"Peace on Earth" Means "No More War"
- "Peace on Earth" Means "No More War"
By John Dear
Saturday 24 December 2005
The story goes that when the nonviolent Jesus was born into
abject poverty to homeless refugees on the outskirts of a brutal
empire, angels appeared in the sky to impoverished shepherds
singing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!" That
child grew up to become, in Gandhi's words, "the greatest nonviolent
resister in the history of the world," and was subsequently executed
by the empire for his insistence on justice.
This weekend, as tens of millions of Christians across the
country celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, the US wages war
in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia and elsewhere; crushes the hungry,
homeless, elderly, imprisoned and refugee; and maintains the world's
ultimate terrorist threat - its nuclear arsenal.
Like Herod, Pilate and their soldiers, we have rejected the
angels' call for "peace on earth." When Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and
their warmaking supporters celebrate Christmas, they mock Christ and
his steadfast nonviolence, and carry on the massacre of the
If the angels are correct, then Christmas requires us to welcome
God's gift of peace on earth. In such a time, that means we have to
work for an end to war. Christmas calls us to become like Christ -
people of active, creative, steadfast nonviolence who give our lives
in resistance to empire and war.
In pursuit of this Christmas gift, a group of us met this week
with Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, and asked him to
dismantle our nuclear weapons and disarm Los Alamos, the birthplace
of the bomb. In this day and age, it is surprising that any elected
official would meet and listen to anti-war activists. Yet Richardson
asked to begin a public dialogue with us about nuclear disarmament.
We take this as a sign of hope, even as we continue our protests at
When Gandhi was asked one Christmas day for his thoughts about
Christmas, he spoke about the connection between the wood of the
crib - Christ's poverty - and the wood of the cross - Christ's
nonviolent resistance to evil. He said Christmas summons us to the
same lifelong nonviolence. It has social, economic, and political
implications. I think, like Gandhi, that we have to make those
connections and pursue those implications. Here are a few of them.
First, Christmas celebrates the birth of a life of perfect
nonviolence and calls us to become people of active nonviolence.
Christmas invites us to practice the vulnerable, disarming
simplicity of children, to live the disarmed life in solidarity with
the children of the world, and to spend our lives in resistance to
empire. It summons us to study, teach, practice and experiment with
creative nonviolence that we too might live the life of nonviolence
which Jesus exemplified so that one day peace might reign one earth.
Second, Christmas demonstrates that God sides with the poor,
becomes one with the poor, and walks among the poor. God does not
side with the rulers, the rich or the powerful, but with the
homeless, the hungry and the refugees. Christmas puts poverty front
and center and demands that we work to abolish poverty itself so
that every human being has food, clothing, housing, healthcare,
education, employment and a lifetime of peace.
Third, since Christmas illustrates how God sides with the poor
in order to liberate the oppressed from poverty and injustice, it
calls us to reject greed, give away our money and possessions to
those in need, and also live in solidarity with the disenfranchised.
Fourth, Christmas pushes us to stand on the margins of society,
where we will find God. Christmas announces that every human being
is a beloved son and daughter of the God of love. Every human life
is beautiful in the eyes of God, since God has become one of us.
From now on, we reject exclusivity, racism, sexism, and
discrimination of any kind, and embrace everyone as equal. We stand
on the margins with the excluded, the marginalized, the outsiders
and outcasts. From there, we envision a new reconciled humanity.
Fifth, as Gandhi pointed out, there is a straight line from the
crib to the cross. Christ practiced steadfast nonviolent resistance
to imperial injustice and was brutally executed. That bloody outcome
is crucial to the story, and calls us to work for the abolition of
the death penalty so that Christ will never be crucified again and
the killing stops once and for all.
Sixth, since the birth of Christ means that every human life is
beloved by God, that all human beings are God's children, we have to
treat every human being on the planet as our very own sister and
brother which means we must oppose war and work for the abolition of
war itself. In particular, we denounce Bush's war on Iraq, demand
that the troops return home, and call for reparations and nonviolent
solutions to the horrors we have brought upon the people of the
Seventh, if the angels celebrate the coming of "peace on earth,"
that means they are environmentalists. We too have to protect the
earth, oppose its destruction, defend God's creatures and the
universe, and help make the earth a place of peace for every life
Eighth, Christmas means working for the abolition of nuclear
weapons. These weapons are idolatrous and blasphemous. Their very
existence insults the God of peace and mocks the nonviolent Jesus.
We can't celebrate Christmas and at the same time work at Los
Alamos, Livermore Labs, the Nevada Test Site, or the Pentagon, or be
silent while this work goes on We must reject this love or death and
destruction, and pursue life, the God of life, and a new world
without nuclear weapons.
Ninth, Christmas calls us individually to prepare for the gift
of peace on earth. It invites us to welcome peace in our hearts and
our personal lives, and learn to be at peace with ourselves, with
God, with our families, friends, neighbors, and local communities,
and with the whole world.
Finally, Christmas invites us to be human in an inhuman time.
The scandal of the story is that God wants to become human and show
us how to be human. We, on the other hand, want to play God, to be
powerful, in charge, in control, to dominate the world. Perhaps the
best way to celebrate Christmas and welcome the beautiful gift of
peace on earth is simply to be human, despite the callous inhumanity
around us, and to trust that our modest, vulnerable humanity - our
nonviolence, compassion and love - like the humanity of the child in
the crib, will one day bear good fruit and sow the seeds of peace on
John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and the
author/editor of 20 books on peace and nonviolence, including most
recently The Questions of Jesus and Living Peace, both published by
Doubleday. He is the coordinator of Pax Christi New Mexico. For
information, see: www.fatherjohndear.org and
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