Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Prince of Peace…

I realized something brilliant last Saturday. The reason the “Holiday Season” begins waaayyy too early isn’t commercialism, greed, or a cultural dearth of meaning. Rather, it’s Christmas Carols.

Yep, the reason for “Christmas Creep” is the songs we sing. My proof? Imagine if we had “Halloween Sing-along’s” or “Thanksgiving Carols.” Stores would have more options to entice shoppers into seasonal moods; music stations would avoid Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving. In other words, if we had more holiday music than Christmas Carols, life as we know it would change. Is this observation earth-shattering? No. But I’m proud I thought of it first.

As it is, year after year, we replay melodies of shepherds watching flocks by a silent, O-Holy night. But objectively speaking, that’s strange right? That we invest so much in repeating the same story, again and again. And again. You’d think we’d have squeezed it dry by now?! What more could we possibly learn that we haven’t already read about, sung about, for ages?!

Well, here’s my theory- The BIG ideas that transform our lives, our world, etc., don’t arise one day, and Poof! everything changes. Instead, they require time to work their magic. And patience. Stops and starts; perhaps centuries of infiltration. Only then- if ever- can these blessed inspirations work out their full, gracious effects.

For example: Christianity’s “The-Christmas-Babe-is-the-Prince-of-Peace” belief. On the surface, the claim appears ludicrous. Thirty(ish) years after birth, Jesus died a violent death. By 400, his followers ruled a war-obsessed empire (Rome). In later centuries, Christians perpetrated Crusades and Wars of Religion, endured invasions by Islam and the Mongolian Hordes, organized the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Prince of Peace, we call Jesus. But since his birth, peace has seemed…elusive. Thus, some wonder, whether it’s sane, even, to celebrate his nativity every year.

But recently I finished a book that meticulously documented something related, and if true, is one of our time’s most inspirational, hopeful stories. Did you know that we live in the safest, least violent and most peaceful era the world’s ever seen? That is, since the evolution of humanity. Really, as best we know, every society prior to modern, economically developed, 21st-century nations has endured higher rates of murder and war- and frankly, it’s not even close. At least that’s what the statistics of this Harvard professor/author claim. Which isn’t saying everything’s glorious. Only that progress has been made. I won’t rehash his data here, but if that surprises you, join the club.

So what happened?! Well, according to the book’s author, religion had nothing to do with it. After all, he points out, religious folk have messed things up plenty. Fair enough, but I wonder if he misunderstands the nature of faith. To him, our major problem is we’ve so often preached peace, but made war. But come now- religious folk aren’t the world’s only hypocrites.

Besides, and here’s my theory, I suspect momentum’s been building ever since God first inspired, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” or Jesus claimed, “Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” Applying those (groundbreaking, back then) ideas has taken time; our circles of compassion and empathy have expanded in fits and starts. But it began somewhere, and the trend’s been ever-expanding. As MLK Jr. put it, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Thus, I’d guess, our annually honoring the “Prince of Peace” (coupled with similar efforts by other great religions) has assisted, maybe caused, these cumulative effects. The world’s great powers, for the first time ever, haven’t warred for over fifty years; murder rates in industrialized countries are at historical lows; infanticide and slavery are now considered unthinkable. I could continue, but the trend’s clear. Peace is happening. Not everywhere, for everyone, but for more than ever before.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean we should stop praying for peace, stop working for it, stop opposing those who oppose it. Things can always change. But as we begin our annual Advent waiting, we ought recognize life’s good news, and the positive developments occurring. And maybe pray a prayer of gratitude for the Prince of Peace’s guidance.

Grace and Peace,

No comments:

Post a Comment