Traditions are great, but there is more to Christmas.
An unbelievable true story about a Christmas tradition comes from Larry Kunkel and his brother-in-law, Roy Collette. It was reported in the New York Times in 1983 and has also been verified by Snopes. In 1964, Larry’s mother gave him a pair of moleskin pants. He wore them a couple of times, but they would freeze stiff in the Minnesota winter, so Larry re-gifted them to his brother-in-law Roy.
Roy discovered he didn’t want them either, so he bided his time until the next Christmas, then re-packaged them and gave them back to Larry. This became a yearly exchange that was done in good-nature until one year Roy twisted the pants tightly and stuffed them into a 3-foot-long, 1-inch wide pipe. For twenty-five years, the two brothers-in-laws traded the same pants back and forth between them as a Christmas gift, each time finding more inventive ways to wrap them.
Year after year, as the pants were shuffled back and forth, the brother-in-laws strived to make unwrapping them more difficult, perhaps in the hope of ending the tradition. Like in retaliation for the pipe, Larry compressed the pants into a 7-inch square, wrapped them with wire and gave the “bale” to Roy. Not to be outdone, Roy put the pants into a 2-foot-square crate filled with stones, nailed it shut, banded it with steel and gave the trusty trousers back to Larry.
The brother-in-laws agreed to end the exchange if the trousers were damaged. But they were as careful as they were clever. As the game evolved, so did the rules. Only “legal and moral” methods of wrapping were permitted. Wrapping expenses were kept to a minimum with only junk parts used.
Over the years, the packaging became more and more difficult to open. Roy sent the pants to Larry in a six hundred-pound safe he had welded shut. The next year, Larry responded by sending the pants in a three-foot cube that had at one time been a 1974 Gremlin car. A note attached to the scrunched car said, “The pants are in the glove box.”
Roy later sent the pants back in an eight-foot tire filled with six thousand pounds of concrete with a note that said, “Have a good year.” The tradition ended when Roy tried to have the pants encased in ten thousand pounds of jagged glass. But during the process, some of the melted glass burned the pants to ashes.
The ashes were put into a brass urn and delivered to Larry along with this note: “Sorry, Old man, here lies the pants. An attempt to cast the pants in glass, brought about the demise of the pants at last.” The urn now graces Larry’s fireplace mantel.
That was quite a tradition that all started with a pair of unwanted pants.
There are other traditions and things we do that I don’t really know why we do them. For instance, every year I hang lights on my house, but I’m not really sure why. I hope it’s because Jesus is the Light of the World, but I’m afraid my research points to the possibility that it might have just been a sales tactic from Thomas Edison to spread the idea of the light bulb. I love our Christmas tree, but do you know why we have Christmas trees or how the tradition started? Some people would say they came from old Roman mythology. Others say sixteenth-century Germans or even Martin Luther started the whole thing.
One way or another, much of the world takes a moment to pause for this holiday—even though many people don’t really know why. Some think it’s just to spread joy, but when we look at the first announcement of Christmas that came from heaven to earth through the voices of angels speaking to the shepherds, we are very clearly reminded of the real “why” behind all the things we are doing during this season.
The peace that comes from believing in Jesus
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
It’s important to understand that the peace the angels proclaimed was not a proclamation of world peace or a declaration that ends all wars. It was not a direct announcement that now we can get along with our neighbors. It’s actually much bigger and much more important than any of that.
Through Jesus, the barrier of sin has been removed. So now we can have a relationship with God, and also peace with God! The peace comes from having faith in Jesus, and following that comes forgiveness. We see a great example of this peace given to a woman in Luke 7:36-50 who “lived a sinful life.” She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair, pores perfume on His feet. Then Jesus tells her, “Your sins are forgiven,” and concludes by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Because of the forgiveness for her sins, she can now have peace with God. And we can too.
The angels declared that this peace belongs to those on whom God’s favor rests, those whom God is pleased with. So with whom is God pleased? Those who have placed their faith in His Son. We know, that God is not pleased with all men, in fact, all of mankind is in open rebellion against God. Only those who have chosen to place their faith in Jesus have found His peace.
But don’t get confused, this has nothing to do with our own doing. This has everything to do with what God is doing. God came to earth to live as a human being, God came to earth to die for our sins, and to rise again so that God could offer us His grace—His favor—wrapped up in the Gospel. This grace or deliverance isn’t from human enemies or sicknesses or anything of the sort; it is from the greatest enemy ever, SIN and its greatest consequence—death. When we believe in Jesus, we commit our life to Him rather than to your own way of living. And when we do, God is pleased with us. His favor will rest on you. You will receive deliverance from sin and death. This is the Good News! This is the peace the angels were talking about.
As a result of this beautiful gift, we should pass it on to others.
Passing the Peace
Because Jesus brought us peace with God, one of the greatest responses we can have to that amazing news is to become peace proclaimers in everything we do, especially at this time of year in all of our Christmas traditions and celebrations. The truth is, most families experience some kind of relational difficulties during this season every year. Nearly every family gathering has at least one relative who requires a little extra grace.
But as the ones who have received peace with God, we have a special opportunity to proclaim peace in our families, in a very similar way that the angels proclaimed peace to us. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This passage shows us that those who count themselves to be children of God, actually join Him in the work of proclaiming His peace and making peace with others.
Now peacemaking is not the same thing as peacekeeping. When Jesus brought us peace with God, He didn’t just create some kind of truce. He didn’t just tolerate us or make some way to endure being around us. He actually took us back into unity and harmony with God. He literally restored us. He made a way for God to be near us and to develop a loving relationship with us.
You see, peacemaking goes so much deeper than peacekeeping. It goes beyond just avoiding and separating conflict. It brings restoration, and relationship, and unity. Jesus made lasting and restorative peace between us and God. The angels didn’t come down to earth and just say, “And on earth tolerance to those whom He decided to endure”? They didn’t just say, “And on earth God puts up with those on whom His favors”? Instead, Jesus brought us a true peace, a true peace with God, Himself.
For many of us, I know the Christmas season is a reminder of the lack of peace we have in our own families and our own lives. Many of us have conflicts with parents, children, brothers or sisters where we just want to survive the holidays without the same old fight and antics we experience every year. Many of us struggle to keep it together and try to cling to whatever peace we can hold onto until it’s all over.
But there’s more for you than that this Christmas season. As a son or daughter of God, brought to God through Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection, you don’t have to be a peacekeeper who has to try to survive the holidays. Instead, you can proclaim the good news of Jesus by being a peacemaker who brings a peace that transforms and actually lasts.
For example, if you decide that the only way Christmas can be a success is by getting everyone what they want even though you can’t afford it, you are not proclaiming peace in your life and not even in the lives of the ones your giving the gifts to. You’re only guaranteeing stress and guilt for yourself, and encouraging entitlement in the lives of your loved ones. And that’s a gift that just keeps on taking because the more entitled someone feels, the more they demand. And you’ll get to reap the payments and interest on those gifts for months to come.
Instead, what if you sat down with your family and helped them understand what you really want Christmas to look like and giving them realistic expectations. If your children or family can only be happy if they get everything they want, maybe you will be doing them a favor by disappointing them. Maybe you’ll be proclaiming a peace in their hearts that there’s more to Christmas than just them.
While this just one small example, I think it demonstrates well the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking. Peacekeeping tries to appease and keep everyone satisfied or just quietly disgruntled. Peacemaking deals with the underlying issues and brings healing and restoration. That’s what God’s Son did for us. What better way to proclaim and demonstrate what He’s done than to do the same thing in our families.
A Deeper Peace
One of the dangers of this season is getting so caught up in our traditions and so wrapped up in trying to create the perfect holiday that we forget our real mission.
James 3:17–18 reminds us,
17 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
This year, this Christmas we should be more concerned—than anything else—with proclaiming the peace of Jesus. Because look, with all the division and stress that has been put on us this year, outside of Christmas, we should be centered on living out the Gospel with everyone we meet this season.
We all will make connections and have conversations with people that only come around during this season. Now is the time to pray for wisdom in those connections. Now is the time to consider how we can proclaim Christ through what we say and how we act. Now is the time to be wise as James described: to be pure, peace loving, gentle, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and always sincere.
This season I am praying that God will give me wisdom as I interact with friends and family. I am praying that God will show me how to best proclaim the good news of Jesus by showing me when I should speak and when I should let things go. I have learned that just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re being righteous.
Some family members and friends know how to bait us into an unproductive argument or maybe even sabotage the holidays through their tendency for drama. I see it like a shiny fishing lure that is dangled in front of us. You want to argue. You want to correct. You want to fight and defend. But it seems like every time we take the bait, rather than changing their minds, we find it just drags us into places we don’t really want to be and to just more division, more conflict.
Sometimes we need to say the hard thing. Sometimes the loving thing is to stand up for what is true. Other times, the righteous thing to do is to lay down our need to be right. The loving thing is to avoid taking the bait and getting distracted from the real mission of proclaiming Jesus and sharing the love of God with everyone and anyone who is ready and willing to receive it. That’s why a peace proclaimer needs the wisdom of heaven.
I am praying that this year, especially during this wild time in our world, that you can proclaim God’s peace to your family and friends like you’ve never done before. Sometimes people want understanding and help. Sometimes they just want to hide behind an argument. I pray that God will give us the wisdom and discernment to see the difference and not to take the bait.
Part of being in a family or even being long-term friends is bumping up against one another. If you typically have relationship struggles during this season, remember that most people aren’t born annoying, rude, or opinionated. Despite how they act, even your annoying cousin or uncle was made in God’s image. Remember that people become annoying, rude, opinionated, and angry because of what this world throws at them and how they choose to respond to it. The one thing we all share is brokenness. The one thing we all need is grace.
A peacemaker who is working to proclaim Jesus will try to get beyond the rough exterior. A peacemaker will show mercy, remembering that even more than our opinions, everyone ultimately needs Jesus. I’ve never yet argued a person into relationship with Jesus, but I have loved a number of them into the kingdom of God. Certainly, love is tough. But sometimes love is quiet and just listens. In the midst of all the traditions, celebrations, and connections this season, and all the junk in this world, don’t forget how precious people are to God. Even the most argumentative, difficult, and draining people are precious to God—so much so that Jesus came to earth so that they could also have peace with God.
But don’t forget, before you share peace, you first need to possess it. No one expects you to be perfect. However, it’s difficult to share the message of God’s peace, when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Our proclamation must first begin with us accepting and embracing the peace we have in God. What a rare individual it is who knows what it’s like to be fully accepted for who they are, just as they are. Yet that is our very situation simply because, in Jesus, God’s favor now rests on us.
Despite us knowing we are children of God, and all the talk of peace and grace, few actually feel like they can just receive the love of God rather than needing to work for it or prove their worthiness of it. But in the angels’ announcement, there is nothing that says it takes even an ounce our own effort to obtain God’s peace—it’s only by the grace of God that it’s available. We didn’t reach our Savior by going up to Him; rather, the angel says, “A Savior has been born unto you.” (Luke 2:11) We didn’t earn His favor; His favor rests on us only because He chooses to, and because we accept it by putting our faith in the cross.
In order to better proclaim the peace God brings to everyone this season, I encourage you to guard your own peace as well.
In order to walk and remain in the peace Jesus brings, we need to be disciplined in where we allow our minds to go and the things we allow ourselves to think about. A pastor in California by the name of Rick Warren often says, “Think about what you think about.” Scripture tells us to do no less than that. 2 Corinthians 10:5 charges, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
When it comes to living in peace and proclaiming peace, it’s possible to lose the battle in our mind before our interaction with others has even begun. Have you ever had a fight or disagreement with a relative or friend that took place completely in your mind? If you are trying to win your arguments before they even get started, how can you possibly hope to bring and proclaim peace when you spend actual time together? Granted, sometimes we need to prepare our hearts and minds for interactions that are sure to be challenging. However, rather than preparing to defend ourselves or fight, perhaps our thoughts should prayerfully center on how we could do it differently this time.
To paraphrase this issue, I’ll use Hosea 8:7, “Sow the wind in your mind, and you will reap the whirlwind in your relationships.”
- Peace proclaimers use wisdom and patience instead of jumping to conclusions or quickly misinterpreting other people’s actions or intents.
- Peace proclaimers refuse to take offense when they feel slighted.
- Peace proclaimers won’t give themselves over to a rumor or pick up an offense that is based on one side of the story or another person’s retelling of the story.
- Peace proclaimers always hope, always believe, and always endure!
When he was sixty-three, Alvin Straight got in a disagreement with his brother, Henry. Separated by 240 miles, the two never spoke or saw each other for ten years. When Henry was eighty years old, he had a stroke. When Alvin heard the news, he decided it was time to reunite with his brother before it became impossible to do so. At seventy-three, Alvin’s sight was too poor for him to get a driver’s license. So, Alvin loaded up a trailer with gasoline, camping gear, and food. He hooked the trailer to the back of a riding lawn mower and set off to see Henry. At a top speed of five miles per hour, it took Alvin six weeks to make the 240-mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin in order to make peace with his brother. One month later, Henry recovered from his stroke and moved back to Iowa to be closer to his family.
We all know that you can’t make anyone change. You can’t make anyone do much of anything. But you can proclaim peace. How far are you willing to go to share the peace you have in Jesus with the people you know? Are you willing to take the first step? Are you willing to take a stand this Christmas for peacemaking?
Alvin Straight went 240 miles over six weeks to be a peacemaker, and his relationship was restored. Jesus crossed the chasm of heaven to make peace with you. The angels came to earth to proclaim the news of “peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). In the midst of all our traditions, celebrations, and even obligations, will we put in the same effort? Will our lives make the same proclamation?
Father, we thank You that You sent Your Son so that we can have peace with You. We ask that You increase our peace and pour out Your peace to others through us. This season let us be peacemakers who point others to the peace of Christ. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.