His authority shall grow continually
and there shall be endless peace.(Isaiah)
Glory to God in the highest heaven
And on earth, peace.(Luke)
On this wondrous day, when our Advent anticipation culminates in the awaited birth of Jesus, we find ourselves still waiting for the fulfillment of the promises of Christmas, we are still waiting for peace. What has happened to the hopes of Isaiah and the shining promise of the angels quoted above?
For the people of the world, this season brings much stress; we know this from observation and sometimes also from personal experience. It may be because of all that shopping (when we know in our heart that this is not the purpose of the season); from the cooking and decorations which make us tired and irritable when they donât turn out the way we envision them; from trying to satisfy everyone on a mythical gift list when we know that giving presents does offer its own pleasure, but we also know that this is not what Christmas Day was meant for. For the people of the world something even stranger has developed as a custom of the seasonâgiving and attending parties where there is an excess of food and alcohol, something that makes us cringe in retrospect, as excess always does; despite all the false gaiety we do remember whose anniversary this is.
Consequently, all of us know people who suffer depression because of this season; we also know many church people who donât really want to participate in parties that have nothing to do with Christâs birth, people who nonetheless find themselves unable to refuse to attend for a variety of reasons. Every year we ask:
- How can we manage to go against the prevailing attitudes and customs?
- How do we say no to something that is distasteful but âeverybody does it,â so we donât want to appear to be standoffish and unfriendly?
This is something that we should start thinking about today; we should practice through this season and beyondâsaying no to what displeases us because we feel in our heart of hearts that it displeases our God.
But this may be the easiest spiritual exercise that we will face this year.
Instead of focusing on the people of this world, let us now focus on ourselves as children of God, as people who have taken our baptismal vows before God, who take the faith seriously. What is it that makes us morose and dissatisfied during this season? Today is not the time for long sermons, so this will be short and pointed. We are dissatisfied because, despite all the singing and the sermonizing, we confess that the hopes of Isaiah and the promises of the angels have not been fulfilled. So where does that leave us?
The long history of Christianityâwith very few exceptions, with lamentably limited examplesâshows more love for war than for the peace of Christ. This is the cold, painful fact.
On this Christmas Day 2004 let us ask these questions:
Why have we not taken the incarnation seriously? The Gospel of John, appointed for Christmas Day III, (John 1:1-14), says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. What if we really acted and lived as if the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Logos of God, was really born in Bethlehem in the time of Augustus; what if we acknowledged with our lives that he dwelt and dwells among us as the Prince of Peace?
What if the church throughout these bloody 20 centuries had said âNoâ to war? Starting with Constantine and continuing through the Crusades and the Reformation and the Thirty-Year Wars and the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean, the Vietnam, and now the tragic war in Iraqâwhat if the church, the whole universal church, had said âNoâ to war? What would this world of ours look like?
These are enough questions to ponder for this Christmas Day, for the rest of the holiday season and for the year to come: What if we had taken Jesus seriously? What if we take Jesus seriously?
Search the Scriptures: See how Jesus always, always greets his disciples with Peace be with you. Search the great prophets: justice and peace are their themes. Do we think they were just playing with words? Do we think that Jesus was kidding his disciples and us? Search and see how many times St. Paul writes and urges his readers toward peace. Do you think that St. Paul had a sense of humor on the issue of peace? These are the themes of life and death. We have to take them seriously.
There are no ready answers today that all of us can agree upon. But the words of Isaiah and the promises of the angels stand before us unaltered, inexorable. âThe people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.â âAnd on earth, peace!â
Oh, if we would only heed them today. What a world we would leave to our children and grandchildren. May God forgive us, may Christ have mercy upon us.