Thursday, December 6

advent 2007

As I re-read those familiar lines from “Congregation, Arise!” my eye fixed on the line, “Let there be peace on earth and good will toward men.” That’s what the heavenly host sang that first Christmas night as the angel announced the birth of the Messiah to shepherds; it has been both the promise to – and the hope of – Christians ever since. But that blissful condition seems as remote now as it must have been when Jesus was born, especially in the region where that blessed event occurred.

Perhaps that line was more prominent because I have just finished reading Bruce Feiler’s Walking the Bible. During his 10,000-mile trek to visit the places mentioned in the first five books and retrace the route of the patriarchs, Abraham through Moses, Feiler met and talked with Jews, Muslims, and Christians about their faith. Besides points of agreement among all three religions, he found significant differences, yet by and large the people he encountered on three continents, five countries, and four war zones extended him good will.

At a Middle East studies conference I recently attended, about sixty people – Muslims, Christians, and perhaps some Jews – examined various aspects of that troubled region of the world. There was no ideological or political posturing despite differences in background, faith, ethnicity, and citizenship. The focus was on learning more and gaining a greater understanding of the issues that beleaguer the Middle East.

Feiler’s book and the conference point the way toward peace. An essential first step is to lay aside preconceived ideas and stereotypes so that we can recognize the truth about other peoples. We have been conditioned to accept what others tell us are our “national interests.” A nation is, in essence, its people, so if we, the people, come to a more enlightened view of other faiths and their adherents – especially those who worship the same God – we can begin to see them not as enemies, but as fellow human beings who share our hope for peace and good will.

Is this idealism? Certainly. But Christianity itself is idealistic. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be called the Prince of Peace. Jesus, in the Beatitudes, said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” To the extent that we don’t try to work for peace and good will toward other human beings, we ignore one of Christ’s most important requirements. In the words of another well-known song, “Let there be peace on earth . . . and let it begin with me.”
– George Pruden

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