By Frank Wessling
Today, Christmas Eve, Christians everywhere feel themselves arriving at Bethlehem. It is time to stop the toil, the rush, the searching for perfect gifts and allow the peace of a great hope to fill us.
The birth of Jesus which we celebrate on Dec. 25 is for us a birth of peace on earth for friends of God. Believing that God is with us makes peace possible. We carry out that possibility as we come to know and follow this God-who-is-love.
The Prince of Peace we sing about at his Nativity is the same one who spent himself fully in service for the healing, forgiveness and reconciliation of all humanity. Thus we know that the triumph of peace, the resurrection, is shaped as much by the cross of sacrifice as by the hope of new life.
This birth, like all real births, is not pain free even as it lights the world with promise.
Entering Bethlehem today means living through Calvary tomorrow on the road through a love so large, so strong that it forgives even those who hurt us, hate us, kill us. Following the Prince of Peace is a summons to fortitude and courage, the companions who lead to the feast of ultimate joy — our unity, our communion with/in God.
What was lost early in Adam and Eve is regained and offered as a gift wrapped in faith; the faith that finds Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, at Bethlehem.
A program to spread the vision and promise of peace in this country has quietly built over the last six years through the efforts of Pax Christi USA, an organization of Catholics who make the work of peace their priority. They called it “A Peoples’ Peace Initiative,” which meant convening dozens of groups and hundreds of individuals representing every class and race and experience. Through such meetings, listening, discussion and reflection on the “essential vocation of peacemaking,” Pax Christi USA developed the document “Called to be Peacemakers: The Challenge and Promise of Peace in the Twenty-First Century.”
That document was issued in the fall of this year, but made little impact at the time. It is a piece of adult faith-work that deserves serious, sustained attention. Since its focus is our role in being with the Prince of Peace, Christmas is a good time to think about it and even take time for an initial reading. It can be found on the Pax Christi USA Web site at www.pax
“Peace is not just the absence of war. … Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.” These words of Pope John Paul II are used as an introduction to the document.
As a thoroughly Catholic piece of work, what Pax Christi produced is not woolly, starry-eyed optimism. Instead, it is faith-based realism, looking honestly at our condition, our needs, our deficiencies and, yes, our sins in order to correctly assess the work to be done by friends of God. Some readers may hesitate at the Pax Christi emphasis on rejecting all forms of violence, but don’t confuse their stance with a passive sort of pacifism. To the contrary, the spirit of “Called to be Peacemakers” is one of action to change some fundamentals that drive what we call our way of life in the world today.
Those fundamentals are part of what Christmas means. The reading of this document will take a bit longer than “The Night Before Christmas,” but doing so should fill the adult heart with similar warmth and hope for the great promise.
“Our hope is not based on optimism,” the document says, “— the belief that in time things will get better. Our hope is grounded in the belief that God is compassion for the world. Our hope is grounded in the conviction that God’s grace is sufficient for today — and tomorrow. And it is this hope that gives us the courage to love where others hate, to give without the desire for repayment, and to forgive when others seek retribution. In short, in spite of all the violence and suffering, we stand steadfast in solidarity and action on behalf of justice and God’s peace in the world.”
This is the ground, the substance, of Christmas joy.