As Christmas approaches, peace is on my mind. Christ, after all, was known as the Prince of Peace. I say “was” because we hear so infrequently of peace in the United States today. In fact, peace in the U.S. seems to be contingent on enormous military budgets dedicated to weapons and warfare. It reminds me of Strategic Air Command (SAC) in the Air Force, which was prepared utterly to destroy the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s but whose motto was “peace is our profession.” Paraphrasing Tacitus, one might say that SAC was prepared to make the world an irradiated hellscape and call it “peace.”
If Christmas is to have any religious meaning, one would think it would be centered on the arrival of the Prince of Peace in the world. As a Catholic, I can’t count the number of times I recited the prayer that begins, Glory to God in the highest/and peace to His people on earth, the Gloria in adoration of Christ as a bringer of peace. By way of contrast, Easter is about the fulfillment of Christ’s mission; His death and resurrection “takes away the sins of the world,” even as we continue to implore Him to “grant us peace.”
Now that I reflect upon it, the Christian mass must be one of the few places in American culture today where we routinely hear about peace, where the idea is not mocked as fallacious or faulty or insane.
To be honest, I’m not in close contact with Christian culture today. What little I know of it confuses me and disappoints me. I can’t square the so-called Prosperity Gospel with Christ’s teachings against the corruption of earthly riches. I can’t square the evangelical emphasis on personal salvation by being born again with Christ’s command to focus on helping others in place of celebrating oneself. (OK, you’re saved; now get over yourself.) It’s so terribly easy to lose sight of the great commandments of Christianity, which boil down to loving God and loving thy neighbor.
So many Americans seem to believe they live in an exceptional nation, literally holier than other nations because of shared Judeo-Christian traditions as well as God’s special favor allegedly showered upon this “city on a hill.”
Is it OK if I say that current events (and past ones too) suggest otherwise? Garrisons across the globe bristling with weapons are not the same as a shining city on a hill. There is nothing angelic about a Predator or Reaper drone, nor is salvation to be found at any end of a Hellfire missile.
What part of “love thy neighbor” is reflected in a gargantuan war and weapons budget that officially sits just under $800 billion, and which in its total cost routinely exceeds a trillion dollars annually? Not to be presumptuous, but something tells me the Prince of Peace isn’t too happy about this.
Yes, I am stunned that there isn’t more Christian opposition to America’s war machine. I am stunned that America’s churches and ministers have made their peace, so to speak, with nuclear weapons that can destroy all of God’s creation. I am stunned that on Christmas Day, when Christians are supposed to adore Christ and to recall the miracle of His birth, that we collectively give so little thought to making peace happen, to dedicating ourselves to it in His name.
Still, I must say this about my Catholic Church and my memories of it: At least we reached out to each other to offer a sign of peace. We reached across the pews to shake hands, to share smiles, to make human contact.
Let us offer each other the sign of peace: Should this not be our gift to each other, not just this Christmas but on each and every day? What better way to adore the Prince of Peace than to spread peace?