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Christmas 2023 Pastoral Reflection

“Peace on earth, and goodwill to all.” We read it on cards, see it in TV spots, and hear it echoing in many songs. It originated with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his 1863 poem: “Christmas Bells.” It was written at a time when the author’s inner-peace was in ruins. I have often disliked my teachers asking, “what did the poet have in mind.” Once you get passed the usual analytical gobbledygook about the verse and rhyme and syllables, the message appears straightforward – Longfellow writes from despair, and yet he writes of (and with) hope his faith gives him.

Peace nowadays seems to be in short supply. It is also a very fragile reality. From global conflicts staring at us from our daily news feeds, through political posturing, down to sometimes exchanges with friends – peace seems very elusive and easily dismissed.

So how do we find ourselves in this reality, while getting ready to celebrate the birth of “Prince of Peace”?

As faith community we sing such texts as: “Put Peace Into Each Other’s Hands” or “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The implication is that we have that peace to give, to share. One might ask where we are to get that peace from. Well, that cute Baby Jesus, whose images we see everywhere, will grow up to be a man known as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. That “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” as the hymn goes, will turn over the tables of those mocking the temple (Matt. 21:12-13). He will be critical of religious leaders (Matt. 23) and of those collaborating with the oppressor (Matt. 22:15-22). He will even call Peter: “Satan” (Mk. 8:33)!!!!

Then … he will also call his followers to continuous forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-22) and will pray “that all may be one” (John 17:21). He will also say: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you” (John 14:27). The meaning of that peace will be later echoed in Paul’s letter to Philippians as “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Phil.4:7).

Theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, suggests that the church is to be a peaceful community living in a violent world. We are to portray the love of God, by being a people who follow Jesus, the non-violent Messiah. We are to be the peacemakers (Matt.18:15-22) in such a way that it will baffle the outside observers.

We were once known as people of whom the world spoke: “see how they love each other.” Looking around, I ask: ‘so what happened?”

Here is what I think. I think we have lost touch with our story, with our heritage. Whether we are thinking about Christian story or any other story. We put up walls between ourselves and started competing in Christmas tree decorations. We forgot that neighbour is a moral concept, not a geographical one (Rabbi Joachim Prinz). We forgot that the “other” is also a child of God, thus our brother and sister. Sometimes misguided, sometimes making mistakes, sometimes committing evil acts. Yet … a beloved child of God, nonetheless.

We are not the first to forget. The people of the Old Testament forgot as well. That is why prophets came, that is why Jesus came. The story of us being reminded that God loves us all unconditionally, no matter what, began that memorable night in the stable because there was no room in the inn, with poor shepherds in attendance, with animals (created before us) hanging around, with pagan wise men acknowledging that God came to dwell among us.

As we celebrate Christmas, I wish you peace. May whatever troubles you be overshadowed by peace. May that “peace of God which passes all understanding” give you hope for a better tomorrow for you, your loved ones and for the world. And may you have the grace and courage to share that peace and make a difference in the world.

Your brother, Piotr

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