“Peace on earth and goodwill to all people…”
I wonder if the angels’ song sounds a little out of kilter to you this year, if only because, once again, our world has been plunged into overlapping and violent conflicts. The 'ittle town of Bethlehem' is a city in the West Bank, not at the current epicentre of the conflict in Israel-Palestine but nonetheless a place riven with conflict and tension. How still we see thee lie…
When we sing our Advent and Christmas carols this year, we cannot but help have in our mind the turmoil in the Holy Land and in Ukraine (and elsewhere) and rightly so. Again, we have been made forcibly aware of the dark reality of our human addiction to violence and hatred. We should be deeply discomforted by it; we should lament the deficit between God’s peaceable kingdom and our dreadful history of war and conflict. We may be tempted to despair:
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.*
If only we could 'hush the noise…'
So, what are we to do? Much as I might like to think that President Putin heeds every word the Bishop of Stafford utters and then adjusts his behaviour accordingly, I know that this is not the case. Are we then helpless in the face of a violent world or can we make a difference? In Romans 12.18, St Paul suggests we can: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
As far as it depends on us, we must live as peacemakers. We will not solve the crisis in the Middle East. We will pray fervently for peace and reconciliation, and we will stand in solidarity with all who suffer, but the answer to that conflict does not depend on us.
However, some things do depend on us. Calling out examples of antisemitism and Islamophobia when we hear them depends on us. Seeking forgiveness or apologising to those we have personally wronged depends on us. Trying to think the best of those with whom we disagree and conducting our conversations with love and grace depends on us. It is not just nations at war who need to hear the love song the angels bring; it is our families, communities, churches. It is we who need to hear it.
We pray for the peace of a suffering world and, if possible, and as far as it depends on us, we seek to live at peace with everyone.
*From the hymn It came Upon the Midnight Clear by Edmund H. Sears