Fighting the conspiracy against peace
Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer
As Christians worldwide prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace into their midst, powerful forces conspire to quash his arrival.
Bad news swirls around us this Christmas season. We worry about personal security. A flu epidemic runs through the land. And there is not enough vaccine to go around. Mad cow disease found in Washington state.
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We worry about heighten levels of national security (i.e., "orange alert"). Military planes fly over major cities. Two serious bombings in Iraq, at least six people killed. Israeli troops killed eight Palestinians in a raid on a refugee camp in the Gaza strip where a weapons smuggling tunnel was uncovered. Reacting to the raid, Palestinians postponed talks with Israel aimed at bringing about a Middle East peace summit.
And at least around here, local homeless shelters and soup kitchens report heavy and in some cases record numbers.
Can we hope for a peaceful Christmas?
One of my duties as NCR Web site coordinator is to post the transcript of the homily that Bishop Thomas Gumbleton delivers in his home parish, St. Leo's in Detroit. We post on Friday the homily Bishop Gumbleton delivered the preceding Sunday. (It's really more a privilege than a duty. Because I have to listen to the tape of the talk to check against the transcript, it's almost as if I get a personal, weekly retreat from Bishop Gumbleton.)
I just finished preparing the bishop's homily for the fourth Sunday of Advent. He spoke directly to this bad news scenario. Follow this link to read the whole homily (Gumbleton on the Fourth Sunday of Advent), but here is an excerpt:
Remember Mary's answer when the angel asked her to be God's mother? She was doubtful at first, worried and concerned. But then, when the angel reassured her that this is what God wants, she said: "Be it done to me according to thy word." God's word was primary in her life. Whatever was God's word, that was what she would do. In today's gospel, Elizabeth praises Mary, not because she is carrying Jesus in her womb, but because Mary trusted, believed and acted on the word of God. That is why Elizabeth called Mary blessed.
If we can hear the word of God and keep it, as Mary the model disciple did, we perhaps will experience something marvelous within our own hearts.
Notice that the first reading (Micah 5:1-4a) has a very beautiful conclusion. Micah is talking about a shepherd who will come from the tiny city of Bethlehem. The shepherd, of course, is Jesus, the word of God. Micah concludes this passage by saying: "He is peace." The word of God is peace.
If we can be open to the word of God, observe it and keep it, that word will transform us and we will know peace deep within our hearts. I can think of no other gift we could receive at Christmas that would be more important than to have the word of God, who is peace, come fully into our hearts.
That will be my Christmas meditation this year.
For people looking for other Christmas meditations, I offer you a selection of reflections from the extended NCR family of writers:
Can we spread true peace at Christmas?
Merry Christmas to all.
By Virginia Saldanha in Mumbai, India.
It is said that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Are some people denied the joys of gift giving because of their inability to buy gifts?
Making Christmas relevant to suffering people
By Fr. Joe Komakoma in Lusaka, Zambia
For the millions of Zambians who lack the bare necessities of life, there is very little to cheer about when Christmas comes. Life is one long Advent that they spend preparing, fighting and waiting for a better tomorrow. How do you celebrate Christmas when you are faced with abject poverty and widespread illness, crowned by the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS?
Holism is at the heart of the Nativity
By Rich Heffern
The practical love for all creation of St. Francis, the Little Poor Man of Assisi, has endured for over eight centuries. Francis' biographer, Thomas of Celano, noted that of all religious solemnities Christmas was the saint's favorite. He called it "the Feast of Feasts, the day when God became a little child and nourished himself with the milk of a woman."
Another Christmas in a prison visiting room
By Jens Söring
Is there any sight more depressing than a prison visiting room at Christmastime? Most prisoners have lost all contact with their families, but of those who do get visits, many get only this one, on the third weekend of December.
A Christmas letter from Bangladesh
By Fr. Bob McCahill
Every Christmas, Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill shares with family and friends, including NCR, a reflection on his ministry among the Muslim people of Bangladesh. Many years ago he decided his ministry would be the simple act of being present. He arrives in a village, makes friends and helps the locals when they allow it. But his main objective is simply being there.
Christmas messages from the Holy Land
By Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders
Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders are American Presbyterians working in the Palestinian Christian village of Zababdeh at the invitation of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. They are making a documentary film, "Salt of the Earth: Palestinian Christians in the Northern West Bank," that follows people's lives in places such as Zababdeh, Jenin and Nablus.
Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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