The message of the angels in their announcement of the birth of Jesus included these words: "Peace on earth." Eugene Peterson's translation in his book "The Message" conveys the text this way: "Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."
Unfortunately, in spite of the Christmas message of peace, we continue to be a human race which chooses war over peace. Some experts estimate that there are currently over 20 wars of various types and sizes in process right now. That number has gone up and down slightly ever since the close of World War II, but we human beings seem to be continually at war. Over the years Christians have argued about those wars, even coming up with the so-called "Just War Theory" which declares some wars to be valid and others invalid. But the truth is that we human beings seem to choose war as our means of settling differences. Our United Methodist Church is a peace church, not as well known as some other groups like the Friends or Quakers, but nonetheless we are a church which professes our belief that "Peace on Earth" is still God's message for us. Our Social Principles declare: "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."
While I support such statements, the reality is that the mere absence of war is not the same thing as peace. Peace includes justice, peace includes love of neighbor, peace includes working for the best for everyone -- including those we have called enemies. Peace is a state of "shalom" or well-being; it is more than just not killing our enemies, it includes praying for our enemies and helping them to find justice, too.
So once again we come to a time of Christmas while we are at war. I am not a political expert and I am certainly not a military expert. I listen to President Bush and to his critics, and I find myself unsatisfied with any of the rhetoric that I hear. Somehow I long to hear the angelic voices singing, "Peace on earth." I want us all to be among those men and women with whom God is pleased -- and I believe God is pleased with those who work for peace. I want us all to pray for peace.
Please join me this Christmas season in praying for peace, for justice, for God's shalom for all people. Let us echo the angelic song, "Peace on earth."
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner