Practicing peace

Christmas celebrates a world that is better than it is.

By Brett Younger

The tree in my living room, which went up the day after Thanksgiving, is starting to shed like Charlie Brown’s. I only enjoyed singing “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)” the first time it came on the radio. Apparently I should have bought an Elf on the Shelf for my niece a few weeks ago. By the time Feliz Navidad arrives, I will be tired of some of the yuletide.

In our cynical moments we wonder if Christmas gets old because we weary of wishful thinking. In December we act as if the world is better than it is. Families pretend they get along better than they actually do. Throughout the Christmas season we attempt to be friendlier than we really are. Much of what we do is superficial.

We go to church to imagine the world better than it is. We light the candle of peace and act as if it makes a difference. We pray for the “wolf to live with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid,” but we are not betting on it. The world is not what it should be and we have little evidence that it will change. The hope beneath our play-acting is that we are not just pretending, but rehearsing.

We understand that in spite of our festivities the world rejected the Prince of Peace. We are never without multiple major military conflicts. Most of these are civil wars fueled by racial, ethnic or religious animosity. We hardly pay attention because every day’s news is overwhelming.

On Sunday, Dec. 15, militants seized the Christian Syrian village of Kanaye, forcing the population to obey sharia law. Women must wear the Islamic veil or be subject to immediate execution.

The same day in the Kokrajhar district in India, police reported that one person was killed and four others injured by insurgents who exploded five grenades and fired indiscriminately at a market.

On Monday, the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared a curfew in Juba, accusing soldiers allied with the former vice president of attempting a coup. At least 500 people have been killed in South Sudan since Sunday.

On Tuesday, two groups claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on the Lebanese city of Hermel. The groups cited “Hezbollah’s military intervention, the continued killing of Sunni youths” for the rocket attacks.

Also on Tuesday, six American soldiers were killed when their Army helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman claimed militants shot down the helicopter.

Meanwhile, two bombings in and near Baghdad killed 10 Shiite pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Karbala. The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence.

On Wednesday, the hospitals in Aleppo in Syria were overwhelmed with casualties. Government war planes killed more than 100 people over three days.

On Thursday, the United States ambassador to the United Nations visited the Central African Republic. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed nearly 1,000 people.

Christmas always takes place in the midst of terrifying violence. The first Christmas was King Herod’s soldiers with swords in the streets, mothers clutching their babies, hiding in the cellar, trying not to breathe too loudly and begging their infants not to cry.

Christmas is for frightened, hurting, war-torn people. Far from a call to pretend to be jolly, Christmas invites us to recognize that God has come to share our sorrows. Christians believe that God will set things right in a way that we will never accomplish on our own.

We practice peace, but we do so even as we recognize that ultimately peace does not depend on the meager peace we can and should share, but on God coming with peace that will last forever.

So we live as if the world is better than it is. We live rehearsing in the hope of peace.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.