Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about peace.
These do not seem to be peaceful times. We have one of the biggest global refugee crises in history, and no one can agree on what to do about it. We have violent attacks being conducted on civilians, and it seems that one of the few solutions being presented is more bombs. In every country we find people trapped in addiction, burdened by family conflicts, stuck in cycles of self harm. The wealthiest countries do little to empower the poorest and inequality and oppression are rife.
What I’ve come to realise, though, is that all of us have the power to be peacemakers, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
A friend of mine travels to Calais every so often and spends time in the refugee camp there. It is a place of desperation, of hopeless waiting, where people live in poor conditions with barely enough clean water or warm clothes. His stories also speak of something else though – a strangely pervasive peace. He tells us of Iranians and Eritreans and people of other nationalities too, meeting together as a form of church. Most of them are new to this faith. My friend goes there and talks with them, spends time, and he comes back and speaks of this peace in spite of the struggle and the yearning.
The kind of peace I’ve been thinking about does not depend on politics or power balances. It is simple, small, pervasive. It starts in one person’s heart, and spreads through naive kindnesses and tiny encouragements. It comes not from a change of circumstance but a change of perspective.
Jesus was born into conflict and poverty. He was a refugee escaping with his parents from a child genocide. Nevertheless, he was heralded by angels who announced ‘Peace to all on whom his favour rests’. Perhaps the people he came to expected a powerful politician who would unify the various sectors of their society, or a determined warrior who would overthrow their oppressors, but instead, what they got was a fragile, homeless human baby. This was God becoming shockingly vulnerable. This was a Saviour unlike past and future liberators, a king whose kingdom was to spread not with wars and armies but like a mustard seed, starting small and growing organically, quietly.
We all know the story of that Christmas in World War 1 when fighting stopped, Christmas trees went up and enemies sang carols together and played football, making a temporary peace in the middle of a bloody, horrific battlefield. There is hope in that: peace can be made and found in the most terrible of situations.
Whether it is through practising thankfulness, showing kindness, giving encouragement, working for social justice or any number of other things, each person can make their own choices about how they pursue peace, savour it and give it. With those choices – which occur daily – come the power to make the world that bit better.
Part of the hope of Christmas is that humility and love can be more powerful than the evil of the world, and that even (and perhaps especially) the weakest of us can play a part in peacemaking.