One of the blessings which we associate with Christmas is “Peace”. During the Great War a truce was usually declared on Christmas Day, and on at least one occasion at Christmas soldiers on the Western Front played a football match with “the enemy” to mark the arrival of the season of peace. It is not entirely unknown for families, where there has been tension over some matter, to at the very least, set it aside in the “spirit of Christmas”.
One of the most frequently used readings in all our Churches on Christmas Day is from the prophet Isaiah “And His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”.
At Christmas the Son of God came into the world to make peace with those who were near and those who were far off; and we have a vocation to continue His peacemaking. And peace is not just the absence of war; peace is principally the presence of God. God with us.
Peace of course is not achieved by ignoring all the nasty things in the world, or all the difficult things in our lives. That is called naïveté, and unfortunately it often evaporates at the first sight of trouble. For believers peace is very closely connected with faith. Now, faith doesn’t underestimate the problems of the world or the complications in our own lives either. But it does know that, strong as those forces are, they are not the strongest.
Peace is not a glassy calm, but it can be a mighty confidence.
Stress and anxiety are the enemies of peace because they can so easily fall backwards into despair or fall forwards into anger. Despair happens because we look around us and see only problems, and they seem just too big to deal with. Anger overtakes us when we look around us and see only enemies who frighten us, and we try in turn to frighten them with our anger.
That means that if we are to be peacemakers for ourselves and for others we need to help one another to look around and to see also what is good.
That we still live in one of the loveliest and most unspoilt parts of the world or that a tiny island like ours can produce someone like Seamus Heaney or Van Morrison. That organisations like Trócaire and Tear Fund can still be sure that, despite all the hardships we have faced in Ireland, we will still probably give more per household than any other Western country. That, damaged and fragile as it is, Christianity is still a living reality for many people in Ireland when it is almost extinguished in many parts of Europe. All these are good and they make for peace.
But above all it is good that Jesus Christ was entrusted to the goodness of a human family and that the Eternal Word of the Father held on to Mary’s finger and pulled her love down to Him.
May we take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful Christmas and a blessed New Year.
+ John McDowell + Liam McDaid