‘Peace on earth’ is a phrase you see almost everywhere around Christmas time. Given the terrorism witnessed in recent times, many may wonder, ‘Where is that peace?’. Whether it be trying to find peace in the challenges of our own lives or trying to wrap our heads around hope for world political peace, ‘peace on earth’ can be elusive.
A quick glance around will remind us that we live in a far from perfect world. In our own lives, we may struggle to find peace within ourselves. We may regret past mistakes, struggle with our present weaknesses and worry about the future. We try to ‘find ourselves’ in different ways and search for our purpose in life through such things as our relationships, work, leisure and travel pursuits.
At times, we take for granted those closest to us and we can become frustrated and angry over the mistakes of others. We may struggle with the uncertainty of tomorrow and the turmoil going on in the world around us. World news brings few, if any, positive reports. We may wonder if ‘peace on earth’ is even a possibility? Even with the best of intentions, our human efforts to be good and to make this world a better place seem to fall short.
However, ‘Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled,’ is a line in a Christmas carol that gives a picture of Jesus as God’s gift of peace to us. God revealed himself to us through the person of Jesus. Jesus came to earth in a peaceful way ,as a baby in a humble circumstance of a manger and proceeded to live a humble life.
The angels heralded the account of the birth of Jesus as ‘good news of great joy’ because a helpless baby (who is God) becomes the one who changes this world decisively.
Differently from any other figure in human history Jesus comes, not to help us escape, but to transform and take hold of our past, our present and our future. This baby, Jesus, brings the promise of forgiveness, the certainty of love and the hope of peace. This means that whilst we must truly face the state of the world to which Jesus comes, we can – we must – be equally realistic about the difference He makes.
Jesus did not come for one day. Jesus changed things forever.
To the person who turns and calls to him, Jesus will also come bringing forgiveness and new life. That is an offer to all of us today, whether we are full of the joy of Christmas, or in the midst of a personal darkness.
If Jesus can be laid in a lowly manger, there is nowhere that is not fitting for him to come, no person who is unfit to receive him.
At the end of the last century, we reflected on what violent decades we had just come through. We hoped for a new beginning, a new justice and a new peace. These recent weeks have harshly reminded us that there is still much violence and much suffering in the world.
What does the message of Christmas say to this? Are our hopes for a better world now shattered beyond recovery? Let us come this year to Bethlehem, with hearts made more sensitive to the presence of the Prince of Peace, as we kneel before the Manger.
This Christmas let us pray earnestly that all human hearts will be liberated from false images of God. The message of Christmas is that it is only in God’s gift of his Son that we can see the truth of God. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was crucified on the cross at Calvary to teach us that God is love (Jn 4:8,16). Only love can give meaning to our lives in the midst of suffering and evil.
Coming into a relationship with Jesus by faith and following him, does not mean a life free of conflict. However, he offers a promise of hope of something better to come, and a power to bring some of that better world here and now.
Mindful of the attacks in Beirut in the same week that Paris was hit, and in many other places in these past months, including Nigeria and other African countries, France and other countries know anew the pain of grief and must face the barbarism spread by fanatical groups. Following the terrorist attacks on Paris, the message of Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, brings to us the reality of the savagery and intensity of those recent attacks.
Urging his people to pray for Peace, the Cardinal said: ‘Faced with the violence of men, may we receive the grace of a firm heart, without hatred. May the moderation, temperance and control that has been shown so far, be confirmed in the weeks and months to come; let no one indulge in panic or hatred. We ask that grace be the artisan of peace. We need never despair of peace if we build on justice’.
As we fix our gaze on the tender tranquillity of the Christmas Crib, let us seek the help of Mary, Joseph and their Child, as we pray for peace in our hearts, in our homes and in our countries.
Be assured of my prayers for you and your families, as together we celebrate the wonder of Christ’s birth and look with hope to a future filled with the Peace of Christ.
- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, October, 2015