Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
For many years, at Christmas time, I would annually attend a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’. Of course, there are many wonderful parts to the oratorio. Everyone loves hearing the rousing Hallelujah chorus. But a highlight of the performance for me was always the moment when the soprano would sing, “and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying” – then the full chorus would respond, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men!”
These words from Scripture (Luke 2:13-14), contained in the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, have found their way into our contemporary cultural landscape, appearing in many ways, from Christmas cards to ornaments, as decorations. Amid the festivities of the season, the profound words “peace on earth,” can easily slip by and dare I say, have even become a cliché of the season.
“Peace on earth.” So simple, yet so profound. Looking at the state of our world, we long for peace. We see wars. We see inequality, injustice, and oppression. We see civic discord. We see polarization and division among people, perhaps even among our friends and families.
As Orthodox Christians, we know the source of peace. Saint Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14).
Our Christmas celebrations should remind us of this. For Christ is born on this day. Who is this child? The prophet Isaiah described it well, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’” (Isaiah 9:6).
We also must recognize that Christ’s nativity did not miraculously end hostilities among people. Humanity seems to prefer conflict over harmony and cooperation. Peacemaking, living in peace, is far harder it seems, because it requires daily commitment. Peacemaking and living in peace requires trust, and requires building understanding among people.
Peace on earth begins with inner peace. We open our prayers to God proclaiming, “in peace let us pray to the Lord” because we must approach the Almighty God with open hands of prayer, not the clenched fists of anger. As an old song from the 1950’s says: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” There is wisdom in those words. If we are at war internally, if we are angry internally, we cannot be peacemakers. We must do the internal work of digging into our souls to rid ourselves of the enmity and anger that prevents us from forgiving ourselves, forgiving our neighbor, and learning to live in peace and goodwill with all. As the Lord says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
The Christmas holidays are beautiful days, filled with joy. We decorate our homes. We cook. We exchange gifts. We do things to celebrate the birth of Christ and to share the Good News that the Prince of Peace is born. By doing these things now, we are not just remembering something from two millennia ago, we are saying that the Prince of Peace is born “on this day,” for us, for our times, for our world. Let us open our hearts to the message of the angels to the shepherds, “peace on earth and good will toward men,” and commit ourselves to become peacemakers all these days and all the days to come, because there is so much to do!
May the Lord, God, the Newborn King, be always with you and your families, my beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord.