Peace and Goodwill
December 23, 2015
In early December, I was invited to give an impromptu Christmas message to the Intercultural Peacebuilding Association. I spoke about building peace on earth through good will toward men, referring to the angels’ message in Luke, a stanza from “O Holy Night,” and Paul’s Epistle to Philemon to develop the theme. I have written down these thoughts as a brief Christmas “Pondering” for the whole campus community. Merry Christmas!
On that holy night when Christ was born the angels proclaimed peace on earth and good will toward men. This angelic benediction on Jesus’ birth may refer to God’s good will toward men in providing a Savior, the Prince of Peace. It may also refer to our good will toward men in loving others as God does, thus promoting peace on earth.
Jesus taught that we are to love each other as brothers and sisters. He invited us to pray to God as “Our Father.” At Christmas we remember that every person, whether born in a palace or a stable, is a son or daughter of a King. This potentially revolutionary doctrine can change the social order and can transform every heart. By recognizing the divinity in others and willing their good, we contribute to peace on earth.
I love the last stanza of “O Holy Night,” which articulates this revolutionary Christmas message:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
An American Unitarian minister, who was also an ardent abolitionist, translated these stirring lines from the French carol “Cantique de Noël” in 1855. His translation, “O Holy Night,” quickly became a favorite, especially in the North during the Civil War.
In French, the third line of the last stanza reads: Il voit un frère où n’était qu’un esclave, which literally means, “He sees a brother where there was a slave.” The phrase recalls Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, which is why this brief epistle has Christmas associations for me. In it, Paul invites a Christian slave owner named Philemon, whom he had converted in Colosse, to receive back his runaway slave named Onesimus, whom Paul had also converted, probably when imprisoned in Rome. Paul implores Philemon to receive Onesimus “Not now as a servant, but above a servant, [as] a brother”(Philemon 1:16). That is, Paul invites Philemon “to see a brother where there was a slave.”
Such Christlike love evidently broke the chains of oppression for Onesimus; it also transformed his life. There is a tradition that Onesimus, the erstwhile slave, later became a Bishop in the early church and a man of “inexpressible love.” The unwilling servant of Philemon thus became a willing servant of Christ.
Paul knew that he, Philemon, and Onesimus were spiritually not only brothers but bondsmen too. God sent Christ both to teach brotherly love and to free us all from the bonds of sin and death. The baby in the stall became the Great Deliverer of us all. He brings peace to the earth by preaching good will toward men, and peace to the soul by freeing men from pride, prejudice, sin, and death.
These are the “good tidings of great joy” of which the angels sang and “which shall be to all people”—including you and me. May we do our part to bring about peace on earth by showing forth good will toward all men and by partaking of “the peace of God that passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) through the Atonement of Christ.