Peace, Goodwill Toward Men…
It is sad, but when you read the news you can clearly see that peace among men around the world is tenuous at best. Brotherhood is not so common as we should hope it would be. Yet, there is hope. We may always find lasting peace and common bonds as we seek community, the brotherhood of Man, one family under heaven. We may have different cultures and goals, and disagree on some aspects of God, but there is faith that He is good and that He loves us as His children. We can act as brothers and sisters.
Over the years I have been blessed with many opportunities to visit and know people at home and from around the world. It has been my experience that most people are good at heart and desire friendship not only with their neighbors, localities and nations, but also across international borders. The more we know of our local and global neighbors, the more love and peace becomes desirable, crossing cultures and ethnicities in ways never having been possible in the many centuries prior to the convenience of modern travel and communication. While I recognize there are stark exceptions, I believe that in most cases when people come to know one another, they more likely come to love one another.
As a young man I spent a year and a half serving as a missionary to the people of Paraguay. Many cannot easily identify Paraguay on the map, let alone know people of Guaraní heritage; but I got to know them, and I love them with all my heart. I could no more war against my beloved Paraguayo brothers and sisters, where I spent one sweet Christmas, than I could my fellow countrymen of the United States.
Recently Monica and I had the opportunity to visit Budapest, Hungary — a place once ravaged by communist aggression — now a lovely, peaceful city of kind and generous citizens. Only a few hundred miles away, missiles were being launched against Ukraine, a peace loving people under attack by a nation whose majority of citizens would also prefer peace over a war being waged by a few. We could not hear the bombs, nor smell the smoke of destruction, but we could hear, in stark contrast to the war not so far away, the bells of cathedrals ringing on the hour, somehow calling for peace and brotherhood among men.
One Sunday morning Monica and I were walking through Passau Germany, a Bavarian village known as the City of the Three Rivers. All at once amid chirping of birds, the sounds of bells began to ring and chime in turn through the air and along passageways. They rang for an extended time from every bell tower throughout the city, of which there are many. The priests and pastors were calling, summoning their parishioners, their flock, to Sunday services. In chapels and cathedrals, sermons were taught, prayers were offered, and hope in loving peace conveyed.
I like bells, calls to worship. One of the things Monica and I miss from our growing up in the Sanger area was the church bells ringing on Sunday, inviting the faithful to worship, and encouraging peace among men.
When a few years ago we visited the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine, we enjoyed observances at the Western Wall, and instead of bells, listening to the calls to prayer. As the sun set one evening in Jerusalem, the beginning of Shabbat, Jewish rabbis and families gathered, fathers with sons, mothers with daughters, and lifted their voices heavenward. Among Islamic Palestinians, a lovely call to prayer of musical quality, “God is Greatest,” echoed from high towers. We heard unifying prayers, even calls for peace under heaven in a place of historic political turmoil.
I say political, because that is what I mean. When people battle, using religion as a cause for aggression, God is not in it. It is politics, not Christianity, not Judaism, not Islam, not Hinduism, not Buddhism. Aggression with weapons or words is the antithesis of faith and religion. Our Almighty Father expects for us to defend ourselves, and even call upon His name in our defense and for His aid, but His love is found in compassion, not in Crusades. He blesses the peacemaker.
Nevertheless, there is anger here at home, even among countrymen who lift ugly voices against adversaries. There is political discord that pits extreme ideologies against one another in ways that do not promote peace and harmony among citizens, nor protects the founding principles of our Constitution. We have always counted on love of country and love of the ideals of freedom to promote peaceful discourse, but love and patience seem to be waning. It is probably time that we look to aggressive days of years past and heed the lessons so painfully learned in the conflict of the American Civil War.
President Abraham Lincoln spoke well in his second inaugural address: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes” (March 4, 1865).
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. …The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.”
President Abraham Lincoln — (November 8, 1863 by Alexander Gardner)
It is certain that love and peace among men are better sought, better prayed for, than hate and war.
It was during that terrible war that American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) penned the words of a beloved Christmas hymn that was brought about in the refiner’s fire of his painful experience.
Longfellow had lived a happy life in New England with his dear wife, Fanny, and their five children. When the conflict came in 1861 it was far away, but the ravages of war and the pain of a people tend to come together to collective sorrow.
On July 9, 1861 the Longfellow home caught fire, which took the life of Henry’s beloved Fanny. Three days later, on what would have been the couple’s 18th wedding anniversary, she was buried while he, also severely burned trying to rescue her, was recuperating.
Henry lost a part of his happiness. Even at Christmastime, which was one of the happiest times in their family, he no longer felt a spirit of joy.
Two years later the Longfellow’s eldest son was wounded in battle. Barely alive, Henry went to his side to help him in his recovery and to bring him home.
“Though in a manger thou draw breath, Thou art greater than life and death, greater than joy or woe!”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1868 by Julia Margaret Cameron)
Then, on Christmas Day of 1863, the day when the Christmas bells chimed again in his ears, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these hopeful words:
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
In the bells, those calls to worship and songs of angels, I hear God’s voice, a prayer for peace, healing and love.
Longfellow would also write of the child who brought Christmas to all mankind: “Though in a manger thou draw breath, Thou art greater than life and death, greater than joy or woe!”
Christmas is truly my favorite time of year. Christ is the very center and meaning of Christmas, and it is thoughts of Him, and the gifts He gave us all, that bring me the greatest joy at this time and always. May we ever find lasting peace and common bonds as we follow that child, born in a manger so long ago, heralded by angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). May your Christmas and holiday season be filled with the hope of that newborn babe, even Jesus Christ, and a New Year of peace and goodwill toward men, is my humble prayer in His holy name, amen.