Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men?

#ChristmasinAleppo

image of Nativity Story movie poster
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8241723

I wanted to write this post last Sunday, December 11, third Sunday of Advent. During this season, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,” is practically my mantra. Last Sunday, I came out of church and checked the time on my cell phone. There were three headlines from my newsfeed about bombs around the world: One was certainly in Aleppo, another in Egypt, and another I think was in Turkey but I don’t remember for sure. I felt like shouting to all of them, “Don’t you know this is Advent? Don’t we all want peace and goodwill?”

There is so much going on in the world now that makes you wonder about Advent, which is supposed to be a time of hope and preparation for Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be when we remember the birth of the Christ child, whose birth was announced with angels declaring “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I don’t care what religion you are, you cannot tell me that is not the desire of every human heart.

Syria has been on my mind for a while. The situation there has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in history. And now what is happening in Aleppo is appalling. You see one report on 60 Minutes, and the enormity of suffering is overwhelming. They have been living like this for months, even years. A city thousands of years old, part of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Seleucid, and Roman empires, so very much a part of Biblical history, that in 2011 had a population of two million, now seeing destruction of Biblical proportions. Constant bombardment and temporary cease fires just so they can draw people out of hiding and shoot them down.

What got to me most was seeing mothers desperate to find a safe place for their children, and there is none to be found. In the choir, we were practicing “Breath of Heaven.” Most people call it a Christmas song, but it’s really an Advent song. The music and words together really capture what I can only imagine Mary must have felt in the first days of her pregnancy as she is running away from her hometown to stay with her kinswoman, Elizabeth (Luke 1:36-45). And as I read, heard, and sang the words, I kept thinking of these mothers in Aleppo. Where is peace on earth and goodwill for them? Do I even have a right to enjoy Christmas when there is so much suffering over there?

Religion In a Time of Despair

I know it’s not the only place of suffering in the world. They aren’t the only mothers as desperate as a girl of about twelve or thirteen, pregnant before marriage, who knows no one is going to believe her when she says God is the father of the baby, and wondering how she will care for him in a world that welcomes neither her nor her baby and might stone her to death for impurity and/or blasphemy. But this situation was fresh in my mind. I saw the connection. I felt it. I’m not going to say I understand what they are going through, because there is no way you can know something that horrific if you haven’t actually lived through it.

This is what I think religion can do for us if our hearts are open for it: To see and feel the connection each of us has with all of humanity, even those who are ten thousand miles or whatever away. If I say I want to honor Christ in all I do, what does that mean for them? It means seeing that the story of every mother crying out for the health and safety of her children is Mary’s story. It means seeing the baby Jesus in every baby whose home, family, and life are threatened by powers that view them as a means to an end.

The True Meaning of Christmas

There are two songs specific to the season that drive this home for me. One I’ve already talked about is Amy Grant’s Breath of Heaven. The other is an older, traditional song but with a new twist: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns. The words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow already told well the struggle between wanting to believe in “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” that Christmas promises and living in a world that seems so bent on violence and hate. The music, however, was boring. Casting Crowns redid the music and adjusted the words just a little so that the mood of both match perfectly. The combination is arguably the most beautifully heartbreaking and hopeful song of the season.

Spiritual Exercise: If you really want to experience the meaning of Christmas,

  1. Stop getting bent out of shape when someone says “Happy Holidays.” With all that’s going on in the world, do you really think Jesus wants you wasting your outrage on that?
  2. Read the scripture in Luke 1:26-40; 2:8-14
  3. Let the words “peace on earth, goodwill to men” sink in
  4. Watch a news story on the plight of the civilians in Aleppo
  5. Then either watch the videos or listen to these two songs.

Amy Grant, “Breath of Heaven,”

Casting Crowns, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, with lyrics

Below: the original artist, no lyrics

WARNING: BE SURE YOU HAVE TISSUES NEARBY.

But What Can I Do?

Hopefully now you feel some of the compassion Jesus felt when he saw the people were like sheep without a shepherd. What can you do? You can pray, of course. I would recommend making that a part of whatever you do. But if you want to back up your prayer with more substantive action, click here for a link to an excellent article. Here’s a summary.

  1. Educate yourself and stay informed. Add Syria and Aleppo reports to your news feed.
  2. Donate to charities doing the work we can’t. Charity Navigator offers a list of vetted charities actually doing what they say, so you can avoid the scammers.
  3. Show your support and outrage. Write letters to the editor. Attend or organize protests at the embassies of Syria and Russia. Write directly to the governments of Syria, Russia, and Iran through Amnesty International.
  4. Tell your Senators you want them to support the Caesar Bill. It has already passed the House.
  5. Talk and/or post about it
  6. If you have special skills, for example, translator, doctor, lawyer, volunteer with agencies that need those skills
  7. If you’re feeling really bold, welcome a refugee into your home

Grace and Peace to you this Christmas season.

DAA

P.S. If you like this, you might also like…

Previous posts about Syria

Previous posts about Christmas

 

 

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Perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18)

David Anderson

In an earlier post, I talked about being careful about forwarding emails. Many forwarded emails I find objectionable have to do with false and/or misleading “facts” and hate-filled rhetoric. Then there is also fear-mongering.

Is Christmas a time to think about fear? This year, I see a connection more clearly than I ever have.

In the past few months, some things have happened that have us all a little more fearful. Just the mention of ISIS is enough to make me look around and make sure I’m aware of my surroundings. Fear is good for survival if it makes you a little more alert, a little more watchful, a little more sensitive to immediate danger. But when fear runs out of control, it turns to panic.

Any good soldier knows you never want to panic, especially when danger is right around the corner. Panic makes you make bad decisions. Panic sees threat where there is none. Panic magnifies a minor threat to the point that it is all you see. Imagine someone who was so afraid of fire they wouldn’t even drive a car. Drive a car? Are you crazy? That engine runs on fire!

Just like wild dogs, politicians smell fear.

They know to exploit it. If they get us scared enough, they can say and do anything, and we will go along. When we are already afraid, all they have to do is magnify it through propaganda. We cannot, we must not, go along with them. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1.7).

About 1900 years ago, a group of churches in what is now Turkey were under intense persecution because of what they believed. They were bribed to give names. If that didn’t work, they were tortured. If that didn’t work, they were killed by crucifixion, by fire, by wild animals, or any other method a depraved Emperor or governor might imagine. There was reason to live in fear.

In the midst of that, God said to them,

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love
because he first loved us
(1Jo 4:18-19 NRS).

Jesus Christ was born because God first loved us. Throughout the Bible, God keeps saying, Fear not, because God is love.

Christmas day is over, but the Christmas season continues now through January 6, the Day of the Kings. Keep listening to the angels singing, Peace on earth! Goodwill to men and women!

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Go deeper

33 verses about fear

References

Casting Crowns. I heard the bells on Christmas day.

http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/debbie-mcdaniel/33-verses-to-remind-us–we-do-not-have-to-fear.html

O Little Town of Bethlehem.

I CORINTHIANS 13 – A CHRISTMAS VERSION

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows,

strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls,

but do not show love to my family,

I’m just another decorator.

 

If I slave away in the kitchen,

making dozens of Christmas cookies,

preparing gourmet meals and arranging

a beautifully adorned table at mealtime,

but do not show love to my family,

I’m just another cook.

 

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home,

and give all that I have to charity,

but do not show love to my family,

it profits me nothing.

 

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes,

attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata

but do not focus on Christ,

I have missed the point.

 

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has

coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

 

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way,

but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love doesn’t give only to those

who are able to give in return

but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things,

hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. 

 

Video games will break,

pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust,

but giving the gift of love will endure.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

          – Author unknown

from the files of Alma G.