We look to the holiday season to lift our spirits and yet come January we are sometimes utterly depressed because our expectations were not met. There is reason to hope despite our engagement in two wars (or, to be more exact, one war and one occupation); facing global financial insecurity because of corporate greed; people losing their homes to foreclosure; millions of others who have no medical safety net; still more who are homeless, hungry or living under brutal and repressive regimes in Africa and around the world. Despite all this and more, there is reason to hope as we embark on the holiday season. In the center of all of this, in the center of our lives as families, faith communities, neighborhoods — our life together on planet earth — dwells the Prince of Peace. At the very center of who we are dwells the nonviolent One, Jesus the Christ. Our greatest power and our greatest gift come from a manger in Bethlehem and a cross on Calvary: the gift of nonviolence.
The occupying Roman army surrounded the manger; the Cross resulted from the rich and powerful brought to their knees by a nonviolent love they had to kill. Only death of the innocent would keep their pride and prestige from being tarnished, or, God forbid, keep them from acting justly and compassionately toward others. If our greatest gift were the sword, the power to make war and subdue enemies, the Gospels would be completely different from how they are written. People say that the Gospel message is impractical and they are absolutely correct; but it is the ideal to which we are called by the Gospel. Rather than engage the Gospel, people run away, seeking safety in rules, regulations and rituals; marks of respect and places of honor. In our flight, we flee from meeting the needs of others and we flee from any possibility of experiencing in our lives the indwelling peace of Christ. It is only by living impractically, doing what seems impossible, that we will know the nonviolent peace of Jesus the Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, as individuals and as a faith community.
So the question is, how do we walk from the here and now into January without getting overwhelmed or completely depressed? We do it by walking more slowly, with greater attention and awareness. We do it by simply not engaging in disputes about how the turkey ought to be stuffed, the lights hung or the hymns sung. We do it by not engaging our anger, resentments and unreasonable expectations. We do it by doing each small thing in front of us with care; doing the best we can without trying to be perfect or expecting perfection from others. My dad has always said, and I am beginning to believe it, “close is perfect.” We do it by lightening up on ourselves and others; relying not on our own power but on the Word of God and its power at work within us.
Time and money are often in short supply but the greatest gift we can give, and can all afford, is the gift of peace, offering a haven of nonviolence in a violent world, being truly present to one another in an isolating world; being the very gift of peace for others that Jesus came to give us.
[This article was originally published on December 19, 2008.]