May Season's Peace Start in Our Hearts and Spread Into Our World
By REV. Dr. JOHN SCHULE
Special to the Gazette
Once again, it is that time of the year when the darkness is shattered with the light of the angelic chorus: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men." And yet, as the sophomore class at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School recently reminded us in the Vineyard Gazette: "Peace on Earth Remains Elusive."
Beginning with the Thanksgiving celebration of family, pausing for the observance of Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, and ushering in the new year, the holiday season is a very special time of the year when our hearts and minds yearn for peace.
We were not a family given to quoting Scripture, although my great-grandmother - Grandma, we called her - taught us passages from the Holy Scriptures such as the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer. But what I remember most about her was the aura of peace she wore. I can still hear her whispering: "the peace of God that passes all understanding . . . glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all men of good will . . . peace, peace, peace must begin with me!" Each time I heard those words whispered so gently, it seemed to me like a shaft of warm sunlight pouring straight into my heart.
I did not understand it. Mine was only an intuition of what peace might mean. And yet that intuition spoke quite clearly of favor and goodness and hope far more powerful than any adversity I would ever experience.
No matter where we are in our earthly pilgrimage, the peace of God speaks to us. It is something not of this world, something that we have desired and hardly tasted.
And yet we seek peace throughout our journey, even at times when we do not recognize it as such. Sometimes we feel an intimation of wholeness that we do not have, an inarticulate desire that we bring to ourselves in those precious quiet times. In this sense, peace is present by virtue of our need of it.
At other times, the peace we seek in our daily journey is only a fragment of the real thing. We attempt to fill the void through an idea, a hobby, a learned skill, music, art, sports, each always to find rest for our souls, the fullness of which is found only in the peace of God.
So whether we celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, we claim by faith the totality of human peace in which we possess the delight and favor of God. We may not totally understand it, but we begin to participate in its glory.
This year as we celebrate our faith, we find ourselves faced with an infinite number of crises in a society increasingly inundated by useless information, beset with the constant titillation of consumerism, and bombarded by images of violence and death.
The other day as I was trimming our tree, I took one of my favorite ornaments and hung it carefully on the highest bough I could reach. It is an ornament that is well over 150 years old. It is made out of small glass beads wired together in the shape of a house. As a little boy, I can recall Grandma hanging that ornament on our tree each Christmas. She said that it brought back warm memories of her childhood in Sweden. Her father always hung it near the top of the tree and reminded the family, "This is our house . . . may the power from on high bless our home with peace . . . for if there is peace in our home there will be peace in the world."
As I placed that ancient ornament on our tree in this year 2006, I heard Grandma's voice again whispering: "peace, peace, peace . . . it must begin with me!"
And then I thought of the young people in our high school . . . of children and teenagers around the world . . . our young men and women in harm's way. Yes, the world is a mess. Peace is elusive. This is a chaotic, frightening time. No swift solution is in sight.
But this is not the first time in our history that the human race has faced a dismaying era. Think of the calamitous era of the American Revolution, so terrible that many then could perceive nothing but chaos and tragedy. And yet, a nation was being born. Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, New Englanders began calling themselves Americans!
Don't tell me that all these years since have been only wasted motion, getting us nowhere. Doors of opportunity are open that were not here when I was born. The gifts of science can be turned to peaceful purposes; the new worldwide proximity which has brought friction and hostility can be transformed into neighborliness. God is not dead, and, as for us, don't read the newspaper headlines and listen to the evening news only . . . read the scriptures of your faith. The future belongs to those who remember where they came from, who they are, whose they are and where they are going.
Most of us consider ourselves to be peace lovers. And, in our own way, we are peace lovers, living in a world where there is no peace. Fighting, quarreling mobs shove their way up and down the streets of the world and the whole world threatens to come unhinged. How we wish . . . pray . . . hope that all of humanity would join in the angelic chorus and sing: "Glory to God in the highest . . . peace on earth, good will toward all . . . .
Maybe peace loving is insufficient . . . maybe that's why it is a seasonal celebration. Peace loving may only be a beginning . . . we need to become peace makers!
The best gift we can give to others is the gift we first must receive for ourselves. Above all things we need that peace which controls the storm from within, when we cannot control it from without. During these days of celebration in 2006, let us rejoice, not in the promise of peace, but in the gift of peace.
It has taken me too long to truly understand what Grandma sought to teach me so many, many years ago . . . that good will comes before peace and peace comes only if I remember to "love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself . . . and . . . do unto others as I would have them do unto me."
Peace seems like a dream . . . a far-off dream . . . like one of those stars I gaze at in the night sky to get some personal perspective. So much darkness . . . but my whole being drawn to that tiny speck of light and I suddenly feel a sense of hope . . . I feel led . . . I feel safe.
And you sophomores . . . bless you with a full measure of faith, hope and love as you seek in your time to shatter the darkness with the light of peace.