In the familiar Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, the angels announce to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
In a world of constant rivalry and competition, where the win-at-any-cost attitude is the common mode of operation, can there be any lasting peace?
Is peace possible in a world of harbored grudges and continuous striving, fighting and killing?
Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche’ communities, where those with mental disabilities live with their assistants in community, wrote about being in Rwanda shortly after the genocide.
A young woman came up to him and told him that 75 members of her family had been assassinated.
I can’t imagine or don’t want to imagine what that would be like. I’m not sure I could ever recover from something like that.
“I have so much anger and hate within me and I don’t know what to do with it,” she said. “Everybody is talking about reconciliation, but nobody has asked any forgiveness. I just don’t know what to do with the hate that is within me.”
Vanier said, “I understand. I understand.” What else can you say?
Her problem, wrote Vanier, was the guilt she felt because she didn’t know how to forgive. So she got caught up in a world of hate and depression.
“Do you know that the first step towards forgiveness is ‘no vengeance’?” Vanier asked. “Do you want to kill those who killed members of your family?”
“No, there is too much death,” she responded.
“Well, that is the first step in the process of forgiveness – the first step,” Vanier said.
I can’t imagine having to struggle with the demons this young woman had to contend with, but she decided “no vengeance” and she took the first step toward forgiveness and finding peace.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he exhorts the church to live in harmony with one another and welcome one another just as Christ welcomed them (Romans 15:5-7).
There were challenges to such unity. People of different ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds were brought together in their common commitment to Christ.
Their conversion to Christ did not automatically eliminate all their previous prejudices and biases. Paul appealed to the example of their Lord: “Each of us must please our neighbor. For Christ did not please himself” (Romans 15:3-4).
Jesus lived for the good of others, even when it meant bearing the insults and wrath of the powers that be without returning that wrath.
Jesus absorbed the enmity and animosity unleashed against him, absolving it in himself and showing us how violence can be defused and peace can be achieved.
This, of course, will not just happen. We have to create space for this to happen – for God to change us and make us instruments of peace. And we must be willing to take the necessary risks and make the necessary sacrifices.
Brother David Steindl-Rast wrote about the occasion when Tetsugen Glassman Roshi was being ordained the abbot of Riverside Zendo in New York.
It was a grand affair. Zen teachers from all over the country gathered to celebrate the event.
In the middle of this solemn celebration, the beeper on somebody’s wristwatch suddenly went off.
Everybody started looking around for the poor guy to whom this happened because generally you are not even supposed to wear a wristwatch in the Zendo.
To everyone’s surprise, the new abbot himself interrupted the ceremony and said, “This was my wristwatch, and it was not a mistake. I have made a vow that regardless of what I am doing, I will interrupt it at noon and will think thoughts of peace.”
And then he invited everyone present to think thoughts of peace for a world that desperately needs it.
We have to be intentional. The change we seek in our own lives and in our communities and our world will not just happen. We must pursue these changes.
We must pray for them and work for them and give ourselves, like Jesus, to serving others, even if it means bearing insults without retaliation.
We have to be intentional about living in harmony with God, with each other and with our planet, and give the Spirit space to mold and shape us into instruments of peace.
Chuck Queen is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. A longer version of this column first appeared on his blog, A Fresh Perspective, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @KentuckaChuck.