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December 2019

That Infant Disturber of the Peace

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34b)

In a season when we say, “Peace on earth,” Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He goes on to say that he will set families at odds, that if we love our families more than him, we are not worthy, says that if we lose our lives for his sake, we will gain our lives. Writing about these hard words, Oswald Chambers says, “Jesus Christ came to send a sword through every peace that is not based on a personal relationship to himself.”

In short, every sense of well-being and security not based on a relationship with Jesus will be wrecked by a God who knows that our own glory is only in knowing him. Dying to self—to what I want, desire, and need—and living unto God is the door to life, to abundant life. Be of good cheer, Jesus says. Then, take up your cross. Die. His burden is easy.

But that was this morning when the house was quiet and you could think, when your thoughts had room to drift out of your head and down quiet hallways, settle onto stairway landings, rest in vacant spaces, sit on the sills of windows. You’re at the mall trying to squeeze your SUV into an available space marked C, for confident or perhaps conceivable, and you had to inhale to slip through the slender opening between your door and the car and were thankful that you were still trim enough to squirm through. And you thought you were done shopping, but there was that one item you needed. And then you remembered another thing you needed while sitting at the stoplight, and you wrote it on the back of a gas receipt stuffed in the cupholder. But you lost the paper in the crevice made for tiny people hands between the seat and the console. You thought a bad word, but at least you didn’t say it, today.

You bought a Cinabon, just to soak up frustration, though you know you shouldn’t have, and besides, it’s Christmas, almost, you remind yourself. Sitting there eating it, slowly, you remembered the squirrel you saw at lunch yesterday deftly navigating the thin edge of the black fence behind your home carrying an oversize pine cone, like a tight-rope walker with a balance beam, stopping to strip away the husk to get at seeds and how, once down, he stopped and looked at you, dead on. Like he said, “What? What? This is what I do.”

Nothing bothered the squirrel. Not the screeching circular saw at the home being constructed behind me. Not the hammers arresting silence. Not the blond real estate agent pacing back and forth on the unfinished patio, cell phone in hand, barking at someone, gesticulating, while the cement churned and workers looked on. Not the whine of a motorcycle on the avenue. Not the 747 passing overhead.

You just remembered the second item you needed, pushed back from the table, joined the throng of shoppers humming along to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

It’s said that the common ground squirrel can bury up to 1000 nuts and, remembering where each one is, dig them up later for a meal. That doesn’t sound common but extraordinary. Yet I suspect they lose a few. I have seen them scurrying about in the pine straw, all a titter about their lost nut. “I know I put it out here,” I can almost hear them say, “and yet, it’s not here.” They move on but then circle back. “I may have missed something,” they say.

I may have missed something, I think. I forgot to buy something. Someone will be forgotten. Someone in my extended family. A child. No one will say anything, but they’ll remember me as the uncle who forgot. You put your hand to your head, and not softly, as if the percussive effect may jar loose a memory.

My wife told me that a woodpecker has an area in its head behind its beak that acts as a shock absorber to his intermittent head-banging. I don’t know. There may be a reason why he (not to be sexist, but it seems like a man thing) is banging his head on an aluminum gutter. But I’m glad of it. The other morning a woodpecker was working out on my neighbor’s metal gutter, like a rivet gun, as if it might yield an insect, but won’t. Perhaps he was frustrated: it was one of those days when nothing seems to work, to come to fruition, when there’s nothing to point to as achievement. He may have forgotten something.

I may have forgotten something. And then there are a lot of “what ifs.”

What if, when I finish here, another Suburban has parked next to me and I cannot get in the door?

What if the parking garage collapses?

What if my kids are smarter than me? (Wait a minute. . .)

I worry about things, but I needn’t have. When I return to my car there is a Fiat parked next to me in the shadow of my side mirror, leaving ample room for me to slip in, settle into the seat, close the door, recline my seat, and close my eyes. Just rest a minute before I get going, I think.

Only I just remembered another item I forgot.

I thought that word again.

I was going to wrap this little journey up nicely, circle back to Oswald Chambers, mention the squirrel and woodpecker again. But I forgot where I was going with this. Only thinking back about those hard things I read this morning, about what Jesus said, I see a little more of who the baby Jesus really was, that Infant Disturber, that One who brings peace yet disrupts every false peace. It was like a sword in the stone of my heart.