Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men: The Real Meaning of Christmas

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni... 

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Recent news stories reported on refugees seeking asylum, whose boat capsized near Christmas Island off the coast of Australia, costing the lives of more than two dozen people. Australia is a destination for people looking for asylum from as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan, and Christmas Island is also such a popular stop that it has its own refugee detention center.

These refugees where looking for a safe place to live.A place were peace could be found. They sought asylum in a place that would acknowledge their personhood and respect their lives and freedoms. Christmas Island has become a safe haven for many of the displaced Iraqi’s and Afghans seeking peace from the constant torment of daily life in their homeland. Christmas Island to these peace seeking refugees is a welcoming respite from years of torment and pain.

What an apt description of Christmas Island. To the war weary and persecuted Christmas Island is a sought after destination and one worth dying to reach. The hope and peace found there was worth the risks of getting there.

Also in the news we constantly read about the “War on Christmas.” Probably the real war on Christmas began at its conception. The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE established that Christmas should be celebrated on December 25. The celebration of “Christ’s Mass” was to counter the Roman pagan festival held that same day in honor of Sol Invictus (“The Invincible God”). As Christians participated in the celebration of the Eucharist, they would abstain from engaging in the pagan rituals associated with the official sun god of the emperor.

According to David French, a columnist for Patheos , a website dedicated to inter-religious dialogue, we are in our tenth consecutive year regarding the “War on Christmas.” We have moved beyond the standard criticism of this holiday season as one of secularization and merchandising, to an ideological battle of reason versus faith and inclusiveness versus a singular religious identity. The conflicting views cannot be shooed away as inconsequential, for it matters immensely if one refers to this season as a “Happy Holiday” or a “Merry Christmas.”

Catholic theologian Tim Muldoon argued in a recent column for the Washington Post that “At their root, religious holidays are both expressions of a group’s identity and an invitation to others to learn about them. In the case of Christmas, believers are expressing what it means to believe that God became a human being when Jesus was born.” Christmas is a testimony of a religious conviction, unadorned with gold and silver tinsel. Its public celebration is not to coerce, but to inform and invite.

Just like Christmas Island, a beacon of hope and peace for a refugee, so too is Christmas a beacon of hope to the world; the promise of peace on Earth and good will to men. To a weary war refugee the sight of Christmas Island brought with it rejoicing. These refugee knew they had found a place of rest. To many, Christmas is a time to escape from the daily routines, the constant battles of life, the hostilities faced, and the sadness and brokenness life often brings, and to embrace the brighter hope of a better tomorrow. The message of Christmas Island was come find peace, and the message of Christmas is Christ has come to bring peace. Not a temporary peace offered by a refugee camp but a permanent peace that only Christ can give.

Can you imagine the hopelessness of war refugees if there was no Christmas Island to escape to? Can you then imagine a world without a Christmas Island refugee camp? Then imagine that same world without the hope of Christmas. No peace on earth, no good will toward man, no hope of escape, no hope of rescue. This is what Christmas Island means to a refugee and this is what Christmas should mean to all.

From an Iraqi war refugee to the hopelessly lost and afraid, the welcome sign of Christmas Island is hope, to those who are weary of life’s pressures and demands, the signs of Merry Christmas are also a sign of hope. Let the lights of Christmas continue to shine so that all may know there is a place of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.

And that is this week’s tail feather.

But those who are waiting for the Lord will have new strength; they will get wings like eagles: running, they will not be tired, and walking, they will have no weariness. Isaiah 40:31Open Link in New Window (BBE)

Along for the journey

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