“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, and on earth peace, good will toward men”.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds”. – Saint LUKE; chapter 2:9-18
When He became a ‘man’ God decided to be born in the most humble of circumstances, a poor homeless refugee on the fringes of a hostile empire. Angels declared the ‘Glory’ of God and ‘peace on earth’. The political power realized His threat and decided that He should die and countless innocent children were put to death in the process. Two thousand years later we still know Jesus as the ‘Prince of Peace’. At His birthday, half the world will attend services in their churches and gather around the table with family and friends in recognition of the story from Bethlehem. Among the ‘merry makers' will be the world’s political leaders, many of whom continue King Herod’s imperial project in their own rite. Innocents are still being massacred in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and countless other hot spots around the globe. Herod’s henchmen continue to terrorize the homeless, the hungry, the refugee, the prisoner, the children, the innocent. Over all of us looms the ultimate instrument of terrorism, the enormous and growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Mahatmas Gandhi, the great icon of nonviolent pacifism, once noted that “Christmas has social, economic, and political implications. But above everything there is a correlation between the wood of the manger – the mark of Christ’s poverty and the wood of the cross – the price of Christ’s resistance to evil”. Gandhi had it right, Bethlehem has implications throughout history, it’s up to us to discern correlations. The Herod’s and the Pilate’s of this world continue to mock the angels chorus ‘peace on earth’.
Never the less the proclamation of God’s messengers still hangs in the air over the fields and above our towns. Maybe there’s a deeper peace message here. Perhaps it’s not so much God’s declaration as it is man’s invitation. Perhaps at the center of the Christmas story is God’s summons for us to become instruments for peace, embracing the invitation and welcoming the Christ who epitomizes the promise.
At Christmas, as we celebrate the meek and mild baby Jesus laying in a humble manger let us not forget the Christ who most perfectly resists evil and who peacefully confronts the Herod’s, the Pilate’s, the Ceasar’s, the Czar’s, the Dictator’s, the Emperor’s, the Presidents and Prime Ministers of this world who, with their financers and arms-merchants, scoff at the message from God.
The message of the angels summons us to reflect, to study, to teach and to practice peace in our own lives and the world around us. We start with ourselves, our family members, our friends. The place of peace eventually includes even our enemies. The message at Bethlehem requires us to reject war, WMD’s, economic exploitation, imperialism and all other expressions of institutionalized evil and to convince others to do the same. Not to do so, mocks the tenant of peace that summons us at Christmas. If we avoid this central message, we ignore Christ and celebrating Christmas becomes widespread social hypocrisy.
Perhaps, if we take a minute and retreat into the story of Christmas, read the Gospel, receive the Sacraments, give alms, perform good works, think and speak well of others, the vision of peace becomes real. Maybe that’s how we become really human in a callous world. It may just boil down to this; God wanted to become human, all we need to do is be human too.
Christmas directs us to the meek, the humble, the outcast, the poor, the disenfranchised, the innocent, the children. Christmas takes us to the fringe of society to the edge of the empire, where God is found. “Peace on Earth” escapes us if we cannot see everyone as a brother or sister, a beloved son or daughter of God. Today, let us go to the margins of society, where peace can be made and where “God and man are reconciled”.
With Prayers and Blessings for Peace, – Fr. +Timothy