On a dark night at the dawn of the first century, to a few shepherds in the foothills of Bethlehem, an angel announced “glad tidings”: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will towards men;” “today in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:14, 11). This Child, as Isaiah prophesied, was to be called the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5). But, at the close of a troubled year, we can only wonder at these words, for the peace promised by this birth has never seemed more distant, nor has the angel’s message ever seemed more strange.
Today, we not only hear of wars and rumors of wars (Mt 24:6), but of a planet beset by other impending disasters. Today, we are menaced, not by the “population bomb” predicted by so-called experts a generation ago, but by a population implosion – the collapse of a sustainable birthrate in the modern Western world. And, while some now fret about global warming, what truly menaces humanity is the fatal cooling of the hearts of would-be parents, who no longer accept the miraculous gift of faithful and fruitful married love.
This refusal of new life is the true tragedy of our age, for every child is a symbol of that divine “good will” announced by angels so long ago: the child is not only the living embodiment of parental love, but even more, the unmistakable mark of God’s divine, creative love – both for the child’s parents and for the offspring which He sovereignly calls forth through them. From nothingness into existence, we are called into being by love. A child is, thus, the continuation of creation’s sixth day, the sure sign of God’s predilection and its perpetual precondition: peace.
Peace is not simply the absence of war, nor is it the unearthly détente that ensues after violence. Indeed, peace can never be the “resolution” of a conflict; rather, in our fallen world, peace always takes the form of a new beginning. A child’s birth always creates a moment of fragile peace, in which an accord between God and man is both established and renewed; the child is the mutual ratification of their covenant of hope. In the words of the poet Carl Sandburg, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
Christ’s birth, then, is the supreme symbol of this divine assent to man’s existence, the incarnate manifestation of God’s goodwill toward us. It is, simultaneously, a new beginning in human history and the most important event in that history. And yet, this new beginning is marked by man’s resistance to it: although he is the Prince of Peace, Christ’s very birth is the occasion of a horrific outbreak of violence. Indeed, Herod’s holocaust, Pilate’s execution and the slaughter of countless Christian martyrs throughout the centuries – all of this is implicit at Christ’s manger in the wise man’s gift of myrrh. God’s most precious gift is immediately met with man’s ungrateful refusal of it.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt explained the motivation of this refusal: “From the totalitarian point of view, the fact that men are born … can be only regarded as an annoying interference with higher forces.” As Arendt rightly observed, the secular regimes of the 20th century preferred to be depraved towards man, rather than dependent on God. But, while China is (rightly) criticized for enforcing population control through systematic sterilization and forced abortion, today couples in the West willfully reject God’s generous gift of children. Like the despots of the last century, they refuse to accept God’s “interference” in their lives. Indeed, the modern world wants no part of the peace that procreation produces. Observing this, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta remarked: “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.”
But a hopeful implication is hidden in Mother Teresa’s telling remark: if the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, then the struggle for the protection of the unborn is the most effective way of bringing about peace in the world. By advocating respect for the life of the unborn, we open the floodgates of God’s merciful love. Instead of great signs in Heaven, God makes himself manifest in the smallness of each child. God creates children so that the world may continually rediscover itself in the hushed silence of an infant’s sleep. In this manifestation of love, we find “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Phil 4:7); the peace which, at Christmas, we hope to find in our hearts.
“For a child is born to us, a son is given us … They name him Wonder-Counsellor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5). In the darkness of December, we encounter the mystery of Christmas: a new beginning that erupts into our aging world, a season of peace inaugurated with the birth of a Child. At Christmas, then, we turn our thoughts to the source of all peace on earth and keep watch with the shepherds as the Christ Child, the Prince of Peace, sleeps soundly in the manger.
We at The Interim wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and peace and joy in the coming year.