Like most people, I expect I’ll receive a number of Christmas cards on the theme of Peace, usually with a picture of a dove. Yet Christmas is for many usually quite a noisy affair. So why do we celebrate Peace during Advent, and what has it to do with doves?
In many different cultures and over thousands of years doves have been associated with love, partly because doves are thought to be loyal partners; but they tend also to be unaggressive and their white plumage has been taken as a symbol of purity. For more on this, see:
The dove is often depicted with an olive branch in its beak. This clearly comes from the tradition of Noah’s Flood (Genesis ch.6–9) where Noah and his ark full of animals drift on the flood waters. Several times, Noah sends out a dove, and eventually it returns with an olive leaf in its beak, showing that land must now be visible again. The olive leaf shows that God’s anger has abated. Even today we often talk of offering an olive branch to someone we have upset, meaning that we want to any damage to a relationship.
In ancient Jewish tradition the dove could be offered as an acceptable sacrifice because of its perceived purity. At Christ’s baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove displaying of Christ’s divinity. The dove has remained a symbol of the Holy Spirit
So why do we celebrate Peace at Christmas? While preparing his disciples shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’ John 14:27.
The Peace he promises is not a promise of a life of ease and comfort. On the contrary, his crucifixion will challenge his disciples to stand up for their faith, even to the point of martyrdom. The Peace he offers is a knowledge that they are at Peace with God and in themselves. At Christmas, we remember the birth of Christ whose example and whose teaching will bring spiritual peace.
Paul wrote: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 4:7). So let us pray:
O God, lover of all people,
send down into our hearts that peace which the world cannot give.
O King of Peace, keep us in love and charity;
be our God, for we have none other beside thee;
grant unto our souls a life of righteousness,
that the death of sin may not prevail against us,
or against any of your people. Amen.