During the season of Advent, we’re going to hear a lot about the biblical promise of a “Prince of Peace” and about personal challenges to become “peacemakers.” We will hear the good news of great joy announced by angels over Bethlehem, “Peace on earth, good will to all!” We hear those messages every year, of course. But given the state of things in the world currently, those words take on an even deeper meaning.
So, what do we do about it? What can we as individuals (or as local congregations) do about ISIS or Syria or Uganda or Russia or the violence in our own city streets? Those issues are so large, and sometimes we feel powerless in face of them. We feel much like did St. Brendan when he prayed: “O Lord, the sea is so big, and my boat is so small.” What on earth can we do to make peace in a hostile world?
First, we can pray. Prayer reminds us that we are not alone in the effort to turn swords into plowshares. That is God’s will, and thus we can count on God’s presence and power to assist us in accomplishing it.
Second, we can take pubic action. E-mail your representatives in congress or Senate. Write a letter to the mayor or the editor. Become part of a peaceful activist group. March. Demonstrate. Lift up your voices. Public sentiment is still a powerful force. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that public sentiment brought the Viet Nam War to an end. If you feel drawn to activism, then act (in non-violent fashions).
But third (and the importance of this should not be under-estimated), we can practice peace in our personal lives. Not everyone feels led to march on City Hall. But everyone can be a peacemaker in personal relationships. And doing so does contribute to a movement of peace, even in a violent society. Treat others with courtesy. Listen with patience. Work diligently to find common ground with people, thus providing a safe and constructive foundation for dialogue about interpersonal differences. Avoid stereotyping based on anything (gender, sexuality, race, age, economics, religion, political party affiliation, etc.). Think before you speak – and, having done so, then think again. And when standing your ground on a moral issue, do so with civility (remembering the advice of St. Paul to “speak the truth with love”). Express affection for others. Pay compliments. Celebrate the other person’s achievements without having to remind them that you, too, are equally accomplished. Tell people you love them. Then, reiterate that message. And then do something to show them you meant what you said. Too many a broken heart is revealed in the statement: “If I had only let them know how much they meant to me when they were still here.” Smile at people. Greet them with good wishes. (I still say “Merry Christmas!” and have not met a soul who resented it – but, if you’re more comfortable with “Happy Holidays!,” that’s good, too.) Do not forget the power of phrases like “Thank you,” or “I appreciate what you did for me.” You can continue adding to this list, as it’s virtually inexhaustible. The point is simply that how we treat others sows behavioral seeds within them. Those seeds ordinarily bear fruit in the way they treat the next person, and that person the next. Think ripples on a pond. As simple as it may sound, it’s really not simplistic. We contribute to a significant movement of peace when we live peaceably with those around us. And who cannot do at least that much? “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”