Christmas and War

“So, if we keep talking about Jesus coming to bring peace…then why don’t we see peace around us?”

The faces of five junior high girls look back at me, eyes wide. Most of them don’t come from Christians families, but every Monday night they attend a program where nice church people help them with their homework and ask them nice discussion questions about the Bible lesson. Normally.

Things never seem to stay normal for long when I’m around. Particularly when the nice church people give me my own group and let me ask my own discussion questions.

Peace3One girl recovers first. “Because Jesus gave us peace inside us,” she says.

And I say something vaguely affirming about reconciliation with God that is true but not the point. Because I can’t explain what I mean if I say, “But that’s not enough.” Not without running through a slideshow of suffering and starvation and sickness and suicide.

It’s not that peace with God is a small thing—it is the ultimate thing. But the Jesus who prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” was not sent here to give us an emotional sense of inner peace. All of creation is groaning, and sin is still here, and we hate what God loves over and over again. It’s all wrong. It’s not enough.

All of creation is groaning, and I groan too—and ask hard questions and read Night by Elie Wiesel and cry too often when no one else is. And sometimes I pick up the little ceramic Jesus with the sweet face and the gilded halo and say, “Hello, little baby. Why did you come here?”

A week later, at the company Christmas party, I listen to an acapella group and a trio of actors perform a program based on the Christmas Truce of 1914, in the midst of World War I. And it is perfect, because it is a reminder of both the broken and the beautiful, of the trenches that divide us and the humanity that can, if we let it, unite us.

(For more on the Christmas truce, watch this video or read this blog post.)

One line, spoken right before snow begins to fall onstage, echoes in my mind long after the last notes of the closing “Silent Night” fade away. If you could hear it, if you had been there, maybe you’d understand.

“Poor little God of love, born into this night. How could you love mankind?”

Poor little God of love. What did you give up to come here? The balance is staggering. On one side, frailty and tears and distance and fear and the burden of being trapped in time instead of living in a perpetual “I Am” in the presence of the Father. And on the other side, love.

And love won.

Born into this…Night. One war later, the story of a man who lost his faith because there was too much brutality, too little humanity. Too much darkness.

ChristmasTruce

I leave the theater, out to a sidewalk full of bundled panhandlers with tattered “Can’t find work” signs and downcast glances. From the cold into a heated Macys where a kid with a giant lollipop is throwing a tantrum over something-or-other that he doesn’t want for Christmas, he wants now. Around a display of TVs featuring a constant string of depressing headlines, past a parking garage attendant with sad and tired eyes, into a street where two people are shouting at each other over a fender-bender.

And I wonder…how could you love mankind?

The miracle is not that Jesus was born. The miracle is that Jesus was born here. Not that the Word came, but that the Word became flesh. Not that there was a way for God to reconcile us—but that he knew who we were and what we do and chose to send his son anyway.

“Unto you is born this day, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” If I could hear it, if I had been there, maybe I’d understand.

Or maybe I wouldn’t. And maybe that’s part of the wonder, the mystery, the unexpected twist in the story that, at the same time, feels so perfectly, inevitably right.

Poor little God of love. That is why you came isn’t it? Love. Even when I can’t understand it.

Born into this night. Most days even I don’t want your will done on earth as it is in heaven, not if it means giving up my will. It is so very dark down here. And you look so small there, lying in a manger.

How could you love mankind?

I don’t know the answer, even on my idealist days, the times where I see faint traces of the image of God in the broken things around us. Even when I hear the pure beauty of unison voices in perfect harmony. Because that music is set in the context of war, the story of men who sang about peace on earth one silent night, and went back to shooting each other the next.

“Poor little God of love, born into this night. How could you love mankind?”

But you did. And that is Christmas.

One comment

  1. This makes me think of a song I learned in Children’s Choir, one written by Saint Alphonsus Ligouri and translated into Italian. It was called “Tu Schendi Dalle Stelle”, and one of the lines in English says “How much it cost you to love me!”

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