“The Peace of Christmas”
Christmas Eve 2004, 9:00 p.m.
Rev. Gretchen Woods
As we gather and kindle candles of families,
Large and small,
We also light the flame
of our religious community.
And the world around,
Showing peace to a world at war,
Love to people drowning in fear,
And hope to all who despair.
This is the essence of Christmas
And of our flame.
As we gather for this Christmas celebration, our country seems to be running up to another war, either with Iran or Korea, as if war in Afghanistan and Iraq are not enough to slake the thirst of our empire building colonialism. How can we even begin to speak of peace when our own country seems bent on spreading war throughout the world? One wonders if any of the leaders of our country can hear the Christmas message of peace, the radical lesson of turning the other cheek, the lesson offered by the very same child whose birthday we supposedly celebrate. One wonders . . .
But, as human beings who both hope and despair, we gather for a different message, a message that what we do for peace matters, that how we treat one another is important, that respect and responsibility and relish have their place in our world. We gather to sing songs that tell us that peace is possible. We gather to hear a song that reminds us that people are more alike than different, even in war. We gather to hear stories of babies who bring peace, of hope that we can place our small weight against the oppressive weights all around us and have it count for something.
Why do we do this? Especially now, when it is so dark and cold? We do this because we can’t quite give up hope for a better world. We do this because we know that half of our country feels we are going in the wrong direction by following the notion that we have the right to tell other people how to live their lives. We do this because we still believe that peace includes justice for people here as well as across the world.
When asked how to bring peace to our world, the ethicist, Sissela Bok, observed that we can’t do it by force. We co-create peace by “creating little pockets of peace” in our communities and letting those pockets of peace generate the energy of peace beyond their own existence. This is a peace that asks our engagement, not that we turn our responsibility over to a small child or some other leader. It is peace that asks us to be adults and to guide each other by values that include concern for widows and children and the poor and acceptance of those who are of other cultures. This is a peace that honors life in all its forms, not just human life. It is peace that calls out the best in us and demands that we overcome our petty concerns for a larger vision of life and living. In short, it is a peace that tells us to trust the process and celebrate the life we have right now.
For me, at least, this is the message that Jesus brought, a message of radical responsibility for our selves and our lives, without meddling in those of others and telling them how they are wrong or “less-than” because they are different.
How do we begin to achieve this peace? We begin by studying how we may listen better to one another, learning how we may find what connects us in our concerns about life, and building bridges that allow us to focus upon connections rather than disjunctions. We are called to transcend our narrow interests, both personal and political, and consider the future of our whole world: the beauty of our planet, the gifts of stars and evergreens and new babies, and the fact that each of us is made of the stuff of stars, which calls us to a higher life.
Then we learn to see that those around us, even those with whom we disagree, have something to tell us about their lives, something that is important and meaningful. We listen each other into the silence of community, as M. Scott Peck suggests.
Only then may we build peace that has hope of lasting beyond a few days in the dead of winter, for we will have both skills and a larger perspective that knows that Ghandi was right, “We must be the change we wish to see in our world.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted that “There can be no peace without justice.” So our way of “being change” is to bring peace by working for justice, each one of us, in ways small and large.
As Howard Thurman asserts:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star n the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the brothers (and sisters)
To make music in the heart.
May this season be one of peace that grows deep in you spirit and makes music in your heart. So Be it! Blessed Be!