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The Promise of Peace
by Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.
One of the ironies of Christianity is that when Christ was born, His birth was announced as the dawn of peace. The angels of Bethlehem told the shepherds, there would be Peace on earth to men of good will. Yet, as we look around us in the world today, and look back over the years since the turn of the present century, what do we see?
So we ask, where is this peace promised to us by the angels? The answer lies in who is promised this peace. Who can expect to be at peace even in the midst of wars and opposition and the spectacle of a world in deadly conflict?
The peace promised on Christmas Day is interior peace, peace of heart in doing the will of God. The peace of Christmas is a conditional peace. We shall be at peace, in the depths of our souls, provided our wills are conformed to the clear but demanding will of God. This is the verdict of now nineteen centuries of world history, and the master theme of two millennia of Christian teaching. When the inspired writer asked the Lord, Has anyone ever resisted Your will and been at peace, there was no reply given because the answer is obvious, No one!
Who, then, are the men of good will to whom the angels on Christmas morning promised peace? They are those whose wills are good because they are ready and willing to do whatever the Creator expects of them.
The same evangelist who records the song of the angels at Bethlehem recalls the mysterious answer that Christ gave to His own question, Do you think that I come to give peace upon the earth? He said, No, I tell you, I have come not to bring peace but division.
What are we to make of this apparent contradiction? In one chapter the hosts of heaven are praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. Ten chapters later, Christ seems to be saying the opposite. He not only says that He came to bring not peace, but division. He even describes the division: between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
There is no contradiction, but there is certainly a paradox. At Bethlehem, the peace of which the angels sang is the interior peace of heart that God assures those who are sincerely striving to do His will. If peace is the tranquility of order, then peace within people is the serenity they experience when their lives are in order, which means when they desire what God wants. There is disorder when we want what God does not want, and the resulting experience is interior conflict or the opposite of peace.
During His public ministry, Christ wished to emphasize the price we have to pay if we wish to remain faithful to His Divine will. It is the painful cost of finding ourselves, not infrequently, at odds with those whom perhaps we most love on earth. The examples that Jesus used of parents against children and children against parents could not have been more clear.
On the level of our relations with others, therefore, Christ foretold that He did not come to bring peace but division. It is the heartrending division we read about in the lives of the saints. It is the tragic division that dedicated Christians must be willing to endure of greater or less estrangement from persons whom we may dearly love but who do not share our own vision of loyalty to Christ and His Church.
As we return to Bethlehem we are heartened by the angelic promise of peace to men of good will. Why? Because God rewards our fidelity in His service with such peace of soul as the world cannot give. This experience of Gods approval is all we need to remain faithful to His name, no matter what others may say or even what acceptance by our loved ones we may lose.
Christmas is more than a commemoration of the birthday of the Son of God become man. It is the assurance of eternal peace to those who on earth have been willing to suffer in doing the will of God.
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