“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky,
I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end,
that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
— Anne Frank
On September 20th, 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his address he said, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” Two months later the President’s life would be cut short by an assassin’s bullet; his vision of peace would become a hallmark of his legacy.
Six decades later, our world continues to struggle with the notion of peace.
In reality, the notion of peace among nations is a pipe dream. Since the Battle of Siddim (Genesis 14:1–17), war has been a near constant in our fallen world. Nevertheless, just as Augustine says, our hearts are restless until they abide with God, so too does mankind yearn for that glorious day when the wolf will abide with the lamb. (Isaiah 11:6)
There was, however, one holy night roughly two millennia ago when all was right with the world. As we commemorate that glorious occasion we must ask ourselves: How have we fostered peace?
In 1955, Songwriter Sy Miller and his wife, actress Jill Jackson, wrote a hymn that tends to be popular this time of year entitled, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Let there be peace on Earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
In this age of heightened division, it seems that fewer and fewer of us walk with one another. Harmony has been replaced by battle cries, fueled by political rhetoric and misguided crusades. Yet the Prince of Peace Himself tells us, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)
The passage was famously paraphrased by Thomas Paine, Abigail Adams, and Abraham Lincoln with concern to the division each observed in their respective chapters of the history of our nation. Many believe that these United States are united in name alone and stand at the cusp of yet another divisive chapter in our history.
Division, which is the antithesis of peace, is a road to desolation. Hearts of desolation are vessels in which the father of lies in his cunning can extinguish the joy of the season, only to replace it with anger, frustration, and resentment.
To foster the peace the world knew on that holy night, Henri Nouwen offered an appropriate meditation:
Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.
To avoid regrettable chapters we must, among other things, take Nouwen’s questions seriously. As George Bernard Shaw noted, “Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous.”
Taken from the words of Emmanuel Himself, it's been said that if one really wants to keep Christ in Christmas, they should: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.
There isn’t a single theological argument to defend a lack of charity and love. Yet far too many self-proclaimed “devout” people of God instead choose to: Fear everyone, expel the stranger, blame the poor, ignore the sick, feed the rich, love only yourself, trust only Caesar, and throw stones at those who think differently.
We cannot have the audacity to commemorate an unwed woman who carries the Son of God, three pagans from the East who recognize the Son of God, workers in the fields who hear glad tidings from the angels of God, and a marginalized neighborhood where the Son of God is born, yet look down upon the least of our brothers and sisters. To do so, I dare say, is a desecration of this solemn feast.
To foster peace, we must be the peace we long to see in our world. To be peace means to make goodwill and harmony with all people a perpetual habit in constant rhythm with our heartbeat.
The hymn continues:
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With ev'ry step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live
Each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Though governments will inevitably fail at the endeavor of peace, each of us must rise to the occasion and be peace. What divides us cannot blind us to what unites us with our fellow man, who is made in the image and likeness of God. To foster peace — indeed, let this be our solemn vow — not just during this most holy season.
On August 31st, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower shared his faith in humanity’s desire for peace with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan when he said, “I like to believe that people, in the long run, are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it."
May it be so, Ike. May it be so.
This Christmas, may the wonders of His love surround you and fill you with peace. May joy be your gift this season, and may faith, hope, and love be your treasures throughout the New Year.
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