Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Et in terra pax

In the Gospel According to Luke the story of the birth of Jesus is told in chapter two.  There is a particular passage there that I have always found to be meaningful.  Near the birthplace of Jesus, on the night, there were shepherds tending their flocks, when an angel appeared to them. Picking up at verse 9:

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(The above is from the King James Version, which I prefer for this passage.)

If someone were to ask me to sum up Christianity in a single sentence, the last line would be a strong candidate.  Gloria in excelsis Deo, it reads in Latin. Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.  Peace on Earth, good will toward men.

You don't need to be a Christian, or even to have any religion at all, to see the value of that sentiment.

For me, the Christmas story is—unexpectedly—a wonderful metaphor, full of hope for humankind.  I see many, many people who are waiting on God to solve the problems of the world, but the solutions are in us, in our work, in our will, in our strength.  In the story even God could not, or did not, will the world's problems away, but had to (or chose to) act through a man.

That means that the capacity is within us all to effect the result promised by the angel of the Christmas story.  It begins with small acts of peace, forgetting old hatreds, atoning for our transgressions, and committing ourselves anew to the cause of peace and good will.  But it continues with self-examination. What have you done for peace in your neighborhood, in your community?  What good will have you shown to others?  As a nation, have we been for peace, or for our own interests?  Has our will toward others been good or ill?  Have we been the author of our own problems?

We can choose peace.  We can choose good will to our fellow man, even to those who would wish us harm.  The responsibility to do so lies within us.

For all those who are celebrating today, Merry Christmas.  Et in terra pax, for all of us.

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