Peace on earth? Where, exactly?
It’s not unusual for the Christmas season to arrive while our nation, or a good part of the world, faces turmoil and conflict. Wars raged for a quarter or more of the 20th century, and the 21st so far has not known a full year of peace.
Even as combat efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan began to wind down, new violence emerged from the Islamic State’s jihadist zealots, sending American forces back to work.
Israel and Palestine remain at odds in the heart of the Holy Land and the annual celebration of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Australia is reeling from its own brutal terrorist attack at a Sydney cafe. And the Taliban’s slaughter of innocent schoolchildren in Pakistan leaves us with no words able to adequately describe that horror.
Here at home, we hear of random shootings and acts of violence so often they numb our brains to such. Thousands marched through city streets to protest recent police actions that ended in deaths, further spotlighting the racial divide that still separates the nation.
And though the partisan political battles in Washington are fueled by words and not bullets, the level of angry discourse they produce puts a scowling face on this absence of domestic tranquility.
Now even attempts at escapist entertainment are fair game for sinister intent. Hollywood’s plan to release a goofball comedy on Christmas Day, “The Interview,” was met by terroristic threats from shadowy hacker hoods in North Korea, a nation teetering outside the fringes of the civilized world.
Once the cinema chains backed out over fears of such attacks, the studio canceled the film’s debut altogether. Score another win for tyranny over artistic expression.
But no one should mistake caving into such veiled, cowardly threats as real peace. Anyone who gives in to a bully is only starting down a path toward meek compliance. As often quoted, those who give up freedom for security deserve neither.
A society more steeped in love of liberty than liability concerns would blare that movie from the highest mountain, and moviegoers would defiantly fill the theaters, just to make a point.
It’s sobering to review this recent litany of agony even as we celebrate a season aimed at fostering goodwill. Which poses this question: Faced with such worldwide suffering, what would Jesus do?
It’s hard to say for sure, but we might surmise he would turn the other cheek and preach his message of peace even louder over the growing tumult. Which is what he did, time and again, never giving his oppressors the satisfaction of seeing his spirit broken.
Here is a lesson from Christ’s life we can take to heart for the times we live in. In addition to his ideals of love and forgiveness, he showed courage. Though he seldom raised his voice and did not swing a fist in anger against his foes, he conquered them with an unbending spine, never giving an inch to those who mocked and tormented him.
That’s why even when hope seems lost, we can’t give up on peace. It’s not something that ever comes easily. We have to work at it, maintaining a resolve not to back down when facing those determined to force their will on us.
Yet how do we make a difference on our own? In a world full of pain, injustice, violence, division and hatred, can individuals stem the tide rising against us?
Not alone we can’t, no. And it doesn’t happen overnight. But if each of us plays a part, in big ways and small, it can make our world better over the long haul. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step in the right direction.
We can do this through donations of our time and treasure to local nonprofits, as we urged last Sunday. Or set aside a few hours to walk a homeless pet, bring meals and companionship to shut-in seniors or volunteer at a local shelter. Pick up trash during your next walk in the park. Or just offer a smile and a bit more kindness while out on the highways or in the grocery stores.
And we should stop referring to our countrymen and women, and like-minded, freedom-loving citizens of the world, as “enemies” when we disagree. The only true enemies we encounter are those who seek to destroy our way of life at the point of a dagger. Jesus conquered them with compassion, not by retaliating in kind, and we can do the same.
This holiday season of joy and togetherness can start us on that path if we let it linger on Dec. 26 and to 2015 beyond. We should find that Christmas star in the skies and follow it to a world of lasting peace.
The world’s a mess, no doubt. But rather than let it dampen the holiday festivities, we should be more determined to turn the Christmas cheer up to 11 on the amps. Deck those halls, belt out those carols and make the season so bright it hurts our eyes.
Because we really need a little Christmas ... no, a lot of Christmas ... right now.