"Peace on earth" is the song of the angels in the Christmas story, and it is also the prayer of every mother for her children, every father for his family and every person of good will for all people everywhere. When I asked my wife, Marsha, yesterday what she wants for Christmas this year she replied, "Peace on earth – starting in our family and extending to everyone." Later that morning our Cabinet meeting started with beautiful devotions by DS Michelle Cobb (we take turns offering devotions each time the Cabinet meets), and her devotions also focused upon peace. This time of year we hear much about "peace on earth" and it is indeed a sincere desire and yearning.
Yet peace seems to be in short supply in our world today. In the U.S. we continue to deal with the sin of racism, something which has plagued our nation in the aftermath of the evil of slavery. To me it is surprising that people seem surprised by the fear, anger and distrust that African Americans have about mostly-white police forces. Of course those feelings persist, and of course white folks have trouble understanding those feelings – because we still live with the curse of the evils of racism. There can’t be peace whenever any one person or any group of persons believes that their lives don't matter.
Peace seems to escape us in the Middle East where every U.S. administration seems to naively think that they can solve those divisions and animosities which arise from centuries of hatred and warfare. How typical of our American hubris to think that some new "peace initiative" by our diplomats can resolve issues with that kind of history. I don't know the answer to peace in the Middle East, but certainly we have to admit that most of our American interventions have made peace less likely.
Even in the best and most healthy of our families we may find that peace escapes us. The holidays bring their own special kinds of tension and unrealistic expectations, and the prayer for "peace on earth" can become an intensely personal request in our homes. I have written before about the misplaced desire for a "perfect Christmas" which always escapes us and prevents us from being at peace with our imperfections.
How do we find "peace on earth" at Christmas time and every other time? The message of Christmas reminds us that peace is more than the absence of warfare or strife. Christmas reminds us that peace is a spiritual condition of being right with God and with one another. We cannot find peace in our world by having more police patrol our streets, or strengthening our military presence in the world, or passing more laws and regulations. Peace comes from a sense of spiritual harmony which flows from the grace of God, not from our human efforts. Peace is not about being "color blind" to our obvious racial and ethnic differences; it is about seeing each other as children of God and thus wanting the very best for each other. Peace is not about having our nations struggle for control over one another, it is about ordinary human people reaching out to one another in ways that our nation states are not equipped to offer. Peace is not about pretending that the sins of our past don't exist, it is about hearing the Good News that God's love can provide the healing we need to be released from those sins.
"Peace on earth" is the song of the angels, and it is the tune we all need to hum – and perhaps eventually even learn the words and the lyrics.
I pray for peace this Christmas, and I invite you to join me – and the angels – in that prayer.