‘Peace on Earth and goodwill toward all” comes down to us as the angelic herald’s greeting to those watching shepherds on a Palestinian hillside two millennia ago.
Almost a third of humanity today, according to a recent study of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, follow one of the many variegated strands of Christianity. Some 2.18 billion people would know the story of why unusual signs and portents appeared, of why strangers from afar trekked to this poor village.
On every continent, in every inhabited corner of the globe the story will be retold tomorrow night and Sunday morning. From simple mountain side chapels like one where I joined villagers decades ago in Puerto Rico or huge metropolitan basilicas like St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal to churches in every Yukon community, voices will be raised in joyous song proclaiming the birth of a babe in a manger so long ago.
The message of a needed coming, a promise to heal a broken world, resonates today as much as it did in that troubled occupied land ruled over by a despot over 2,000 years ago. Sadly political imperatives, institutional prerogatives, cultural distortions, patriarchal demands and a host of other factors have at times over the intervening centuries distorted and corrupted the core message of this event.
The wars fought in religion’s name, the abuses of privilege and power by those claiming their authority derived from the child born on Christmas Day and lives twisted by perversions of the message cannot be denied. Sweep away the distortions, though, and those words can have the same transformative power that they had for those that first heard them and those that carried them to every land over the intervening centuries. “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward all.”
As this short excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s message released last week for the World Day of Peace 2012 on January 1 states, this peace must be worked for. “Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community.
Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all, and no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice, according to one’s particular areas of competence and responsibility.”
Every religion and ethical code of conduct hold basically the same thought close to their core belief. Followers of Jesus or Muhammad, Buddha or Moses, ethical humanism or many different ways humans have sought wisdom over the ages all can find truth in words such as those of Howard Thurman, Afro-American theologian and civil rights leader:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
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 people,
to make music in the heart.”
May this season and all of 2012 be peace-filled for you and yours.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.