It is the time of year to begin writing the annual Christmas letter, that missive which will detail the kids’ progress through college and announce upcoming nuptials.
It is also the time of year when we often enclose such letters within cards that express a simple wish: Peace on earth.
As if a pretty piece of cardboard could bring such a thing about. And I know that, while this is not the case for me, many believe only the second coming of Jesus will fulfill this wish. That’s all well and good, but honestly, if I were Jesus, I think I’d be looking at humanity right now and saying, “I’ll stay right where I am for the time being. You all seem to have forgotten that God helps those who help themselves.”
I think we have lost sight of some rather essential parts of peace on earth:
Peace requires courage. It requires the sort of courage which means even if a stranger looks very much like people who have committed gross acts of violence, unless there are immediate signs of danger, that stranger should be treated with goodwill. If this compels peacemakers to be vulnerable, well, the courageous are not those who believe themselves indestructible. The courageous rise above the fear that accompanies vulnerability.
Peace requires generosity, and true generosity requires sacrifice. It means we genuinely want for every child what we most cherish for children in our own families. We want our children and their children, our nieces and nephews to have adequate food and shelter, good health, and safety. Peace requires us to share these things, even if it means our own children have a little less, because let’s face it, all too often we give short-shrift to the children of others, not to protect our own children’s needs, but to fulfill our wants.
It doesn’t require us all to drop to subsistence-level existence. People who work hard can live in deserved comfort, even while providing for the most fragile and vulnerable among us. We just have to decide that peace on earth is worth a little sacrifice.
Peace requires honesty—the hardest kind. The kind that happens in the mirror. The kind where you recognize your own greed and prejudice. Honesty prevents anyone from uttering the phrase “I’m not a racist” or “I’m not sexist” or “I’ve earned everything I have.” No one is color-blind. No one escapes the external messages about gender that bombard us from the moment we are wrapped in a pink or blue blanket. No one’s life is without unearned blessings, if the word “privileges” is more than one can take.
When they are honest and generous, peacemakers know the cry of “reverse discrimination” is just a false claim. It says that when people look different from me, there is nothing that can be done to provide equity for them, but when they look like me, the courts, politicians, and everyone else had better come to our defense and get something done about it. There is nothing in this sentiment that can ever bring peace on earth. Peace on earth means that if an advantage is given to someone else to balance centuries of oppression, that is part of the generosity and sacrifice required to bring peace to this troubled world.
I am as flawed as anyone in this. I catch myself telling old jokes based upon out-dated ideas I should have evolved past by now. I am not without frustration when I realize that my children’s lack of “diversity” works against them in certain fields. After all, they seem pretty unique to me. Isn’t that diversity? But they have had so many other advantages. They can hold their own, even in a world that asks them to be generous and to make sacrifices. I am deeply proud of them for understanding this.
Not everyone will try to be a peacemaker. I know that. I know life is not fair. I will work hard and make efforts that will go unmatched and unappreciated. I know something else. If I wait to make my efforts for peace until everyone else makes theirs, my wish for peace will never be fulfilled in any measure. In fact, it will only be undermined. If I wait for every individual within a group to be perfect before I see that group as being worthy of my concern, there can be no justice in this world, and as the classic protest cry states: No justice, no peace.
If Jesus is your reason for the season, may you find him—right there, under your rib cage, beating in the spirit of peace. If the solstice is what stirs in your veins, may you bring the light of peace into these brief, dark days. If a menorah illuminates the last nights of your December, may you reclaim the holy temple by laying full claim to the hope for peace on earth. If the humanist in you knows that only human dedication can bring about peace, well, then you know what to do.
Peace on earth. Good will toward all.