured them, as we read in the Old Testament, and at the first Christmas as untold numbers of innocents were slaughtered by King Herod.

This Christmas, once again, the evening news and advertising have death and tinsel sitting contrarily side-by-side. The world cries out for peace, but there is none! Many scholars maintain that there are no more or less wars now than throughout history, but the incongruency of war and Christmas never ceases to confront and amaze, and that is a good thing.

As a Christian, there are some things I want to keep in mind as I contemplate how war is a hovering presence over our celebration of Christmas.

I never want to become unfeeling towards reports of pain and suffering. It can be overwhelming and emotionally draining, and it can be too much to listen to, read or watch media reports day in and day out. So, I don’t. I carefully choose what and how much to take in about world conflicts. I turn off the TV or radio, I close the newspaper, I shut down social media, I get off my phone – whatever it takes not to be consumed by despair. But I want to be disturbed – in the right way – with the knowledge that war is not what God wants for his creation. May we be moved to never give up, and continue to pray, act and speak against violence. May we ‘weep with those who weep’ and, like Pope Francis, declare a connection with fellow humans who suffer.

I want to remember that this world is affected by sin. Whether you believe in a literal Adam and Eve, or a Garden, or a snake, or not, all is not okay with the world and no-one needs to check the latest news to know that. Jesus knew that too. His heart was for the people of Jerusalem – Jews and Gentiles – who God had planned would hear about his amazing deeds through his people Israel. The God who miraculously gave children to Sarah, to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and to Mary declared to the world – then and now – ‘I AM at work, will work, and am working for your good’. May we remember the Big Story of God as creation, fall, redemptive promises, troubles, prophecies and fulfilment revive our hopes and keep us with our eyes firmly on the Source of love and peace.

I want to remember that the first Christmas was amazing, but also marred by the pain and horror of weeping and wailing as the evil ruler of Judea, Herod, ordered the slaughter of male children under two years of age in his attempt to assassinate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – Jesus, born in Bethlehem and attested as king by the Magi and the strange star. Let us not skip over the ‘difficult’ passages in the Bible. Let us be wise in our use of scripture in context and in confidence that we can learn from God’s word and understand many deep lessons through continued engagement and study.

And I want to sing out the truth of ancient and modern Christmas carols that point us all to the One who is the Prince of Peace – the only one who can bring peace to hearts and reconciliation across tribes and nations. Beautiful songs have come out of agony, such as ‘O Holy Night’ (1847) from France, which declares that in Jesus Christ the Saviour all ‘oppression shall cease’ – incredible now in the light of the revolutionary rumblings at the time, when starving peasants were desperate for food. ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’ (1863) came from the American Civil War – the author’s son being one of thousands severely injured and affected for life in that conflict. ‘Silent Night’ was written in 1818 in Austria, but came to the fore during the ‘war to end all wars’ – the Great War of 1914-1918. On Christmas Eve 1914, a lull in the fighting caused this carol to be heard on the crisp night air across no-man’s land. May we remember each unholy war as, once again, two supposedly Christian nations, Russia and Ukraine, fight and claim God on their side, only highlighting the desperate condition of the human heart. Let us consider again the depth of human sin in our own hearts and rejoice again in God’s miraculous intervention into this world by sending Jesus.

The majority of folk I talk to are yearning for peace to prevail across the world. The average person on the street knows that all is not well – in our neighbourhoods, cities, prisons and planet. Jesus Christ of Nazareth came to fulfil this yearning, bringing both the human example of servant leadership and the power of God to confound human minds – then and now – and to bring transformation that leads to true, lasting peace.

On that first Christmas, the shepherds, the parents of Jesus and the Magi were all confronted with an amazing declaration: that this baby born into lowly circumstances in a backwater of the Roman Empire was to be the Prince of Peace. Yet Jesus was not going to bring a peace that had everyone nodding in agreement. Instead, he was going to bring a different sort of division as God’s truth would defeat sin and suffering in ways none of us could imagine. He was not going to dance to anyone’s tune or take sides in any conflict. Rather, it is we - sin-affected humanity - who must turn to him and surrender to God’s ways. In that, the wars of our own hearts, and those of the world, will cease. And, finally, at the Second Advent, however that unfolds, true and lasting peace will reign. Let it start with me, Lord Jesus!


Jo Vandersee lives and works on Larrakia land. She is currently serving as Staff Chaplain to a large community services NGO, and enjoys writing, reading, multicultural food and singing.

Image credits

Christmas decorations by Chad Madden.

‘Let Us Beat Swords into Ploughshares’. United Nations Photo.

Lost in the Wilderness by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash.

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