December 25, 2019

Peace on Earth

When you watch television from the 1960s and early '70s, as I do, one of the things you notice about Christmastime is an overwhelming, almost desperate desire for Peace on Earth. It's no surprise; by the end of the decade of the 1960s, the nation had already experienced, or was struggling through, a convulsive struggle for civil rights, three shattering political assassinations, an unpopular war that threatened to tear the country apart, the constant threat of nuclear war, riots in the streets, and an upheaval in lifestyles and morals that obliterated whatever sense of stability and certainty most people had known. At the Christmas Eve church services, the congregations played their folk songs of peace and justice and an end to war; "Let their be peace on earth," they sang. The singular redeeming event of the decade, the moon landing, served to further underline the fragility of the planet by reducing it in size to where it could be obscured completely by a man's thumb. "Pray for peace, people everywhere." Peace on earth, indeed.

It's easy to see the parallels between the tumult of that age and our own, and yet—it may just be me; as I've suggested before, I don't get around as much in this culture—we don't hear that prayer for an all-encompassing peace as we did back then. Perhaps people just don't believe in that kind of peace anymore, the peace that comes from without and lives within. Television certainly doesn't help any, presenting us a world that, for all its artistic accomplishment, often comes off as nasty, brutish, and short. It is a world that seems decidedly short of goodwill to men, one that believes only in a peace that comes from conquest and domination, not brotherhood and fellowship. In such a world may live a like-mindedness of thought and action, but one could hardly call it peace. If all you're looking for is the absence of conflict, than this peace may be good enough for you.

The tranquility of the Christmas night, the stillness of winter amidst the twinkling of the stars overhead, seems an appropriate time to contemplate peace. Bishop Fulton Sheen could talk about it, back when television could take on what was even then a countercultural idea. He sought to unify those two types of peace, that of the world and of the soul. "The Christmas message is not that peace will come automatically, because Christ is born in Bethlehem; that birth in Bethlehem was the prelude to His birth in our hearts by grace and faith and love," he once wrote. "Peace belongs only to those who will to have it. If there is no peace in the world today, it is not because Christ did not come; it is because we did not let Him in."

There is, in some circles, a tendency to think of an overemphasis on peace as so much talk by bleeding hearts, and it's true there can be a superficiality to it when its two aspects are separated, much as one may attempt to separate the body from the soul. Maybe that's why we don't hear as much about it today because people strive for the one without allowing the other. Maybe, but this is the perfect time for it—not just the hour, not just the day, but the very age. If not now, then when?

People who know me, either personally or through this website, know that I'm not particularly what one would call a bleeding heart, but perhaps for just a few minutes we can go back and borrow that spirit of peace stuff—minus the folk guitars, because after all there has to be a limit—and join together with a true wish to be rid of the headlines, away from the conflict, and return to something that really matters. Peace on earth. Can it be? It's not a bad thing to wish for, especially today. TV  

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!