I’ve been cross­ing bor­ders for most of my life. I first slipped into Que­bec 30 years ago along a dusty back road from Maine. It was so peace­ful that our soli­tary car star­tled the immi­gra­tion offi­cer doz­ing at his post. Lat­er, I sailed into the Unit­ed States from Van­cou­ver Island on a pas­sen­ger ship slow­ly trac­ing its way through the San Juan Islands as we watched the sun go down over the ocean.

Yet cross­ing bor­ders can also be an alto­geth­er trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence. I once left main­land Chi­na bat­tling a heavy cold dur­ing a bird flu epi­dem­ic. Futur­is­tic heat sen­sors oper­at­ed by expres­sion­less bor­der guards pulled suf­fer­ers out of the line to be quar­an­tined for ten days or more. And on the Israeli bor­der, we came under mor­tar attack from deep with­in Gaza as dust fell from the ceil­ing and tables rat­tled to the thud of a mis­sile close by. 

In the nativ­i­ty sto­ry, the lit­tle holy fam­i­ly was also cross­ing bor­ders. Tran­sit­ing from Nazareth in the province around Lake Galilee to the more dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed Beth­le­hem in Judea would have been a rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward trip. That’s if the young moth­er at the cen­ter of the sto­ry had not been so heav­i­ly preg­nant, or the roads so over­crowd­ed with peo­ple on the move for the census. 

Lat­er, the flight to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13) was more like my escape from one fail­ing state in cen­tral Africa. Caught on the wrong side of the bor­der, Joseph real­ized his wife and child were in immi­nent dan­ger. I know very well the blind­ing urge to pick up my belong­ings—and run. With five oth­ers I had to flee a life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion when unan­nounced bor­der con­trols sud­den­ly blocked our exit. Joseph made his escape at night, shroud­ed in secre­cy. We made our dash across an inter­na­tion­al run­way and scram­bled into a small tur­bo­prop plane before sleep­ing guards roused them­selves and gave chase. 

The way of peace, tra­di­tion­al­ly the last week before Christ­mas, often requires the cross­ing of bor­ders. It may not involve tra­vers­ing sov­er­eign states, but it can be equal­ly per­ilous and uncer­tain. Jesus did­n’t rec­og­nize peace­mak­ers” for noth­ing (Matthew 5:9). He knew very well the sort of bor­ders his fol­low­ers would have to cross when he called them out in his Ser­mon on the Mount. 

Think about the moth­er medi­at­ing between a war­ring hus­band and a testos­terone-fuelled son. Or the man­ag­er caught in the mid­dle of a heat­ed work­place dis­pute. Or the neigh­bors locked in a stub­born con­flict. Peace­mak­ing can be very cost­ly in going first to the loca­tion of one par­ty and then cross­ing over to the loca­tion of the oth­er. Suc­cess­ful peace envoys have to set aside per­son­al agen­das and enter the inner world of both sides. 

Often we talk about leav­ing our com­fort zone, or being in unfa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry. Both are ref­er­ences to bor­ders. The way of peace beck­ons us to drop our vest­ed inter­ests, coura­geous­ly step over the line, and enter an unfa­mil­iar place. 

Does this remind you of some­thing? In one of the most mov­ing pas­sages in the whole of Scrip­ture, Paul describes the relo­ca­tion of Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equal­i­ty with God as some­thing to be exploit­ed, but emp­tied him­self, tak­ing the form of a slave, being born in human like­ness” (Philip­pi­ans 2:6 – 7). 

In The Mes­sage, Eugene Peter­son trans­lates John 1:14 as the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neigh­bor­hood.” I like this prox­im­i­ty to our own sit­u­a­tions. With his flight into Egypt, Jesus even had the expe­ri­ence of being a refugee. He real­ly did live among us. 

For peace to come we have to cross bor­ders. Whether it is step­ping out­side our com­fort zone to expe­ri­ence peace with God or to act as a medi­a­tor and bring peace between peo­ple. Slow, painful, and sac­ri­fi­cial, this is the way of Christ. We are try­ing to become more like him and he is our mod­el. It’s why in trou­bled places around the world I have noticed that fol­low­ers of Jesus are so often the first to arrive and the last to leave. 

In the large­ly for­got­ten and anony­mous book, A Guide to True Peace, an ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Quak­er under­scores the real­i­ty that peace comes from with­in. He says if the King­dom of God is about peace (Romans 14:17), then that King­dom is with­in us (Luke 17:21) and is con­stant­ly avail­able as a source of life and power. 

How do we avoid stray­ing from the way of peace? The old Quak­er tells us that when, through inad­ver­tence or unfaith­ful­ness we become uncen­tered, it is of imme­di­ate impor­tance to turn again gen­tly and peace­ful­ly inward.” He goes on and thus we may learn to pre­serve the spir­it and unc­tion of prayer through­out the day.” 

This turn­ing with­in is the secret of becom­ing a per­son of peace because it is there we encounter the Prince of Peace. It is there we fol­low in the foot­steps of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child; all of them trav­el­ers pur­su­ing a divine mis­sion. A peace mission. 

Oth­ers in the Christ­mas sto­ry were also cross­ing bor­ders. Most obvi­ous are the wise men who came from a coun­try far away (Matthew 2:1). Who knows how many bor­ders they had to nav­i­gate to reach the infant king? Then there were the shep­herds, leav­ing their famil­iar work­place to enter Beth­le­hem (Luke 2:15).

In a rare moment, the angels them­selves come with­in the range of human sens­es, unusu­al­ly vis­i­ble to the naked eye (verse13). In the imag­i­na­tion of poet Edmond Hamil­ton Sears, they bend on hov­er­ing wing” com­ing so close that they are audi­ble to ordi­nary peo­ple liv­ing beneath life’s crush­ing load.” 

If the sages, shep­herds, and angels are to be believed, then it is worth cross­ing what­ev­er bor­ders it takes to get close to the peace that is now avail­able on earth” (verse 14). This Christ­mas could be our chance. Cross­ing the thresh­old of the sta­ble we too can press in along­side those gath­ered to see the Peace Child. He has what we want. 

Why? Because he him­self is our peace” (Eph­esians 2:14) and if we want peace, then we want him. 

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