PEACE ON EARTH?
Every Christmas season we encounter this comforting thought: Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He has brought to men of good will this Peace. The very word ‘peace’ in this context needs to be understood from its Hebrew root: Shalom. This is a deep and all pervasive peace both personally and socially on every level of human and cosmic existence. It is a beautiful thought. But as a Jewish teacher once said to me “It hasn’t happened”.
Are we therefore just living in a wishful dream when we sing our carols and go through the albeit comforting rituals of the season? Does this proclamation of the era of peace have any reality to it?
It is a fact that 2000 years after the coming of Christ war still rages in the world. Shamefully speaking, some of the most devastating wars were started by Christian nations against other Christian nations. Nor has peace come to the Christian in good conscience when facing the reality of the world, since Church history is awash in the blood of martyrs even till our present day. Jesus Himself said in the Gospel that He did not come to bring peace but the sword of separation.
So, in what sense did Christ’s coming usher in an era of peace?
Without doubt if today every human being rose to his or her full potential and became a saintly Christian, there would be peace on earth, food would be distributed evenly to everyone, there would be universal health care, scientists would be free to invent all the collective geniuses on the eradication of disease and the prediction of natural disasters and the preservation of life etc. Jesus did bring, in the Gospel, the necessary tools for this ‘Peace on Earth’, but He did not take away our freedom to reject this new antidote.
The old “Twilight Zone” series was wonderful in its imaginative use of metaphor and scenario to say many important things about the human project. There was one episode about a visitor from another planet who landed, I believe, in a small town in Texas. He is not welcomed but greeted with fear and paranoia. They come together to destroy him and his ship as well as something he kept trying to give them that they thought was a weapon. After they destroyed him, they deciphered that what he was trying to offer them in friendship was a cure for cancer. But it was destroyed in the flames. This is a very interesting and applicable parable.
But many have received the gospel of Christ and the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated. Jesus Himself used metaphors that warned us away from the idea of sudden change to a perfect kingdom. His images speak of a gradual transformation e.g. the mustard seed or the slowly growing produce of the field that grows from tiny seeds. While it is true that we are still afflicted with wars, disease, etc., can we not say that the world is better off with the lived workings of Christians who better things as they live out Christian principles? Is the slowness with which the Kingdom is realized not understood as the vastness of the enterprise? The Ancient western world was a pretty cruel place as was parts of the Chinese and Indian civilizations. And while much good has come from the influence of the natural law embedded by God in every human heart through the faculty of reason, the Gospel brings a new and radical demand that transcends the natural law and calls us in faith to a new world. This is the witness of the martyrs who were the silent suffering testifiers that the natural law is not enough to bring the Kingdom into reality.
When people say ‘the Church’ they often mean the hierarchy and the structure of the Church, they do not factor in all the schools and hospitals and orphanages and leper facilities or the difference that a Mother Theresa makes in the world. It also does not take into account the intellectual shifts that the Church has caused in societies throughout the world that makes cruel societies less so in the long run and exalts the dignity of the human person.
The Kingdom is slowly growing into a reality in an even newer global sense as it infiltrates the poverty and corruption of the world with its ethos of compassion and forgiveness and truth. Peace is slowly working, conquering, notwithstanding the many evils still being faced in the world. For the consciousness of the world is changing and with it the new era keeps unfolding. While the mustard tree is not fully grown, it is no longer a fragile sapling.
The stakes are higher now. With weapons of Mass destruction potentially in the hands of evil and undisciplined men who serve other extreme ideologies, we are facing destruction that is unprecedented.
But the message of Christmas is that the Kingdom has begun and we are the ambassadors of this new reign. This Child has brought the power of God to earth and nothing is the same. For He is Love and the strong hand of the Almighty has entered the human drama. And there is nothing more powerful nor more reliable.
Heaven and earth have met and the world has become the place of the Divine. Hark! The Herald Angels sing! Joy to the World! For He came upon a midnight clear in the silent, holy night. So, Come all you faithful for it is a night divine!