A time to find peace
A Christmas message from the Dean of Gibraltar Canon Ian Tarrant.
Ten months have passed since Russian tanks and planes crossed the border into Ukraine. We have followed the horrific story of that immoral invasion. We have asked ourselves, why the killing? why the terrible injuries? why the displacement of millions of people? why the destruction of homes, schools, and hospitals? We wonder what can possibly justify so much suffering?
Twenty-six years ago, my wife and I were working in Congo, and we found ourselves on the edge of a civil war, in which other nations became involved. We experienced the uncertainties of planning for tomorrow, next week, next month; and we wondered how to keep our children safe. We knew the sound of artillery, and what we should do when we heard it. Over the next few years our ears would alert us to any similar sound in the distance.
Although we didn’t have first-hand encounters with violence, we watched refugees leaving town for the relative safety of the countryside. We saw burnt-out buildings and vehicles. We heard stories of killing, torture and looting. Young men we knew went off to join the fight, and did not return.
Watching the stories from Ukraine brings back our memories. We know that there are no real winners in a war. Everybody loses. Afterwards come the reconstruction of buildings, and the restoration of relationships and confidence. A new peace has to be found.
Peace is one of the themes of Christmas. You’ve probably received at least one Christmas card this year with the word ‘Peace’ somewhere on the front or on the inside. One of the titles of Jesus is ‘Prince of Peace’. The shepherds in the Christmas story heard angels proclaiming, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace!’
The carol by Charles Wesley, ‘Hark the herald angels sing’, points us to a particular understanding of the peace on offer at Christmas: ‘peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.’
Christians understand that Jesus was God coming into the world to make the peace between our rebellious human race and our Creator. Jesus was ‘born that man no more may die’, because his death on the cross would break down the barrier between us and God.
God offers us the free gift of peace with him. We accept his love, and he takes away our guilt and shame. We put aside our pride, our ambitions, our agendas – and we accept his agenda for our lives. We rejoice in his glory, and he rejoices in our worship.
That peace with God is the foundation for all peace. Peace in our families, where we can practice that the loving forgiveness that God shows us. Peace with our neighbours, whom we are called to love as we love ourselves. Peace in our streets and cities, where we rub shoulders with people who are different from us in many and various ways – people who are all God’s children, loved by him, and therefore to be loved by us.
On those foundations – peace with God, peace in families, peace in our communities – we can hope for peace between nations. The human race is learning that each individual human life is valuable. We are learning that whenever there is a dispute in a home, in a community, or on the international scene, violence should be the last resort, not the first.
It has taken us many generations to learn this; but I believe that the human race is learning it. The world now is a less savage place than the world into which Jesus was born, where any man, woman or child could be made the slave of another, where any criminal could be executed in a slow and painful way.
We are learning, slowly but surely, that love and peace can triumph over hatred and war.
So… Happy Christmas! And peace be with you.