"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14 TNIV).
Angels sang this song more than 2000 years ago, but in 2012 peace has once again been in short supply. Does this angelic song mean anything today? Yes, emphatically, is my reply, but it takes the eyes of faith to see it.
Here is a list of counties around the world that continued to be hot spots in 2012 (without giving any details): in Africa: Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Puntland, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan; in Asia: Afghanistan, Burma-Myanmar, Pakistan; in Europe: Chechnya, Dagestan; in the Middle East: Iraq, Israel, Lybia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen; and in the Americas: Colombia, Mexico. A few countries may have been overlooked.
This list is by no means complete, since it includes only countries where there was armed conflict. The total number of countries involved in such conflicts: 60+. Many of these were in regions or provinces struggling for independence. The majority (3/4) of these conflicts were in Africa and Asia; the rest were in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East.
As Amnesty International reports, suffering and hardship invariably follow wars. The vast majority of armed conflicts are internal. Many of them have persisted for decades. Conflicts are the breeding ground for mass violations of human rights including unlawful killings, torture, forced displacement and starvation.
In spite of many international interventions, these conflicts continue without ceasing. Today peace seems as elusive as ever. Yet peace is more than the absence of war.
Just to show that conflict is no stranger in those parts of the world where there is currently no war, look at the violence that takes place daily on the streets of North America. Peace is elusive there as well. The murder of twenty children in Newtown is the most striking because of the number of children involved, but many more children have died in Afghanistan as a result of conflict.
Children leaving the school after the stabbing
Violence occurs in every country, yet the death count is generally lower, as in China where, on the same day that the Newtown massacre occurred, twenty-two children and an adult were injured by stabbing, although no one died. The US has the highest rate of gun-related injuries among the developed nations of the world.
On Christmas Day a madman in Webster, NY, with enough weapons to start a war, killed two firemen and he wanted to kill more. The easy access to guns made this deadly violence possible.
There are approximately 45 murders every day in the US. Canada has less than two per day. In many North American cities there are also numerous rapes, robberies, and other assorted types of violence.
Although North America is viewed as a place where women have equal rights and status, violence against women is still rampant. Forty to 51% of women experience some type of violence in their lifetime including child abuse, physical violence, rape and domestic violence.
Violence against children is another pervasive problem in both Canada and the US. Seen in the context of family violence, children are disproportionately the victims of physical and sexual assault, and of homicide.
These facts should cause people in North America to feel superior to the rest of the world when it comes to violence. Wars are not the only type of conflict, even if they do make the largest headlines. The daily carnage on the streets of North American cities
As I wrote last year already, violence is not something new today; on the contrary, it has been with us since the very beginnings of human history. We have become inured to violence, it seems.
The media deny any role in violence
Violence sells newspapers and it dominates our TV screens. We witness multiple killings and beatings on news programs on a daily basis, and are fed murders and stabbings as entertainment, with only a brief warning beforehand that this may be offensive to some viewers.
Many of the computer games that are so popular today involve violence. These games were often blamed by gun enthusiasts for the rash of killings involving guns in the US during the last few years. But that is a spurious claim since these games are played in many countries without the dire consequences seen in the US.
How can we square all this violence with the song of the angels? For one thing, violence is in decline today, whether measured relative to the population of the world, or as a drop in the number of wars and in their intensity.
But there is a more basic, call it theological, reason: God and humanity are now reconciled. God sent his son into the world so that we may be at peace with him once again, a peace that was broken when Adam sinned. The incarnation is the meaning of Christmas: Immanuel, which means "God with us."
Christ is the Prince of Peace, who came to usher in peace on earth, as the angels sang at his birth. Peace with God is what makes every other form of peace possible. The world would be a much more terrible place if Christ had not come. Yet peace still eludes this world today.
One day, however, when Christ returns, perfect peace will reign on earth. In the meantime, while living between the times of his first and second coming, we can already experience intimations of that peace.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9 TNIV). Peace is coming, even if we cannot see it clearly yet.
Rather then engaging in a long theological discussion trying explaining all this in detail, which is impossible in this blog, I prefer to let this well-known hymn by Charles Wesley (1707- 1788) speak for itself:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.
As 2012 quickly draws to a close, let us all pray for peace throughout the world for the new year 2013. May each one of you also experience peace in your own life and that of your families!