This year has seen two important anniversaries: the Centenary of the Start of the Great War and the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. I count myself fortunate to have been able to join in some of the activities surrounding D-Day, especially joining with the residents of the local town at their memorial service in the cemetery where some of the victims of that day lie buried. Gill (my wife) and I also visited the Somme on more than one occasion and could not but be moved by the rows of graves dotted around the farmland. Whilst we were there we saw many German tourists visiting these sites. Unlike Britain and France the Germans kept no accurate records of their dead and moved all the bodies to just a handful of cemeteries. Many relatives of German soldiers simply have nowhere to go to mourn.
The Great War was said to be the ‘End of All Wars’. We now know that not to be true. D-Day was not the end of war for the French. The Allied advance caused more death and destruction than all the years of German occupation. “War is nothing but organised murder” said Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier of WW1 – I have to agree, and yet 2014 sees war after war in the Middle East, Africa and many other places. If I were to publish a list of wars since 1945 in the Messenger we would have to go to twenty eight pages!
Doesn’t all this make mockery of the Angels’ Christmas Message “Peace on earth and good will to all people”. On the surface I would have to say ‘yes’ but let us look at what happened. At Christmas God invested himself in one human being, Jesus. That child was to grow and bring us the simple message that the God available to him is available to us all. If we truly open our eyes both God and his Kingdom are around us and within us and we can know them. God does not work on nations but on the hearts and minds of individuals. Jesus believed that peace can only come from within as an individual attunes their own soul to the God who lives there. Centuries before the Buddha had said the same thing to his followers when he said “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
In the twentieth century the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi echoed these words: “Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.” So often we look outside and find that peace is something that alludes us. We are searching for peace, but we are looking in the wrong place.
For me Christmas is all about ‘God with us’, not in the narrow sense of God being revealed in the Child Jesus, but God being in each one of us. We may focus our attention on the cave and the manger of the Christmas story, but what would happen if we were to focus our attention on the cave of our heart and the God within waiting to be revealed to the world through us?
In the rush and busyness that is Christmas let us take time out and create the quiet that will allow us to make our own journey to the manger. We do not have to come down from the hills as the shepherds, or travel long distances like the Wise Men. We simply have to be quiet and ask God to reveal his presence within, to bring into our own hearts and minds the peace that only he can give.
The monk Thomas Merton wrote: “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”
This Christmastide as we come to the manger within, let us make peace with God and He will grant us peace within ourselves. It is then, and only then, we will begin to know what ‘peace on earth’ really means.
Wishing you a very blessed and peaceful Christmas Season.
(This article by David Chambers was originally published as part of St David’s Messenger in December 2014)