Is it just me, or does it strike you as ironic that we are celebrating the Christmas season while the violence in Iraq continues to worsen? Is there a contradiction between exchanging gifts and eating Christmas feasts while Darfur stands on the brink of genocide? How do we embrace "peace on earth, good will towards all" when we see few signs of unity and solidarity in our world? Of course, we might point out that it's not our fault the world is in such a mess. We aren't the people in power who make all the bad decisions.
Yet when I reflect on Jesus' birth, I am reminded that the message of peace was not delivered to the powerful who made world decisions:
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors."
I wonder if there is a message for us today in that ancient Christmas story. Perhaps God wants us to realize that peace isn't just a global concept. It is something real, which is rooted in our hearts and in our relationships with each another. Peace is something which happens when we recognize the connections we have with people who may at first seem different, perhaps even threatening or hostile.
When I taught high school English, I had my students read A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The narrator of the story is a high school student named Gene, growing up in the 1940's as World War II rages across the ocean. Much of the plot centers on Gene's relationship with Phineas, a student who excels at everything he does. With the war as a backdrop, Gene spends his time in school competing with Phineas, always trying to beat him. At the end of the novel, Gene realizes Phineas was never in competition with him. He reflects on his own critical mistake of making Phineas into an enemy when he never was one. Gene also ponders how so many people — and so many countries — make enemies out of other people and other countries. He muses:
All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way — if he ever attacked at all, if he was indeed the enemy. (p. 196)
What would the world be like if we were like Phineas instead of like Gene? What if we didn't approach others as enemies or competitors? What if we took to heart Jaime Cortez's words of peace in Let Us Come to Be One Body? He recognizes that only in celebrating our differences and seeing them as gift instead of as division will we truly find peace:
East to west, sacred stories which are spoken
and the bread that's blest and broken
bring humanity to harmony with God.
Face to face with diversity of races,
we delight in all the faces
and we revel in the richness of our lives...
One by one every person will be counted,
no request shall be discounted,
and the victory of justice will prevail.
Age to age every son and every daughter
who has risen from the waters
will perpetuate the echo of God's love.
During this sacred Christmas season, in which we celebrate God's incarnation and the gift of peace to a troubled world, let us try to "delight in all the faces" we encounter in our lives — be they faces of our families, faces we see on the news each night, faces of people who cut ahead of us in line at the store or in traffic, or faces which look at us with hatred, despair, or anger.
Let us pray:
God of Peace, you sent your Son into the world to bring us peace. Jesus showed us how to be peacemakers, not peace-breakers, by the way he lived his life.
Help us to see you in all people, just as Jesus did.
Help us to love our enemies, just as Jesus did.
Help us to bring your kingdom into reality, just as Jesus did, so that we can truly live in peace with all of humankind.
We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.
Spirit Compass reflections are developed in partnership
with the Center for Ministry Development.
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