This week, Germany suffered a terrorist attack that took the lives of 12 innocent victims and injured dozens more. On the same day, an assassin shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, violently shouting: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”
The Syrian conflict itself has taken the lives of more than 400,000 while displacing millions more as refugees.
Such sobering realities remind us of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s somber lament: “‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;/ ‘For hate is strong,/And mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”
And yet …
On Christmas Day, scenes of family and friends swapping gifts and spreading goodwill juxtapose humanity’s horrors. They provide a strong rebuttal to the sorrow and sin that so often suffocates signs of the divine. They remind us to find peace and bring it to a world of chaos.
Today, small moments of joy and kindness personify that peace: the smile bursting across a child’s face while unwrapping a gift; the husband and wife who embrace after a night of wrestling wrapping paper and Scotch tape.
And there’s the woman who gives time on Christmas Day to volunteer at a soup kitchen, or the man who quietly delivers a box of gifts to a family in need. There’s the neighbor who visits a fellow neighbor, and the estranged kin who calls on Christmas to reconcile.
Each act and each gift pays homage to he who is the “Prince of Peace,” the ultimate gift born in Bethlehem. Christ said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Peace is freely offered but rarely received. It is the kind of gift that in order to survive must be continually spread, day after day, month after month, year after year.
There is no better time to reflect on spreading the gift of peace than Christmas Day, when we commemorate the arrival of “a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” born “in the city of David.”
He came unadorned. There was no bright bow or decorated tree. Instead, the scriptures say, he was “wrapped in swaddling clothes” and “lying in a manger.” The memory of this babe reminds earth yet again that atop the turmoil of a troubled world we can still hear the Christmas bells pealing “loud and deep,” calling out: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;/The Wrong shall fail,/The Right prevail,/With peace on earth, good-will to men."