Summary: Peace is central to Christmas. Jesus came to heal the age-old fracture and bring us peace with God and he's the only one who can.
What does Christmas mean to you? What do you like best about Christmas? Spending time with family and friends? Christmas trees? Turkey roasts? Christmas puddings and brandy butter? Stockings? Santa? Presents? Carols? A season of goodwill when we put past hurts aside? I certainly like all of those things! But are those things what Christmas is really about? What is Christmas really about?
When we think about a nativity scene, at the centre is the baby, Jesus. Of course, we love babies! Babies are great. Royal babies are front-page news. But after the baby is born, we move on. We mark the Queen’s birthday, but that’s about it. We don’t keep on remembering birthdays for hundreds of years. There is, of course, one exception: Jesus. At Christmas we remember his birthday. And every time we write a date we count from when Jesus was born, give or take a few years. What was so special about Jesus that we make such a fuss about his birthday? A long time before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end…” [Isaiah 9:6-7]
Isaiah prophesied that the coming messiah would be ‘Prince of Peace.’ He would heal that age-old fracture and bring us peace with God. Then Isaiah continues, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…” One day Jesus will defeat sin and bring peace to the whole world. It’s a wonderful prospect, isn’t it? We all want peace! How much is peace between man and God worth? God has given us the greatest possible gift.
But what does that peace feel like? Are these just pleasant words? I’d like to tell you part of a testimony of someone who found Jesus and found peace.
In 1972 the Vietnam War had been going on for 17 years. In the summer of that year, South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on a village which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese forces. The flame from the napalm struck a nine-year-old South Vietnamese girl called Kim Phuc. It burned the clothes off her body and she fled naked. A 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer, Nick Ut, took a picture of her fleeing. It became one of the most iconic pictures of the Vietnam War and it possibly helped hasten the end of the Vietnam War.
An ITN film crew happened to be close by. The reporter on the crew, Christ Wain, stopped Kim Phuc and poured water over her. Nick Ut then took her to a British hospital. A little later Chris Wain visited her in hospital and asked a nurse how she was. The nurse told him she would die the following day. He got her moved to a specialist plastic surgery hospital. She remained in hospital for 14 months and had 17 operations.
Many years later someone wrote a book about Kim Phuc’s story. Then, sometime after that, Kim Phuc wrote a book herself. She wrote:
“There was a story beneath the story told there, a divine underpinning that for many decades even I could not detect, a set of spiritual stepping-stones that, unbeknownst to me, were paving a path to get me to God. That is the story I wish to tell in these pages.”
In her book Kim Phuc told how she was in physical pain from the burns, but she had a deeper pain. “What I desired more than healing for my wounds and hope for my heart was peace for my troubled soul.” Kim Phuc had grown up in the Vietnamese religion of Cao Dai. She looked for peace there, but did not find it. Then on one occasion she was in Saigon’s central library. She was looking at books on religion. She found books on Bahá’í, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Cao Dai – and a New Testament. She started to read the New Testament and discovered that Jesus had been mocked, tortured, and killed. He had been wounded. He bore scars. “Perhaps he could help me make sense of my pain and at last come to terms with my scars”, she thought. And so it was, on Christmas Eve 1982, Kim Phuc invited Jesus into her heart.
A couple of years ago, Kim Phuc did an interview with Christianity Today magazine. She reflected back on the service at which she committed herself to Jesus. She said:
“The pastor spoke about how Christmas is not about the gifts we give to each other, so much as it is about one gift in particular: the gift of Jesus Christ. As I listened to this message, I knew that something was shifting inside me.