Peace on Earth and goodwill to all people
In his Christmas message to members of the Anglican community Archbishop Howard Gregory reminds the faithful of the challenge to peace in a world where wars and rumours of wars abound. He reminds us that the wars between Ukraine and Russia, and Gaza and Israel are still raging and the vulnerable, especially children, are being disproportionately affected.
This reality should be enough for people of goodwill to stop and give serious thought to what is meant by peace and goodwill as affirmed in Christian scriptures and as sung throughout the world, especially at services of nine lessons and carols.
Yet, the Archbishop’s message is about hope. This is not to deny the reality of wars, conflicts, crime, violence, and, generally, what he describes as carnage throughout the world. At the same time, there is no denying the yearning, quest, and deep desire for calm, harmony, unity and people among people.
People hope because they are filled with a desire to grasp someone or something within and outside themselves with the conscious realisation that the limits of life, as they observe it in the business of everyday life, are not providing the deep sense of meaning and purpose for which they hunger and thirst. Nonetheless, people hope.
This hope, it is recognised, far exceeds the satisfaction which comes with having an abundance of material possessions as, beyond these, there is also the recognition of a yearning for something more. St Augustine, the 5th century theologian of north Africa, describes this longing as follows, “O God you have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This rest, satisfaction, desire, and hope, which many have at this time, is summed up in the Christian message of hope and peace.
In a world of carnage, we hope. This takes into account the context into which Jesus was born, with the recognition that his parents did not have it easy as the political structures required a census which demanded that people must travel to their places of birth in order to be counted. In such situation relationships were not of primary concerns, so the risks, dangers, discomforts and dislocations of a family like Joseph, with Mary well advanced in pregnancy, would certainly not be a factor for the power brokers. Indeed, officials like Quirinus in the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1) cared less for the poor and vulnerable as they were only considered as means to an end – an economic and military end.
Additionally, the fact that Jesus is God, coming into our midst as Emmanuel, did not count for power brokers as people are not that important; however, for people of faith, any political or religious system that wishes to survive the test of time must take the welfare and well-being of people into account. Where this is done it gives people hope.
People need hope in a context where children, the elderly, and the disabled are being ignored, neglected, and abused. In the contexts of conflicts and wars, with well over 50 wars being fought around the world at this time, the quest for hope and peace is real and those of us who are able must raise our collective voices for peace. It is no wonder the words peace, health, and salvation in the Bible are almost one and the same. They affirm the worth, dignity, and value of people, which by the way is one reason the Vatican has declared the blessing of people living in same gender unions, as it points to the importance of building and maintaining healthy relationships. Moreover, in a context in which we are killing each other at almost 50 in every 100,000, Jamaicans need to be blessed, to be affirmed and valued, so we may be able to interrogate the fact that we are categorised by some as the murderous capital of the world. It is difficult to hope in this context.
Yet, there are steps being taken, for the purpose of attracting tourist to our paradise, to say we are a peaceful country. Of course, this position must be put in context and the issues of domestic, gender-based violence, gang feuds, scamming, and organised crime must be viewed in the overall context of major crimes in Jamaica trending down. Nevertheless, despite the significant gains made there are those among us who feel the numbers of murders are too high, and since every life is important, one person killed, irrespective of who she/he is, and where this involves a child, every effort must be made to prevent such occurrences and engender hope in the populace.
Finally, people need hope to celebrate Christmas. Despite the voices of those who would remind us that Jesus was not born this time of year as it’s winter in Palestine and hardly likely shepherds would be in the field. Also, with those who share the view Christmas is a pagan festival, adopted by early Christians, with some arguing it was Constantine the Roman Emperor in the fourth century who invented the day and with still others arguing Jesus was not even a real person, and certainly not God, Christians do not set out to prove or disprove these assertions but simply to affirm and assert that God is with us — Emmanuel (Luke 2:1-14). It is in, with, and through God that Christians affirm the reality of peace on Earth and goodwill to all.
There is therefore full agreement with Archbishop Gregory that there is carnage everywhere and it reflects the carnal nature which is characterised by sin and which is manifested as war, oppression, and the marginalisation of people, especially the most vulnerable. At the same time, people of goodwill hope that this will be a season of good cheer, feasting and festivities, and those who have will ensure there is a place for those who are deprived, lonely, sad, afraid, and lost. Wherever and whenever this is done we can truly say peace on Earth and goodwill to all.
Bishop Garth Minott is Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Kingston.