Message of peace

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Friday, December 27, 2013

SAINT Matthew says in his Gospel about the Christmas Child Jesus: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ (Mt. 1, 27).” Immanuel means “God with us.”

On the other hand, St. Luke says about the birth of Jesus: “…while they were there (in Bethlehem) the time came for her to have her child and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn… And suddenly with the angel of the Lord there was a big heavenly army (in the original text) praising God and singing: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favor’ (not a lovely choir of angels, but a strong armed force brings this message of peace).”

This sounds contradictory, a message of peace brought in connection with an armed force. But this is not all that strange because so often the promise of peace in the Bible is connected with a performance of military power, with war-violence, violent uprisings and terrorism that makes our world a war-stricken earth. This is a reality not only in the Bible but also in our world today.

I remember as a child during the Second World War when the German soldiers of Hitler invaded our country, they were wearing a belt that had an inscription Got mit uns that means: God is with us.

In our world here in the Philippines, the military forces of the CPP celebrate every year on Dec. 26 the founding anniversary of their party. For that occasion they declare a ceasefire from Dec. 24 to 26 only. The Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said he dreams of a truce for all eternity, and rightly so.

On the international level we experience the ‘war against terrorism’ of the Abu Sayyaf and the Al Queda.

There are many volunteers all over the world who try to bring peace to the war-stricken areas in the world by bringing relief goods to the victims of war. They do this in a spirit of solidarity, a spirit of love which is actually the basis of the song of peace of the Angels of Bethlehem. Peace on earth means not going after each other’s blood but loving each other and to share each other’s dignity as human beings and share material things when needed.

We must be God’s merciful face and hands. During World War II a cathedral in France was bombarded by the Germans. A statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in front of the church was not damaged except for its hands that had broken off. The parishioners put a sign at its feet with the words: I have no hands but yours.

In our Christmas celebration in the Philippines there has been put a kind of pressure on us: the commercialization of Christmas. With Christmas you ‘must’ buy this or do that. You ‘must’ put up a Christmas tree in your home. The Christmas tree is actually something forced on us by the Protestants of the United States.

In Holland every Catholic family puts up a Belen in their home. This depicts the biblical scene of Bethlehem and it makes the family kneel down in front of the Belen to pray for peace in their family. Under the Belen they place Christmas gifts to be shared with each other after the midnight Mass on Christmas day.

When we read the Bible, what kind of peace did Christ actually preach on earth? According to Matthew Jesus said: ‘Don’t think that I have come on earth to bring peace. I haven’t come to bring peace, but the sword, because I came to bring division between a son and his father, between a daughter and her mother and between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law.

The message of Jesus is not an easy peace, a kind of conformism through which individual convictions and our own conscience must lose out to the power of the masses or the strongest. Pope Francis has taught us that we must return again to the value of our own conscience and our common sense. This is contrary to the attitude of Pope Benedicts XVI who imposed doctrines and all kind of rules and regulations on the Church.

The peace of Jesus is taking the risk of being ridiculed and cast out. His peace made him say eventually on the Cross: ‘Consumatum est’ – ‘It is finished.’ That is a peace that remains alive despite all the hardships in life, a peace that brings life even beyond death. Let us not forget that Immanuel is not only a name, it is a program that invites us to try our best to be as good as God is good. God is with us all so that we may recognize Him in each one of us, even if it is only just for a while. Then the Child that has been born among us gets a chance to bring life to people.

The message of Christmas is this kind of peace. I wish everybody for Christmas this peace.


Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 27, 2013.


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