As we come into the holiday season, one of the recurring themes that we will hear and see over and over is the cry of the angels to the shepherds announcing the birth of the messiah – the appeal for “peace on earth” and “goodwill to men”. Indeed this appeal is good and one to which we should pay attention. But as we look around the world, we don’t really see this “peace on earth”, instead all around us there are “wars and rumors of war”. Not only our own wars, but it seems as though everywhere that you look in the world someone is at war – there is some kind of strife and conflict and someone is in danger. Then of course we have the wars on our streets with riots threatening the safety and well being of the people innocent or not who find that they are in the midst of hostility. We have the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, the war on anything and everything that is perceived as a threat. We live, now more than ever, in a “world at war”. Even though there may not be a single global conflict (such as the “world wars” of the past century), still the whole outlook of the world, of all the people in the world is “war”. And as if wars weren’t enough, now we have the “pestilence” of the coronavirus and the plague that makes us suspicious of one another and isolates us still further. Nor do we see “good will toward men”. In the aftermath of a contentious election, political strife still dominates our lives. We accuse one another, we hold grudges against one another, we build emotional walls to keep others away. Jealously we guard our privacy, our possessions, our rights, even our identities from those who would try and take these things away. We treat others not with “good will” but with suspicion and fear. The good news of the angelic choir announcing “peace on earth” and “good will to men” is drowned out by the clamor and ruin of war, natural disaster and pestilence; locked away outside the walls of our personal fortresses.
Whence does this war and fear and suspicion originate? It comes from our sin – our sin which creates a condition of alone-ness of separateness from every other person. We are divided from one another and so we are at war, we are afraid, we are suspicious of everything that is “not me.” This isolation extends even to God Himself, our Creator, our Lord, our beloved Father. He too is excluded from our lives and we are “at war” with Him, preserving our own ego and self-will from His transforming and all encompassing love. This tragedy of separation, of isolation and hence of war and fear and suspicion is the heritage of our fallen and sinful nature. How then can we be rescued, how can we be restored to the oneness and unity with God and our neighbor in which we were created?
Today in the Epistle to the Ephesians, we heard the word of the Apostle Paul, “walk worthy of [your] calling…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. There is one body, one Spirit…, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” Here he declares to us that the cure for our isolation and separation from God and one another is in the oneness and unity of life that we find only in Jesus Christ. To live in that unity is our calling, it is our purpose and the destiny for which we were created. We, who are alone, sacrifice ourselves, our self-will, our desires, our possessions, our lives of isolation and individuality – through self denial and ascending the cross with Christ, we give up these things and die to the world. The exchange is that in having died to the world, we gain the life of Christ and are alive not only now in our own selves, but also alive to Jesus Christ, to the Kingdom of Heaven and to our fellow citizens there, the members of the one Body of Christ. We give up our life of isolation and fear, and the wars and suspicions that come from it and instead we are given the life of Christ, full of light and love and unity with God and with our brethren.
Only in Jesus Christ is there truly “peace” and “good will” for only in Jesus Christ is there one-ness and unity. He is our only help, our only hope. He is the only source of peace and the only fountain of good will. Through Him we are called to love God and to love our neighbor and it is His love and grace that fills us, enabling us to fulfill that calling. It is the love of God that creates unity with God and it is the love of God that fills us and which creates unity with our neighbor. These things we have in Christ and nowhere else.
Many years ago, prior to the second world war, the nation of Italy began to make war upon the tiny nation of Abyssnia (modern Ethiopia) in Africa. This tiny nation was no match for the might of arms and modern weapons brought to bear by Italy and so in desperation the King of that tiny country came to the League of Nations to beg for international assistance. But he was not heard and when he realized that no help would be forthcoming, he lifted up his hands to heaven and said, “O Lord of heaven and earth! The nations of the earth have left your people unprotected. We can expect help from nowhere. You remain our only protector!” And the Psalmist also reminds us, “put not your trust in the princes of men for in them there is no salvation … blessed is he whose hope is in the Lord.”
We are united to one another in Christ and in that unity we find true peace and goodwill. This then is our calling, to live in unity within the kingdom of God. We truly have “one body, one Spirit…, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” We are of one family, one body – that is the Body of Christ, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Within the Church we are united to one another and whenever we create or maintain disunity or strife or scandal within the Body, then we are in error. To cut ourselves off from the Church, through heresy or schism or simple rebellion, is to cut ourselves off from Jesus Christ and to deny the oneness of the life that He gives. We are called not to hate and fear one another and to hold grudges against one another but rather we are called to love one another, to forgive one another (even 70×7). When there is strife within the Body of Christ, we should strive to be the first to ask forgiveness, the first to offer the embrace of brotherly love. It is in this spirit that the Apostle instructs us to “walk worthy of [your] calling, with lowliness (that is humility), gentleness, longsuffering, and bearing with one another in love” All this is accomplished not by our own strength, our own ability, or our own will but instead it is accomplished by the one Holy Spirit Who dwells within us. We share God Himself, the Holy Spirit living in us and this is the one Spirit of which the Apostles speaks. United together in the one Body by the one Spirit we then naturally have one Lord – our Lord Jesus Christ. We have one faith, that is the path of salvation that our one Lord Jesus Christ sets before us and we set foot on that path by sharing in one and the same baptism, the sacrament of rebirth by which we die to the world and are reborn into the Kingdom of God. By this process of regeneration and healing, we are restored to the unity with which we were created, as the children of the one God and Father of us all.
Whenever you hear the angelic salutation, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” this holiday season let it bring to mind this great calling to which you have been called. Peace and goodwill have come to us and are opened to us through our unity with the one Lord Jesus Christ, bound together by the one Holy Spirit and living in the family and household of the one God and Father of us all.